Implementing an emergency response plan

Plan for the worst, hope for the best
Friday, February 3, 2012
By John Stephenson

An overflowing toilet is undoubtedly a messy situation. Depending on the severity, it can also be a costly one too.

Handling this type of situation doesn’t take a tremendous amount of skill. The property or building manager simply shuts off the water, cleans up and checks for any damage. For the most part, an incident like this will only affect a contained area.

But what if the toilet water was running for half a day or longer? In buildings, industry veterans have seen several floors affected by one bathroom malfunction.

No matter the incident, it’s important to have a comprehensive emergency response plan (ERP) in place before disaster strikes. The longer an issue is not resolved – such as an overflowing toilet – the bigger the problem can get and the more costly it can be to repair. Water damage to drywall can cause mould to form in 24 hours, so having the area dried quickly can lessen the damage.

Written emergency response plans are especially important because in the event of a disaster, the steps are clearly laid out for all parties. Each member of the team should know the plan and know how to put it in motion when disaster strikes.

In condominiums, property managers must obtain permission from the condo’s board of directors to create a plan and then must work with the board to establish a plan.

Before a plan can be created, it’s important to conduct a risk assessment of the condo building to establish procedures based on those identified risks. The plan must include relevant information about the condo units within the building and common areas such as laundry rooms, stairwells, activity rooms and elevators.

An emergency response plan should be treated as a living document that’s reviewed and tested on a regular basis. Regular testing of the plan is critical to the safety and well-being of residents.

By creating a comprehensive ERP that’s risk-based, property managers can gain a better understanding of possible dangers and identify where there is potential for future issues.

Having a risk-based plan in place also saves time and money for the property owner and insurer, allows resources to be allocated more effectively and improves response and recovery times, helping to prevent and minimize further losses.

Each plan should include a list of partners so that the right professionals are only a phone call away. Researching and hiring a professional disaster restoration services company and including them in the plan will greatly help with risk mitigation and restoration efforts. These professionals can aid in discussions and planning sessions when preparing a plan. And, if a disaster strikes, they have intimate knowledge of the building’s requirements when they deploy to the site when a crisis occurs.

Building an ERP doesn’t have to be daunting. There is a tremendous amount of information on creating ERPs online. Provincial governments across Canada have created processes for identifying and dealing with health and safety risks. For instance, the Ontario government, through Emergency Management Ontario, has created the Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) process, which serves as the foundation for emergency management program decision-making and prioritization.

Property and building managers can use HIRA as a resource to create a plan that best suits their requirements by measuring risks that are based on priorities, probability and consequence. An ERP is a good way for property and building managers to identify which hazards have the greatest potential to affect their properties and critical infrastructures, and detail how emergencies and disasters are to be dealt with.

Here are some emergency management best practices to consider when building an ERP:

  • Determine the scope of the project by conducting a risk assessment of the property. Identify the problem areas and their associated potential hazards.
  • Prioritize these risks so primary concern areas are addressed first and establish procedures based on those risks.
  • Get written permission from condo owners to access their living space should a disaster occur to help mitigate damage.
  • Decide what the evacuation strategy is and what the best route to exit is.
  • Establish an emergency management team and document all contact numbers, including alternate phone numbers and numbers of a disaster restoration partner.
  • Include complete and up-to-date drawings of the building in the plan. Note where things like shut-off valves are for sprinklers so responders know where to go and how to turn them off.
  • Frequently monitor, test and review the plan and identify any new or emerging potential hazards.

John Stephenson is the national director of property management at FirstOnSite Restoration.

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