As tenants and employees return to commercial sites for work. Building owners and managers are implementing new office procedures and protocols to promote social distancing and exposure prevention for the “new normal”. Now is an important time for property management professionals to consider how to handle emergency situations for maximum preparedness to their tenants and building sites.
Here are a few best practices to consider from the BOMA International – New Guidance Document: Emergency Evacuations Amid COVID-19. During this critical period it is imperative to evaluate and update your current evacuation procedures.
Tips to Consider for Emergency Preparedness
Train, Adapt, Train Again. Remember that everybody is a new to this situation. No matter how long you’ve been in the business, you’ve never dealt with recovering from a pandemic that impacted the entire country. We are all going to be learning new things, assessing the situation, and adjusting our response accordingly.
It is vital that frontline employees be given regular and helpful updates. Keep it simple when possible, focusing on what procedures or protocols remain the same, and which have changed.
Know Your Neighbors. Now is the time to get to know the property managers and security directors at the buildings next door and across the street. These informal networks can prove extremely valuable in the event of a secondary incident, and may building valuable long-term relationships with fellow professionals.
Imagine the fire alarm sounds at your site in the middle of a thunderstorm. Where are your going to evacuate your already nervous tenants? Having a neighboring building willing to offer their lobby as a temporary shelter and emergency assembly location could be priceless. Start the conversation.
Build That Stockpile. As the supply chain gets back on track, it allows us to begin rebuilding a stockpile of emergency supplies for your teams. This may include items such as bottled water, gloves, masks, or hand sanitizer. Slowly adding materials to internal stockpiles at your buildings will make you better prepared for any future incidents.
Distancing Under Duress. Remember that under best practices for coronavirus, social distancing is key. During a secondary crisis or emergency such as fire or flooding, it will be extremely difficult to maintain physical distance between building tenants and staff as they move away from a given threat.
Nevertheless, security and building personnel will be tasked with doing their best to re-establish order and assist this diverse population with dealing with two separate – and sometimes contradictory – hazards. Once tenants, guests, and staff are in a safer location, they will need to maintain six feet of separation whenever possible. This may require an area of shelter that is larger than might have been needed previously.
Call For Help. Even during such incidents, frontline employees must remember that they are not “on an island.” They should of course call 911 for assistance from first responders when needed.
Evacuation Drill Considerations
Compliance with state and local fire codes requires building personnel to have a fire safety and evacuation plan that follows International Fire Code (IFC) requirements.
For many commercial office buildings, evacuation drills must be conducted annually unless localities amend their code to a more frequent basis. If a building has ambulatory care facilities, educational (K-12) or institutional operations, evacuation drills may be required to take place on a monthly basis. Check with your local fire officials for further guidance on required drill frequency.
While it is important to plan for fire drills, it is even more important to be prepared if an actual fire emergency arises. Evacuating a building during a fire emergency needs to be the primary objective and social distancing should be considered a secondary concern. In those cases where evacuation protocols conflict with social distancing requirements, exiting the building during a fire emergency should be given priority. The following recommendations explore other ways to mitigate exposure to COVID-19 during an evacuation:
- If a building has a complete fire sprinkler system, consider asking local fire officials for a “defend in place strategy” with a floor by floor evacuation. Buildings with voice evacuation systems are especially helpful to guide evacuations based on where the emergency occurs.
- Consider altering your reassembly areas. You should designate multiple assembly places that have enough space for social distancing requirements. Ensure that floor fire wardens are familiar with new assembly areas and have them disseminate information to their groups. If possible, mark evacuation locations where they can be plainly seen if those areas are under the building owners’ control. (Parking lots, green spaces, courtyard, etc.)
- Encourage tenants, staff and visitors to wear masks or face coverings when exiting the building after an alarm is activated. Supply floor wardens with extra masks they can use to disseminate to their groups.
Titan’s emergency planning services capabilities include the creation of a facility-specific, all-hazards emergency plan. Every one of our current emergency services clients has a core pandemic response guide included as a portion of their emergency operations plan document. Contact Titan’s Director of Emergency Management, Tom Henkey at [email protected] if we can provide additional insight or assistance.
- BOMA COVID-19: Preparing for Emergency Evacuations Guidance
- BOMA International: www.boma.org/coronavirus
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): www.cdc.gov/coronavirus
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center: www.coronavirus.gov
- International Code Council (ICC): www.iccsafe.org
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA): www.nfpa.org
As always, if you “See Something, Say Something”. For life-threatening emergencies, call 911. To report suspicious activity, call 855-RPRT-2-S4 (855-777-8274).