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Special Report: Saving Lives

Written by Heidi Schwartz. Posted in Magazine, Safety, Special Reports, Topics

Published on January 06, 2002 with No Comments

By Matthew Myer
Published in the January 2002 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Companies are focusing more than ever on corporate life safety, evacuation, and disaster recovery plans. Fms can be sure that disasters—both natural and man-made—will continue to occur and must be planned for accordingly. Since no company is immune to disaster, the best plan of action is preparation.

Plan Or Respond?
The way fms plan and respond to disaster can ultimately make a difference to the existence of the most important corporate assets: employees. It is key to remember, however, that planning for a disaster and reacting to one are not the same thing. It is the advanced training and information in hand at the time of the event that will allow for the assimilation of data points and reaction in the most effective way. The results may avoid loss of life, injury, and business devastation.

While most corporate leaders are self-motivated to help safeguard the lives of co-workers and the workplace, it is important to note that state and local ordinances requiring strict life safety plans are currently being drafted.

In the future, state and local regulations may force fms in vulnerable buildings to plan and take a proactive approach—instead of reacting after an attack has occurred. However, forward thinking companies will take it upon themselves to put a plan in place before being forced by events or regulators.

Two essential elements must happen before the start of disaster preparation:

  1. A foundation for accessing information is established, and
  2. A comprehensive strategy for selecting emergency personnel is determined.

The key to every plan and subsequent response is the immediate, real-time access to valuable workplace data, including human resources (HR), security, telecom, computer-aided design (CAD), and asset information. In most cases, this constantly evolving data already exists, ideally in the form of a secure, yet redundant, central data repository that is stored off-site, is accessible via the Internet, and has the ability to integrate CAD files and information from every corporate database.

The 10 Critical Steps

After the database is secure, a comprehensive process must be implemented to ensure the best personnel are chosen for the emergency security workforce. Fms and company executives should follow these 10 critical steps to safeguard the company against disaster.

1. Create Special Categories Of Personnel For Emergency And Security Workforce. As an initial step, companies must select personnel to serve as fire safety directors (FSDs) and deputies, fire wardens, floor captains, emergency evacuation, and disaster recovery teams.

FSDs conduct safety inspections and design procedures for evacuations and safety drills. They are also responsible for assigning fire wardens, floor captains, and emergency evacuation teams to specific areas. In the event of a disaster, FSDs conduct emergency operations, direct evacuations, and report conditions to emergency response personnel.

Fire wardens, floor captains, and emergency evacuation teams are responsible for knowing all exit locations from occupied areas, as well as conducting emergency evacuations from their assigned floors.

2. Identify Emergency And Security Personnel To The Enterprise. Once identified and assigned, it is imperative that life safety, emergency, and security personnel make their critical corporate information readily accessible to the entire organization, including:

  • Names and pictures;
  • In-house, pager, and wireless phone numbers;
  • On-site location during both normal business and off-peak hours;
  • Primary workplace location and area of responsibility; and
  • Relevant skill sets.

Management teams will need this information to assess the condition and readiness of emergency and security personnel. Additionally, general employees will take comfort in knowing who will be responsible for their safety.

3. Generate Evacuation Floorplans. While required by many local and state authorities, evacuation floorplans can be made accessible not only to the life safety and emergency evacuation teams, but to all personnel. These plans are commonly published in building and elevator lobbies, but may also be made accessible via the Internet, enabling personnel to review them at their leisure. More importantly, when plans are accessible via the Internet, they are available to emergency response teams prior to—or during—an event.

4. Establish A Primary And Secondary Fire Command Station. The Fire Command Station is where emergency and security personnel, as well as fire and life safety teams base their operations during an emergency. It is recommended that companies set up a secondary or alternative Fire Command Station in case the primary station is not accessible.

5. Identify Personnel With Conditions That Would Impede A Quick Exit. It is critical that employers create a list of disabled personnel and designate places of refuge for them in the event of an emergency, a task that is often required by local and state authorities.

In addition to creating a list, graphically pinpointing disabled employees’ exact locations and designated areas of refuge on a floorplan will help emergency response teams, fire wardens, and floor captains make split second—and often life saving—decisions. Providing immediate access to this information allows all personnel to identify and locate employees in need of special assistance in the event of an emergency.

6. Visually Map The Exact Location Of Personnel And Mission Critical Assets. The integration of CAD data with HR, telecommunications, and security access control information makes it possible to map the exact location of all personnel within a facility. The same process applies to mission critical assets: by integrating asset information with CAD data, companies can quickly pinpoint the physical location of essential assets in the event of an emergency.

7. Remotely Store Photo IDs Or Identification Information For All Occupants. Showing a photo ID to access a facility is common practice today. Storing this information remotely and creating the ability to view it from any location allows for an immediate audit in the event of an emergency. This will enable companies to determine those present at a facility at any given time. The security access control system can also track visitors and independent contractors in addition to employees.

8. Maintain Up-To-Date Facility Information. As previously mentioned, companies should post and maintain all facility information on the Web. Once the information is online, construction drawings and specifications are constantly available for both emergency and day-to-day situations. An awareness of the exact location and condition of specific items in a facility will improve the ability to manage any situation.

9. Locate And Identify Potentially Hazardous Materials (HAZMATs) And Unsafe Areas. By providing instant access to this data, companies limit the risk of exposing personnel to contamination from hazardous materials or explosions of flammable substances. At a minimum, emergency response teams will be able to use the information to stay safe. Data for required HAZMAT reporting to local, state, and federal authorities can also be made available.

10. Constant Communication And Drills. The key to a successful evacuation and disaster recovery plan is constant communication, and the formation of a safety campaign rather than just a safety plan can make a significant difference. Making life safety and evacuation information readily available throughout the corporation and testing the plan with regular drills will restore operational continuity, improve personnel optimism, and secure the organization’s future. The difference between success and failure is training and knowledge.

Companies must take preventive steps to plan and respond to emergency situations effectively. These 10 simple steps may help fms build the kinds of response systems that will safeguard human lives and other valuable assets.

Meyer is CEO of Centerstone Software of Westwood, MA. For more information on Centerstone, contact The Castle Group, Inc. at (617) 227-0012.

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About Heidi Schwartz

Heidi Schwartz

Schwartz joined Group C Media in April 1989 as managing editor of Today's Facility Manager (TFM) magazine (formerly Business Interiors) where she was subsequently promoted to editor/co-publisher of the monthly trade magazine for facility management professionals. In September 2012, she took over the newly created position of internet director for TFM's parent company, Group C Media, where she is charged with developing content and creating online strategies for TFM and its sister publication, Business Facilities. Schwartz can be reached at

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