FM Issue: Severe Weather Watch

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By Roger McFadden
Published in the January 2012 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

(Photo: Thinkstock)

Facility managers (fms) are regularly faced with emergency situations in the workplace, which run the gamut of preventing accidents to working with IT to ensure that technical equipment protection and data security measures are in place. With all of these responsibilities to consider, fms continue to do a great job, as workplace accidents are down in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses decreased in 2010. An fms’ job is never truly done though, and extra precautions are necessary especially during the winter months.

Planning and prevention is the most basic and important strategy when it comes to emergency preparedness for natural and technological crises. Successful fms have plans in place that are designed for the specific concerns of their facility, while also meeting a variety of regulations. Here are a few items that should be a part of any fm’s emergency preparedness checklist.

Start with snow removal. For facilities located in an area that is likely to receive snow or ice during the winter months, fms should ensure their snow removal contracts are current and provide adequate services, if not being performed by in-house staff. In particular, parking areas, walkways, and all entrances and exits need to be plowed or shoveled and treated with appropriate ice melts as soon as possible following inclement weather.

Choosing A Disaster Recovery Provider

By Brad Key
Each year, many businesses experience damage to their buildings and offices from unforeseen disasters. Incidents can range from fire, smoke, or water that infiltrates walls, floors, and equipment through events such as burst water pipes, fire sprinkler flooding, or leaks from rainstorms.

The results can be operationally and financially disastrous. Potential risks include destruction of interior structural materials, equipment, and files; disruption of operations; damage from humidity; and, if water is not abated quickly, mold growth.

When disaster strikes, it is essential to take immediate action to mitigate damage. Doing so will maximize recovery of contents such as inventory, machinery, furniture, carpeting, electronic media, and documents and files minimize replacement costs, preserve good indoor air quality (IAQ), and control mold risks.

Advance Planning
The best “insurance” in a recovery situation is to create a Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) in advance. The DRP defines and prioritizes the recovery and restoration of areas within a facility and details immediate action that should be taken. It also designates the professional disaster restoration services provider to be summoned when an incident occurs.

Pre-selecting a full service restoration provider enables facility managers (fms) to have a “partner” in the reclamation process and guarantees no learning curve during an emergency. The provider can move rapidly to begin recovery work within the first 24 hours, which is critical to minimize the effects of water.

Some restoration providers offer guaranteed priority emergency services. Properties registered in these programs receive immediate priority for emergency drying and restoration services.

Expectations 
There are certain services an fm should expect of a restoration company:

Consulting. The project scope should be provided. The firm quantifies the damage, determines what can be saved, and recommends the equipment, process, and expected results.

Project Management.
 The company can quickly assemble a cohesive work team, provide rapid emergency response time, and offer a turnkey operation for recovery, restoration, and guaranteed results.

Stabilization.
 The provider takes necessary steps to stabilize the environment and assists with relocation efforts, if necessary.

Dehumidification and Drying. Through removal of standing water and excess moisture, the firm has the ability to reduce material loss, limit IAQ problems, and speed return to occupancy and business operation.

Cleaning and Disinfecting.
 By cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting interior surfaces, the provider eliminates contamination from molds, bacteria, mildew, and potential biological hazards.

Odor Control. There are various methods available to control odor, and fms should discuss the options ahead of time with service providers.

Electronic Equipment Restoration. In many cases, it is possible to clean and restore high-tech components following exposure to fire or water damage.

Preservation of Large Scale Production Equipment. Contamination removal preserves production operating equipment.

Document and Media Restoration. Cleaning, sanitizing, deodorizing, and drying restore paper records and electronic media. This process is most effective if the firm dry cleans by vacuum and uses refrigerated transport storage capabilities to minimize deterioration of materials.

HVAC/Mechanical Systems Cleaning.
 Cleaning and deodorizing the supply and return ducts and the metal housing that encloses coils, heat exchangers, and filter banks assure that clean air again passes into the structure.

Smoke/Water Decontamination. Residue from damage sources such as fire, flood, and storms is removed.

Corrosion Control. Metal surfaces are cleaned and treated to prevent further damage from corrosion.

Controlled Demolition and Disposal. Surfaces that will not respond to restoration efforts in a cost-effective way are removed to expose hidden cavities and expedite the recovery process or to remove sources of odor.

Selecting The Right Firm
It is important to have properly trained cleaning and restoration technicians overseeing the recovery project. In addition to other avenues of research, a list of providers can be obtained from an organization such as the Property Loss Research Bureau located in Downers Grove, IL.

While it may sound obvious, the assessment process must begin with reviewing experience, reputation, and references. The following questions will provide fms with answers that will assist in the decision making.

What was your problem, and what results did the restoration service achieve?
• Did they provide a written scope of work and budget?
• Did they quantify the damage in order to limit the recovery process to the structure?
• Do they guarantee their work in writing?
• Do they provide turnkey service, ranging from consulting and engineering to drying and restoration?
• Do they have vacuum freeze dry, desiccant dry chamber, blast freezing, and refrigerated transportation and storage capabilities?
• Do they offer web site monitoring of drying equipment?
• What was their response time?
• Do they have a local office?
• Were they on budget?
• Were you pleased with their service?

The impact from a natural or man-made disaster can be minimized through planning, emergency response team training, and working with a trusted professional disaster restoration provider.

Key is director of restoration services with Polygon, a provider of water and fire damage restoration and remediation, and for temporary climate control in construction and industrial applications. 

Prevent slips and falls. Maintaining facility grounds for pedestrians and vehicles is key. Fms should use proper ice melts and deicers as a critical part of their overall buildings and grounds maintenance to prevent slip and fall accidents.

As a general rule, deicers keep snow from sticking to the ground and raise the surface temperature enough to prevent ice from forming. These should be applied in advance of a storm. Fms can also apply ice melt products, which can help stop snow from bonding to the surface as it melts when it comes into contact with brine. Ice melt products work by depressing the freezing point of ice or snow and changing the solid ice into a liquid or semi liquid slush. More than 95% of ice melts are made from at least one of seven primary chemicals, each with varying levels of efficacy (depending on the environment).

Fms need to understand which chemicals will work for individual environments for effective snow and ice management. Other important aspects to consider are product availability; lead time necessary for delivery; labor costs; and container size and type for safe and efficient storage, handling, and disposal. Some fms will apply certain ice melt products onto surfaces in anticipation of ice and snow, and others will apply appropriate ice melts after the ice has formed. Many facilities will deploy ice melts before and after, depending on the local environment and conditions.

Keep surface areas safe. Fms also need to consider the impact deicing agents may have on walkways, carpeting, floors, and vegetation around the building. Prudent use of ice melt products can minimize damage to concrete outside and flooring and carpeting inside the building.

Installing quality, absorbent floor mats will help fms keep ice melt residue from being tracked into the building. A thorough matting system (one that includes an outdoor mat in front the entryway, an indoor mat in the vestibule, and a longer walk-off mat) is an effective approach. This best practice is the most successful in absorbing mud, water, salt, or chemicals from pedestrian traffic.

Still, it is likely that salt residue will find its way onto the facility floors inside the building. It is important that these salts be removed as quickly as possible to prevent them from damaging the floor surfaces and coatings. Fms should look for salt removal chemicals that will help eliminate the salt from hard surfaces.

To assist building occupants further, fms should make sure hazardous surfaces are designated with traffic safety cones, signs, or other notifications.

Winterize windows and storm drains. Caulking windows to help fill in gaps and cracks will help save on heating bills and prevent moisture from entering the walls. Storm drains should also be an area of focus, with staff keeping them secure and free of debris (so melting snow and torrential downpours have a clear avenue for expulsion). By monitoring windows and drains, fms can prevent expensive, long-term damage.

Supply first aid kits for minor medical issues. First aid kits, available in all areas of the building, should include bandages, gauze, adhesive tape, antiseptic, a sling, ice packs, medical gloves, ibuprofen, and an instruction guide on basic first aid. First aid kits should be kept in a central location, easily accessible to all employees with emergency phone numbers readily available.

Technology Is No Small Matter

While cleaning and floor maintenance are important aspects of winter preparation, fms must also take into consideration IT issues and work hand in hand with IT managers to protect technology investments. Some considerations for working with IT colleagues include:

Guard your technology. Winter weather can result in costly power outages. It is critical to back up all company and client data daily, either on-site or through a hosted, off-site cloud service. Cloud services enable faster recovery times and improved business continuity. They also keep energy costs down while reducing space required for storage servers.

In addition, fms should always check to make sure backup systems are working properly before a storm hits. For on-site data centers, fms can consider using an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to maintain the proper temperature and moisture control critical for data centers.

Avoid electrical shutdowns. In the event of a power outage, fms must work with IT managers to remind building occupants to turn off and unplug all electronic equipment as a precaution against sudden surges in voltage when power is restored. Also, surge protectors—which act as more than just a power strip and absorb excess electrical energy to prevent it from reaching and potentially ruining equipment—should be used liberally throughout the office. Fms can work with IT experts to determine if individual surge protectors, surge protectors with battery backups, or UPS units are best.

Review telecommuting protocol. Businesses benefit by having a telecommuting protocol in place, so if employees are unable to travel safely to work during or after a storm they can connect with the office remotely. Management personnel may want to consider implementing a telecommuting program with technology and furniture solutions for employees in advance of the winter season.

Planning and prevention is the best way to avoiding and mitigating any emergencies. Fms must communicate established procedures to their staff and share proactive solutions with building occupants so everyone is prepared in the event of an emergency.

McFadden is senior scientist for Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples, Inc. McFadden has served as a consulting chemist and product engineer for several chemical manufacturing companies and is a charter member of the Green Chemistry Commerce Council (GC3). He currently chairs a committee to advance Green Chemistry and the EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) Formulator Initiatives.

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