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An emergency planning guide for facilities

[fa icon="calendar"] 2/10/18 5:30 PM / by SAMTRAC


Cover image 10 February 2018.jpg

Many facilities managers (FM) prefer to maintain a behind-the-scenes role in the buildings they oversee. If people can’t see the work you do, you’re doing your job well, right? In an emergency, however, FMs must run point because they know the space better than anyone, and are able to marshal resources quickly and get people where they need to go.


This post will explore exactly what that entails.


4 broad responsibilities of an FM in an emergency

  • The FM defines everyone’s role so they know what to do when the moment arises.
  • The FM defines mission-critical functions and assesses where vulnerabilities lie.
  • The FM helps pull together a preparedness plan; communicates that plan to all owners, managers and occupants, and runs practice scenarios to identify breakpoints in the plan.
  • The FM takes into account new circumstances, the changing needs of building occupants, and feedback from stakeholders to tweak the plan as needed.


Planning and preparation will account for the vast majority of your work. That’s because the best emergency response comes from thoughtful preparation.


How FMs can prepare themselves for any emergency 

The key to resilient building operations is planning. At minimum, an emergency plan should cover four key issues:

  1. It should identify the mission-critical systems that must be kept running.
  2. It should include a list of everyone who regularly occupies the building.
  3. It should have a list of equipment and other property that needs to be moved out of harm’s
  4. It should include a checklist for every action the facilities team needs to take during the   


Let’s unpack those first two points.


Mission-critical systems

Your national and local codes and standards will address the minimum basic requirements for:

  • emergency-power
  • water
  • hvac
  • fire-protection
  • lighting
  • fuel-storage, and
  • communication



These requirements provide for the life safety and immediate needs of the facility’s staff and visitors. But they do not necessarily address a facility’s ability to provide for increased demand for services after an emergency, as well as protection of the physical plant, facility or extended operations without the support of public utilities.


As an FM, you can accomplish this goal by implementing an emergency sustainable-operations matrix, which enables you to analyse and determine the potential vulnerability of utility and operational systems and the cost of protecting these systems.


Building occupants

Beyond a simple list of names of anyone you can reasonably expect will be in your facility during an emergency, you will want to have contact information – a cell phone number and a work email, probably – to also reach each person.


FMs have a duty to ensure the safety of everyone in their facilities. This means ensuring that you store the following in a central system that you can access remotely in case of an emergency:

  • Facilities asset information
  • Information about work spaces
  • Employee information


Furthermore, you must routinely maintain safety equipment, such as sprinklers and alarms, and designing workspaces so that people can freely move to get to an exit.


It’s important that FMs communicate to occupants well ahead of time what they need to do in the event of an emergency. Make sure this information gets to everyone, too.


Did you know?

  • Thirty per cent of office workers aren’t sure whom to turn to with a safety question. 
  • Many say they aren’t aware of the location of safety equipment or what emergency plans there are.
  • Many believe their workplaces are unprepared for natural disasters or power outages.


2 regular steps you can take to improve emergency preparedness

Here are two additional steps you – as the FM – will want to consider when putting together a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan.


Step #1: Make preparations for when you are away

Whether you have to shut down a facility because of a long holiday or because of ad hoc business reasons, sometimes you will have to implement shutdown procedures. If this isn’t a process your building does often, then the procedure may feel unfamiliar to you.


But overlooking security during this time invites burglars and other intruders, and that’s a different kind of emergency. Keep these tips in mind during such a shutdown:

  • Hire temporary security for the duration of the shutdown. Make sure the company conducts a proper risk assessment of your site, no matter how small it is, and that you receive a breakdown of its operations procedure that shows who is on site and when, plus details of its planned activity.
  • If you do hire a company to watch your facility, make sure its key holders have access to gas, electricity and water supplies, as well as other vital services. This will be particularly important if, for example, a pipe bursts over the festive break.
  • Install wireless intruder detection to provide an extra layer of security.


Step #2: Conduct regular scenario-based exercises

The best way to prepare for a specific situation is to run through a trial exercise. This is why militaries conduct drills and basketball teams watch film of their opponents. 


What to do the moment an emergency occurs

Let’s take a look at evacuation and communications, because those can be particularly difficult tasks in the moment of an emergency.



Legal codes will set a baseline standard for access to emergency exits, but scenario-based exercises will help you, as an FM, get a feel for what an emergency evacuation looks like in real time.


When running through specific scenarios, you might be surprised at what you learn. Practise evacuation scenarios for a variety of emergencies, and you might uncover hang-ups you wouldn’t otherwise expect.



When something happens, the first thing most people do is pull out their phones. Many property managers use email and social media (such as Twitter) to send out real-time updates when there is an emergency. This is particularly useful for FMs responsible for large buildings.


WiFi and cellular data networks, however, aren’t the most reliable channels for getting out mission-critical messages. Rather consider a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) as one way to extend coverage. Wireless connectivity and a well-functioning DAS not only give a facility a competitive advantage, in terms of leasing space, but is also directly connected to safety in the facility. In the event of an emergency, first responders and the general public should have wireless coverage anywhere in the facility – whether they are in an office, common area, mechanical room, underground tunnel, or stairwell.


That connectivity is especially important for the initial call to emergency services, because two-thirds of calls are made from inside a facility. Having reliable connectivity enables everyone in the building to sound the first alarm.


Still, for ongoing, synchronous communications that are vital to an evacuation, or some other type of response, hand-held radios and walkie-talkies have proven themselves to be the most reliable communications tools because they don’t rely on network uptime. Make sure these are available to the facilities team — you will end up using those among yourselves and when coordinating with first responders.


Read our facilities management series from the start






Topics: Risk in HSE, safety tips, HSE in Business, Emergencies in the Workplace, HSE training, Risk management, Health and Safety, Workplace safety, HSE best practice, Office safety, Ergonomics, Facilities management



SAMTRAC International is the leading occupational health, safety and environment (HSE) management e-learning training course that provides students with the foundational and fundamental knowledge critical to occupational HSE management.

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