Emergency Preparedness Tips for Protecting Office Buildings
Protecting people and assets in an office building is a huge responsibility. Most employees spend a great deal of time at the office; in fact, the average U.S. employee works for 1,811.16 hours per year. Here are six emergency preparedness tips for protecting people and equipment in office buildings:
Identify the types of disasters that may strike.
Different emergencies require different preparations, so it’s important to identify which disasters are most likely to occur. Certain types of disasters may be more likely than others because of location, climate, and other factors. Consider the likelihood of these emergencies and others:
- Natural disasters (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.)
- Toxic material releases
- Workplace violence
- Active shooters
- Power outages
- Water pipes bursting
Evaluate the site for factors that may make a specific area more dangerous during a crisis.
Each building layout is unique and supports different types of equipment, materials, procedures, and personnel. Besides determining the basic types of crises that could occur, it’s important to scrutinize the site itself to figure out which features and areas might be of particular concern during a crisis. Factors to consider are:
- Building construction
- Storage hazards
- Electrical equipment
- Ladders and catwalks
- Heavy equipment areas
Obtain or update an effective emergency alert and notification system.
If a disaster does strike, how will you inform employees and others in the building? Be sure to implement an effective emergency alert and notification system and keep it in good working order. Personal communication like text messaging, emails blasts, pop-up notifications, and phone calls are popular options for reaching employees. Pop-up notifications can take over all monitors in an office and display, for example, updated evacuation routes and staging areas. Remember to ensure all personnel—such as new employees—know how to opt in to these communications.
Be sure to implements alerts that will also reach office visitors who will not be receiving texts or emails about emergencies. Mass communication options like alarm systems and pa systems could let building occupants know they need to evacuate.
In some cases, response personnel need to receive different or additional messages than general personnel; for example, employees responsible for turning off water or gas should be immediately notified when related problems arise. Make sure your emergency communication procedures take this into account.
Create an emergency action plan.
After determining potential threats and ensuring the building has an effective emergency alert and notification system, it’s time to put together an emergency action plan. The plan should include at least the following:
- Names, titles, departments, and contact information of individuals whom employees can ask for more information about emergency procedures.
- Instructions for exactly how to report the inception of a crisis.
- Specific directions regarding what to do in case of each type of emergency (e.g. fire, active shooter, or chemical spill).
- Department or individual-specific delegation of responsibilities.
- General floor plans.
- Evacuation plan/map including routes and location of exits.
- If applicable, locations of on-site safe rooms or shelters.
- Procedures for assisting people with disabilities or those who do not speak English.
- Utility shut-off locations and instructions.
Distribute emergency action plans before a crisis occurs.
Effective crisis communication begins long before a crisis occurs. Make employees and other personnel aware of emergency procedures by providing them with multiple copies of the emergency action plan. It’s helpful to offer the emergency action plan in more than one form; consider giving employees both an emergency action booklet and a PDF they can download via email or CMS.
Basic emergency action plan information like building layouts, evacuation routes, key contact information, and other instructions should be posted throughout the building in areas such as in elevators, near exits, and in each office suite.
Conduct crisis-specific emergency drills.
Most of us remember fire drills from our school days. We’d quietly exit the school building in a single file line and stand in a field until the teacher said it was OK to go back inside. Emergency drills are just as important for adults. Plan, schedule, and execute drills for each type of emergency that could occur so employees know what to do during a real emergency. Be sure to evaluate how well the drill went and ask employees for feedback.
Always consult subject matter experts, leaders within the company, and authorities like the police and fire departments as appropriate when creating and executing emergency action plans.