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Key Steps Facility Managers Should Take for Emergency Preparedness

Key Steps Facility Managers Should Take for Emergency Preparedness

Key Steps Facility Managers Should Take for Emergency Preparedness

Emergency preparedness is a year-long concern for facility managers, but when it comes to natural disasters and other threats to the 
safety of your building and the people who are in it, winter is the highest-risk season. The main risks include severe blizzards and ice storms, power outages, fire, roof collapse, gas leaks, and flooding from snow-melt at season's end. To guard against these dangers and protect employees, customers, and all others present on facility grounds, you should develop and implement a winter disaster response plan no later than the fall.

Effectively coordinating wintertime emergency preparedness policies can involve a whole host of elements, but we will focus on just five of the most important ones here below:

1. Snow and Ice Removal After Severe Storms

Winter grounds crews must be well equipped and fully trained to not only handle routine snow and ice removal, but also to respond efficiently to the aftermath of major blizzards and ice storms. Primary access routes, fire lanes, handicapped parking spaces, and all the most dangerous areas on facility grounds should be prioritized. Since emergencies are compounded by inability to enter/exit the building, quick and effective storm response is a must. Consider placing heated-floor mats near key entrances, so that there’s always a safe exit path at the ready.

2. Emergency Utility Management

Wintertime power outages are a nuisance in themselves, but when combined with snow-ins and other emergency situations, they can be devastating. A back-up power generator should be kept ready all winter long, if not all year long, and enough fuel to operate it for at least 24 hours should be kept on hand. Furthermore, the emergency power source needs to be regularly inspected and tested.

Your heating and electrical systems need to be checked for fire hazards before winter begins, and both heating and ventilation systems must be available even during emergencies. Finally, charts showing where/how to shut off gas, oil, electric, and water, when necessary during an emergency, should be posted in plain view.

3. Emergency Communication Systems

The inability to communicate during a disaster can be as debilitating as the disaster itself, making it imperative to have an emergency telecommunication plan in place. Additionally, a current contacts list should be maintained of employees along with phone numbers of emergency medical services, local hospitals, the Red Cross, FEMA, and nearby police and fire departments. There must be a plan as to how your facility will receive notice of impending disasters and how all building occupants will be warned in a timely manner.

4. An Emergency Exit Plan

Evacuation instructions need to be given to all staff and be displayed next to all fire exits. Routes should pass by protective structures like firewalls while avoiding hazards like wooden staircases and boiler rooms, and no cross-traffic should occur. Periodic tests should be conducted and a head-count of all employees should be made at outdoor assembly zones. In case it becomes necessary to evacuate to a remote area, an emergency transportation plan should exist as well.

5. An Emergency Stay-Over Plan

Sometimes, a day or more of forced confinement may be unavoidable during winter emergencies. Designated shelter and/or living areas, stockpiles of non-perishable food and water, emergency medical supplies, and clearly assigned roles for staff during such a situation will make the emergency confinement period as safe and pleasant as possible.

There are many other aspects to emergency preparedness, such as fire extinguisher management, assisting special-needs occupants, protecting invaluable company records, and researching the weather history of your local area. The five areas of preparation mentioned above, however, should be part of any emergency response plan. As emergency situations are a constant threat, constant vigilance is required.

What Every Property Management Company Needs to Know for Winter

What Every Property Management Company Needs to Know for Winter

What Every Property Management Company Needs to Know for Winter

Property management companies must always be looking for ways to keep their premises safe for residents, both to prevent accidents and the lawsuits that so often follow them. They also must find the most cost-effective ways to manage property maintenance and repairs. 
Preventative maintenance and winterization of their properties will incur some upfront expenses, but they will save money in the long run, as well as keep residents more satisfied.

Here are 10 pieces of advice that every property manager should be aware of and seek to implement before the first snow falls.

1. Prepare for Parking Lot Snow Removal Early

To obtain a competitive contract and to have time to prearrange all the details of how--and how often--you want your parking lots plowed, you cannot afford to wait till the last minute. If your renters are trapped in their residences too often or are forced to drive over dangerous snow and ice, you may see them move out before next winter comes along.

2. Be Ready to Deice Walkways and Entryways

Deicing and anti-icing sidewalks and entry areas is non-negotiable if you wish to avoid slip-and-fall accidents. Stockpile rocks salt, salt brine, and calcium chloride, and consider using snow-melting mats for the heavy-traffic zones.

3. Conduct a Thorough Roof Inspection

One of winter's worst threats is a leaking or caved-in roof, and unless you do a pre-winter inspection, leakage points and ice dam prone areas will not be corrected. Be ready with ladders, shovels, and roof rakes to remove snow from the roof when necessary, but never walk on an unsafe roof.

4. Trim and Prune the Trees

Dead tree branches and limbs that overhang the roof should be trimmed off. Otherwise, a severe winters storm may crash them into the building and cause major damage.

5. Inspect the Chimney

One likely leakage point in a commercial property is through cracked tar around the chimney, so be sure to inspect and re-tar it. Also repair any damage to the chimney itself, especially targeting any loose bricks.

6. Clean Out Gutters and Downspouts

To avoid sagging gutters, knocked-down ice-filled downspouts, and a major risk of ice damming, it is crucial to clean out gutter troughs and downspouts before winter begins.

7. Look for Paint-Peel on Exterior Walls

If you see paint peeling off of exterior walls, you may need to repaint before winter to avoid serious damage to your siding that will ultimately incur a steep cost, even if years into the future.

8. Service or Replace Heating Systems

If your units have a forced air heating system, make sure the filter is changed every month or two to minimize energy bills. If you have an oil or gas furnace, be sure to have it inspected, repaired, or replaced before the cold season when it will be used the most.

9. Cover or Remove Window-Set AC Units

Winter weather will not be kind to window-installed air conditioners that jut outside the building, so it is best to remove them or to cover them with a protective tarp for the season.

10. Service or Replace Water Heaters

Nothing will upset renters more than the lack of hot water in the dead of winter. Flush out water heaters to remove mineral build-up and improve efficiency, and have the unit inspected. If it is an old model that is on its last leg, it will make more sense to upgrade to a more energy-efficient model.

Property management companies face three obstacles every winter: keeping their residents safe, keeping them content, and minimizing expenses. The above tips can help them achieve these goals.

The Other Winter Concerns: What to Prepare for Besides Snow and Ice

The Other Winter Concerns: What to Prepare for Besides Snow and Ice

The Other Winter Concerns: What to Prepare for Besides Snow and Ice

Dealing with snow and ice removal may be the number one challenge that facility managers face every season, but there are other dangers and concerns that winter brings. Low temperatures, cold rains, and high winds are the main sources of trouble outside of snowfall and ice formation. Below, we look at four major concerns that such factors produce, two of them health-related and two building-related, and how facility managers can best address them:

1. Hypothermia

When outdoor temperatures fall below freezing, those working outside run the risk of developing hypothermia. When body temperatures fall below normal, those affected may experience slowed breathing, uncontrollable shivering, a weakened pulse rate, or slurred/confused speech. Hypothermia can lead to death in extreme cases and those who have a "close call" can still sustain long-term damage to vital organs.

It is advisable to check that employees dress for the weather. Any work that needs to be done outside should be broken up into shorter shifts, so that workers don’t spend too long outdoors. Always have some warm blankets and dry "emergency clothes" on hand.

2. Frostbite

When wind is combined with cold, the danger of hypothermia is escalated into that of frostbite. The wind chill, how cold the air feels on the skin, should be considered here since wind carries heat away from the body at a more rapid rate than "mere cold." Freezing rain or other sources of wetness can also contribute to frostbite, so it is critical to keep dry as well as warm.

Frostbite skin will appear pale and numb, and if not treated in time, fingers, toes, and other body parts could be permanently lost. As frostbite can occur in less than 30 minutes with a windchill of -20 °F (-28.88 °C) and a slight breeze, it is wise to have someone knowledgeable in treating frostbite on-site. Equip workers with proper gloves, and ensure that any indoor maintenance area where employees might congregate or work is well heated.

3. Frozen Pipes

In the northern U.S., cold snaps can make water pipes located in unheated basements or inside exterior walls freeze and burst when temperatures fall below 32 °F (0 °C), and especially in sub-zero weather. Not only will the damaged pipe need to be replaced, but water damage will often be quite extensive. In other cases, an expert plumber will have to slowly and safely thaw out pipes that have partially frozen but not yet burst.

To prevent winter pipe damage, you can keep buildings heated at 65 °F (18.33 °C) or higher, insulate pipes with foam jackets or spray, and install covers on all exterior spigots.

4. Storm Damage

Winter storms bring more than snow. They bring intense winds that can rip off shingles and siding, knock down downspouts, and ram trees, branches, and debris into the facility roof, walls, or windows. Debris can also be blown onto the parking lot, damaging cars or creating a tripping hazard. Finally, storms could also down power lines on your premises, and it could take hours or even days before utility workers can attend to it.

While storms are unpreventable and their dangers cannot be nullified, the risk can be minimized. Have your facility inspected and brought into top shape before winter, and always have personnel ready to tackle dangers that arise.

In addition to the precautions you must take for snow and ice removal, be sure to prepare for winter’s other dangers as well. Be vigilant to protect both your employees and your facility throughout the risk-fraught winter season.