Companies need more resources to prepare for emergencies

In the post 9/11 world, more companies have emergency evacuation and disaster recovery procedures in place, but officials say they need more resources to combat obstacles, according to a recent survey that compared results from a similar poll in 2007.

Three facilities management experts — Victoria Hardy, chief executive of Star Island, a nonprofit that sponsors conferences and retreats in Portsmouth, N.H.; Suzanne Kennedy of the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston; and Kathy Roper of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta — reviewed the survey findings Thursday at the International Facility Management Association’s World Workplace 2008 Conference and Expo at the Dallas Convention Center.

The team set out to determine the impact of 9/11 on emergency preparedness.

“How does a company prepare for a total catastrophic event?” asked Ms. Hardy, the former head of Wentworth’s design and facilities department, “It doesn’t have to be terrorism. We now have many examples of hurricanes and floods.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, the Port Authority of New York’s was able to safely evacuate more than 18,000 people from the World Trade Center complex in the 1 hour, 42 minutes and 5 seconds between the initial attack and the last building’s collapse, Ms. Hardy said. The main reason so many people survived was because the Port Authority made many changes to its building and its emergency procedures after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, she said.

The Port Authority’s changes to the former World Trade Center included adding reflective paint to all exits, installing speakers throughout, having backup power sources and designated floor wardens.

In May 2007, the team surveyed 100 facility management professionals about their evacuation practices to determine if 9/11 had a long-term impact on emergency practices.

“We were horrified at what we found,” said Ms. Hardy. “There were serious numbers of people who didn’t do drills at all, and more than half didn’t feel that they had a good plan.”

The team decided to survey the same group this year. Overall, they found many improvements in company emergency evacuation and disaster recovery plans, but respondents still said they needed more senior leadership support and more resources and information.

Here are some of the survey 2008 questions and results:

1. Do you have an emergency evacuation procedure in place? 92 percent said yes vs. 81 percent in 2007.

2. Do you have a disaster recovery plan in place? 80 percent said yes vs. 70 percent in 2007.

3. How adequate is your disaster recovery plan? 41 percent said somewhat/not very vs. 47 percent in 2007.

4. Is disaster recovery review part of your overall strategic review? 64 percent said yes vs. 63 percent in 2007.

“Economics and funding do not seem to be the culprit here,” said Ms. Kennedy, interim head of Wentworth’s design and facilities department. Bigger issues were making emergency evacuation and disaster recovery plans a priority and generating support from senior executives, she said.

Ms. Kennedy suggested that companies do following to improve their procedures:

• Create a team led by a designated senior officer, with representation from facilities management, human resources and the community.

• Review your existing plan (or create one).

• Make sure each team member understands his/her role.

• Visit all of your company’s facilities to make sure building plans are accurate and up to date.

• Include regular evacuation drills so everyone (including employees and visitors) know what to do.


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