Facility Managers Guide To Prepare For Public Health Emergency

April 1, 2009

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The world is currently facing a possible pandemic outbreak of the H1N1 strain of the Influenza A virus, causing a global uproar with governments everywhere scrambling to prevent the spread of the disease.


Public health emergencies like the H1N1 flu or “swine flu” can bring devastating effects to the human population, causing serious illnesses that can lead to death. The protracted spread of pandemic flu can last for a long time, unlike physical or natural disasters that are limited in time and scope. And unlike natural calamities that primarily bring damages to physical assets and structures, the H1N1 outbreak hits humans primarily. And when people are stricken, incapacitated or dead, disruption to key businesses and institutions inevitably follows, causing financial damages on the side.


1. Public Health Emergency Stakeholders


What does the pandemic flu mean to smaller microcosms of the world such as residential, commercial or industrial buildings where people conduct their daily lives and businesses?


It falls on the facility manager to coordinate the creation and execution of an emergency preparedness plan within the facility, taking into consideration the inputs and concerns of building tenants, facility employees, third-party service vendors or suppliers, and external stakeholders such as the local government.

The facility manager should have the commitment to tenants, customers, employees and other stakeholders that, in times of public emergencies like the swine flu outbreak, the facility will provide a safety plan encompassing emergency response procedures, as well as early prevention and detection, effective communication, control, mitigation, evacuation and recovery actions.


In turn, tenants and employees have the responsibility to know, participate and cooperate in the creation and execution of the emergency plan, when the situation arises.


2. Elements of an Effective Emergency Response


As part of the business continuity plan of any facility, the emergency preparedness and response plan should be comprehensive enough to contain the following key elements involving people, resources and functions:


  • Communication lines must be established for early detection and mitigation;
  • Key emergency providers must be identified (medical providers, police and ambulance services, among others);
  • Continuity of mission-critical operations, and the key people to maintain them;
  • Operating procedures must be enabled in the event of disruption of important business activities, supplies and resources;
  • Command or administrative center must be organized to support the logistical requirements (utilities, resource inventory, medical support, food and transportation, etc.)


3. Importance of the Emergency Preparedness Plan


The facility manager understands how important it is to current and future tenants that an emergency preparedness plan is established and activated whenever events such as the pandemic flu occur. Often the emergency preparedness plan is one of the key elements in tenants’ decision to lease or buy. Tenants need to be reassured that not only their assets but also their personal safety are protected in the facility premises.


The emergency preparedness plan must be reviewed and tested to ensure its effectiveness in the event of actual emergency, through regular emergency drills and constant dialogue with tenants. On a regular basis, the facility manager can communicate to tenants with preventive and informative reminders posted on restrooms, bulletin boards, and small signs, among others. These reminders contribute to the prevention of a possible outbreak, and when the worse does happen, the tenants are already well-prepared to do their part in activating the emergency response plan, increasing the likelihood of controlling and resolving the crisis.

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