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Sky-high disaster management.

From Security Officers to Custodians, Everyone Has a Role to Play.

THE BEST WAY TO ENSURE THAT A RESPONSE TO AN emergency will be proper is to plan that response carefully, to reformulate and refine that response continually, and to practice that response. Those are also the key characteristics of the life safety procedures that ensure effective emergency response in a high-rise building.

A variety of technological components for an emergency detection and response system are in place in modern high-rises today, causing some building owners or managers to become complacent about life safety in their facilities. That attitude could be dangerous. These emergency response system components are only tools to enhance the effectiveness of the response by building tenants and staff, police, fire, and emergency medical personnel. The success of the response will be determined by the effectiveness of the life safety program of the property and the procedures at the heart of that program.

The life safety program of a high-rise building must have the full support of the owner and building management staff to be effective. These individuals must be committed to developing and continually refining a code of emergency response and life safety procedures that addresses the full range of emergency situations. Building staff should be trained--from security officers and stationary engineers to custodians and day laborers--to use emergency response procedures properly. Owners and management staff must be willing to spend the resources to procure necessary life safety equipment and produce training and educational materials for staff and tenants. Management must also ensure that building tenants participate fully in the training, drills, and other activities of the life safety program.

THE LIFE SAFETY PROgram of a modern high-rise building will normally include a number of components. While these elements may vary, the following are among the most commonly encountered: an emergency response organization; a fire and accident prevention program; an education and training curriculum; and schedule of inspection and maintenance of emergency detection and life safety equipment. Emergency response. The emergency response force will make the difference in handling an emergency in a high-rise building. This group is made up of a director, building engineers, security staff, custodial staff, property management staff, and floor wardens.

The emergency response director is the captain of the team. He or she represents the building owner or manager in all issues that relate to emergencies. The director prepares and manages the building's life safety program and develops and implements life safety and emergency response policies. The person in this position encourages tenant organizations to appoint responsible employees to act as floor wardens and trains them to perform their tasks effectively. He or she ensures that the building staff is trained in life safety procedures, and that they are tested frequently.

In conjunction with the building's engineering staff, the director is responsible for the inspection, testing, maintenance, and repair of all building life safety system components and for the accurate documentation of those activities. He or she conducts fire drills for building occupants annually and conducts liaison and coordination activities with public safety officials. Other members of the building staff perform a critical technical support role in the response to a building emergency. Building engineers are the resident experts on the operation of the building's mechanical and electrical systems.

The building engineers should be available to assist fire suppression crews in manipulating the building's heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system. This system helps control fire spread and limits the migration of smoke and fire through the building. Engineers also perform many of the functions associated with the inspection, testing, maintenance, and repair of life safety system equipment.

The security staff performs duties at posts where emergency annunciation devices activate and are normally the first persons in the building to become aware of an emergency situation. The promptness and effectiveness of their initial response is crucial to the overall success of the operation.

These individuals are responsible for accurately reporting the exact nature and location of the emergency so that appropriate public safety personnel can be summoned. They must monitor the response of the building's emergency systems and take appropriate corrective actions if the response is not proper. They should provide floor plans, emergency keys, location directions, and situation reports to public safety team members as they arrive.

The security staff should also isolate the area where the emergency occurs from the rest of the building, and ensure that on-lookers do not interfere with the emergency response. Finally, the security staff should secure the property after the emergency when access control, intrusion detection, CCTV, and other building protective systems may not be operating properly.

The property's custodial staff has a significant and often messy function to perform in times of emergency. They may be charged with using heavy cleaning equipment to limit the spread of smoke, soot, and water during a fire. And, of course, their efforts are invaluable in ensuring the success of the cleanup and business resumption phase of any emergency.

The property management staff has a clearly defined role in making available all building resources necessary to cope with the emergency. They must plan for and execute contacts with vendors that provide emergency materials and services, and they must expedite procurement actions to make those materials and services immediately available. The property management staff is also responsible for maintaining the public relations of the building during an emergency situation. A key player in the emergency response organization is the floor warden. The warden will have to take immediate action in areas near the emergency to limit its spread and to lead his or her colleagues to safety.

Wardens are chosen to perform emergency response services on their floors. They have a range of duties--reporting of an emergency, keeping the victim of a medical emergency comfortable until paramedics arrive, and leading their colleagues to safety during a relocation caused by a fire emergency, to name a few. The best person for floor warden duties is one who participates voluntarily.

It is common to require six principal floor wardens and six alternate floor wardens per floor in a high-rise building. This number is dictated by the size and construction of the floor plates of a modern high-rise building.

Building codes require that the typical high-rise building be constructed with at least two emergency stairwells located at diagonal corners of the floor plate. Two wardens should be posted at each stairwell. One warden to lead employees off the floor of the incident down to the refuge floor, and one to control activities at the stairwell door while the relocation is in progress and then move to the refuge floor and report the floor's status after it has been cleared and checked.

Two additional floor wardens are required because of the enormous size of a modern high-rise building's floor plate, which is approximately 15,000 to 30,000 square feet. These two persons check rest rooms, and any other areas where employees may not have heard the alarm and relocation announcement. When they are certain no one remains, they report their findings to fire authorities. Floor wardens also perform a variety of other functions that are critical to the success of the building's life safety program. They commonly conduct the life safety portion of new employee orientation training. They act as liaisons between their firms and the building property management staff who manage the life safety program. They maintain the list of company employees who have disabilities, and they ensure that plans have been made to accommodate the needs of those persons in an emergency.

Floor wardens also conduct periodic inspections of their areas to determine if problems exist that may cause an emergency. The floor warden, for example, should take note of and report tears in the carpet, burned out exit signs, blocked hallways that lead to the emergency stairway, and the condition of fire extinguishers.

Prevention program. Even one emergency in a high-rise building is one incident too many. Therefore, every problem that can be discovered and eliminated before it creates an emergency incident makes a significant contribution to safety in the building.

A fundamental aspect of fire and accident prevention is nothing more than good housekeeping and common sense in daily business activities. Good housekeeping removes the clutter and disorder that might camouflage fire or accident hazards. Occupants should be encouraged to report anything in the building that must be repaired to prevent fire or injury.

The fire and accident prevention inspection program in a high-rise building can be both formal and informal. Its official aspect will include a scheduled program of building inspections made by the property management staff. The less regimented portion involves impressing on floor wardens the need to be observant and report any life safety deficiencies.

Training and education. The life safety program and its emergency procedures must be widely known and frequently practiced. The training and education component of the program has two main segments: training for the members of the emergency response organization and training for occupants.

It is not easy to convince people to set aside time to attend training or participate in drills, but it must be done. The difficulty of accomplishing this task varies according to the type of high-rise building. The easiest circumstance is one where the building is proprietary and occupied by only one firm, of which the chief executive is also the building owner. Given full management support, education and training becomes one of the attainable organization goals, and can be achieved with ease.

Greater difficulty is encountered in a multitenant building. Each of the many tenant organizations has its own goals and objectives. In that circumstance, the education and training program competes directly for time with issues that may generate more interest from the tenant organization concerned.

To cope with this problem, lease language should mandate that all tenants participate fully in life safety program activities. Training and education sessions should be conveniently scheduled. Four to six presentations of each training session should be scheduled at different times over a two-week period to make it as easy as possible for building occupants to fit the training into their schedules.

Floor warden training is extremely important. Participants must be totally familiar with all aspects of emergency procedures so they can encourage confidence in the other employees and train them to respond quickly and as directed in an emergency.

Floor warden training should be conducted at least twice annually. Such training should thoroughly review all emergency procedures, with particular emphasis on dealing with fire and accident prevention, movement to safety, and the inspection of fire detection and suppression equipment. After this training has been completed, floor wardens should conduct or coordinate training for all other employees on their floor. New employees should be trained within the first thirty days of being hired, and periodic retraining should be conducted at least annually.

Employee training should include a thorough review of pertinent emergency procedures, with particular emphasis on dealing with fire and accident prevention and movement to safety. The training of building staff members of the emergency response organization should focus on their particular issues of specialty interest. Life safety training should be woven into all training presented to building staff.

Equipment maintenance. Any item of life safety equipment is worthless unless it can be counted on to function properly. All life safety system components must be periodically inspected and maintained. It is common to hire a licensed life safety system maintenance contractor. While building engineers could perform the inspection function, they do not typically possess the range of skills necessary to perform maintenance services on all of the types of equipment involved. Contracting also makes sense as a time management tool. When building engineers take on maintenance of life safety systems, the time taken away from other engineering functions may be prohibitive.

Emergency procedures. The emergency procedures that prescribe certain actions for certain situations are at the heart of any high-rise life safety program. They set out who will respond to the emergency, what specific actions will be taken, how those actions will be sequenced, and the exact outcomes that are expected. For some emergencies, these procedures can be simple.

For example, the reaction to a medical emergency usually entails simply keeping the victim calm and comfortable while awaiting the arrival of medical personnel. More direct intervention would occur if necessary to save the victim's life. In other types of emergencies, the response can be exceptionally complex to handle. The emergency response plan for a high-rise should address the emergencies that are likely to affect the property. Since the response procedures should be continually updated and tested, it would be unwise to waste time and other resources by including responses to emergency situations that are not likely to occur. For example, it would not be useful to include a section in the procedures on the response to a blizzard for a high-rise building in southern California.

There is no way of foretelling when a disaster will occur; there is only the knowledge that it inevitably will. Carefully planned procedures that are continually refined and frequently practiced are the keys to managing the unthinkable disaster.

Limiting the After-Shock of Earthquakes

EVERY HIGH-RISE DISASTER management plan should address in detail the procedures for the most likely threats. That might include fire or bomb threats or medical emergencies. Here, earthquakes, common to San Francisco, are used as an example. The majority of the tasks and functions that make up pre-earthquake planning are those that can be accomplished by tenant organizations at any time as a part of their life safety and earthquake preparedness programs. High-rise property management staffs should encourage active tenant organization planning and should assist through consultations, training, and drills.

The following steps can be taken before an earthquake occurs:

* Nonstructural hazard reduction. Nonstructural components that pose a potential threat to safety should be identified, strategies for reducing those threats should be developed, and the most cost-effective means of eliminating those threats should be implemented. This can be as simple as altering the way that items are stored, bolting groups of tall files together and to walls, and installing Velcro computer equipment lock-downs.

* Employee awareness. Intensive employee awareness and information campaigns should be conducted through company publications and other media forms to alert employees to the potential hazards and to explain the company's earthquake preparedness actions.

* Emergency care provisions. Emergency shelter, feeding, and care of employees, customers, and visitors who are in company facilities during an earthquake should be planned. This includes designating shelter areas, acquiring provisions, and training personnel.

* Preparedness management. Procedures should be developed to ensure a continuous program of management and a smooth transition to an emergency management team, if required. Employee training programs on preparedness, search and rescue, lifesaving, fire suppression, and other emergency responses should be developed and implemented. Accurate inventories of critical supplies and equipment should be maintained. An emergency operations center should also be equipped. Following a catastrophic earthquake, the security department should activate an emergency control center and dispatch security officers to make an initial report of medical needs and building damage. They should focus on such damage as partial collapse or signs of pending collapse, obvious major structural damage, rupture or severe damage to utility systems, and threat of serious fire. Using available communications, to include runners, if necessary, communications should be established with the floor wardens on each floor to determine emergency medical and first-aid needs.

At the emergency control center, an emergency message center should be established to provide building occupants a vehicle for leaving and receiving information. Priority should be given to questions concerning the well-being of persons thought to be hurt or missing.

The security department should also make recommendations to the property management group about the feasibility of and need for evacuating buildings based on the initial damage assessment reports. If a building is to be evacuated, the evacuation should begin with the top floor and continue downwards to the ground floor. Floor wardens should organize the occupants of their floor into groups and proceed to the emergency stairwells. Elevators are not to be used. Disabled persons are to accompany the group during the evacuation because outside assistance may not be available. They should move at the head of the group and be assisted by ambulatory persons. Wheelchairs should not be evacuated. Persons who are wheelchair-bound must be carried.

All ground-level and below entrances except one should be locked and an access control post at that entrance should be established. Security should allow only emergency services personnel to reenter until the building has been inspected, repaired, and declared safe.

Floor wardens should check all persons in their area to determine if any emergency medical needs exist. If faced with a life-threatening situation, aid should be summoned by telephone or by runner via the emergency stairwell. Wardens should inspect structural and nonstructural components of the floor for serious damage, check utility systems, and determine if any hazardous situations exist. This information should be passed on to security and engineering personnel inspecting the building. Floor wardens should ensure that emergency supplies and equipment have been distributed as appropriate.

Only licensed elevator mechanics, members of the fire department, or specially trained building personnel should attempt to correct an elevator malfunction or to extricate a trapped passenger from a stalled elevator car. Unless a life-threatening situation exists, no attempt should be made to extricate the passenger until the malfunction that caused the car to stall has been resolved. The security staff should immediately communicate with the persons trapped in the elevator car. The passengers should be assured that they are safe; they should be warned not to attempt to force the elevator doors open, and they should be told of the steps being taken to free them. An offer should be made to contact family or other persons on behalf of the trapped passengers, and communications with them should be maintained until the malfunction has been resolved and they are freed.

William F. Newman, CPP, is life safety/security manager for Bramalea U.S. Properties, in Oakland, California. He is a member of the ASIS Standing Committee on Commercial Real Estate.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article; emergency management in high-rise buildings
Author:Newman, William
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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