And now for something completely different…

And now for something completely different...

Recently, a friend who has an interest in a commercial property located in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago related the following story.

The property has 20 separate units or suites and about a dozen owners. The Board retains a property manager to handle all day-to-day operations. At 9:00 PM on a recent Saturday evening, the local police department called my friend (as President of the Board) and informed him that fire alarm had activated in one of the other owner’s units and the police had also found the front door unlocked. There had been no damage or intrusion (other than the police). He was on site 10 minutes later.

After being satisfied that no harm was done and the alarm was an error, it was clear that the unit owner needed to be contacted so the property could be secured and doors locked. After immediately contacting the building manager, it was found that the needed contact information (telephone number) was in the wrong office or desk to be of any value. It was basically unavailable unless someone drove an hour to retrieve it. After an hour of sleuthing (and sitting in the suite for security purposes) my friend and the building manager were able (by pure chance) to find the needed contact information. The owner soon arrived with the needed keys. Apparently the building’s emergency plan had failed when it was needed.

What lessons were learned by this Board and their manager? Four emerged.

  • If you do not have access to owner contact information when and where you need it, you do not have any contact information.
  • If you do not have the required codes or keys to locate or shut off an alarm system or open a door, your response team will be locked out or worse.
  • If no one is clearly responsible of responding to and communicating with dispatch, police or fire personnel in an emergency, no one is in charge.
  • Emergencies always happen at bad times—that is why they are called emergencies.

How can these lessons be applied to other circumstances (or, your company)? In our experience, three essential emergency response imperatives should be considered:

  1. Appoint an emergency executive-in-charge and an alternate in their absence. All communications (or alarms) go across their desk. Police & fire call this person, first!
  2. Be sure all needed phone numbers or alarm codes (the HOT LIST in our lexicon) are in the hands of the executive-in-charge and available for use and reference at all times—i.e.: at home on Saturday night at about 9:00 PM. Also be sure that the HOT LIST tells the reader where all keys can be found within 30 minutes, tops.
  3. Be sure that two other officers always have copies of the HOT LIST on their person or within easy grasp at all times.

Do you have an emergency plan for your company or properties? Can you name your emergency executive-in-charge? If not, you know what you need to do.

If you think you have a pretty good emergency plan and structure, I recommend you test it periodically—start this coming Saturday night at about 9:00 PM. And, remember to keep your sense of humor.

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