Managing a commercial property comes with enormous responsibilities. Being prepared for on-site emergencies stands as one its biggest challenges. I speak from experience.
My involvement with commercial real estate started with investments I made when I was 18. Today, my husband and I own and operate one of the largest ServiceMaster Chicago fire and water damage restoration franchises.
Unfortunately, it’s all too often that I hear property managers express regrets about not having a better emergency plan in place.
Whether you manage retail, multifamily or industrial properties, you give it your very best, but you have to anticipate the worst. Based on my years in the restoration business, I strongly recommend developing property management emergency procedures built on these five critical points.
1. Be Ready to Respond
The call or text comes through. Your building is on fire. Does the alarm come from a tenant? Has someone already contacted 911? Work out your response to the first wave of an emergency before it happens.
Upgrade alarm systems with communication technology that alerts you, first responders and building tenants and also keep a list of multiple emergency contacts available so that you can quickly reach critical services. Immediately inform employees and tenants about any changes in building layout or access.
It’s also important that maintenance team members know how to shut off the building’s water, gas and electricity. Assign on-site employees to help evacuate tenants with special needs. Drill employees on how to respond to different emergencies, and update them on any changes in procedures.
2. Clearly Map Evacuation Routes
When we work on a property after a fire, I’m often surprised by the absence of posted evacuation maps. These maps play a lifesaving role in every property manager’s emergency action plan especially in multifamily buildings.
Post evacuation maps on each floor near exits, elevators and stairwells. Include emergency safety information about avoiding elevators and closing doors during a fire. Clearly mark all emergency exits and fire-safe stairwells, and post easy-to-read directional information in hallways.
3. Maintain All Safety Systems
As a property manager, your responsibilities for emergency planning include keeping all building safety systems in good shape and up to code. Your property’s maintenance teams can take care of routine checks and adjustments, but some jobs are better handled by industry-trained technicians.
Make sure fire extinguishers are mounted correctly alongside posted information that explains their proper use and routinely check all emergency systems including fire sprinklers, emergency lighting and smoke alarms. Have all emergency system equipment inspected by industry technicians at least once a year.
Check emergency exits for properly operating doors every day, and make sure these areas always stay clear. Update evacuation maps to reflect any changes in property layout that could affect exiting the building.
4. Keep Tenants Informed and Involved
You want an emergency plan for your commercial building that helps minimize property damage. However, maximizing tenant safety is your first priority. As you develop an emergency response plan, keep tenants informed and involved.
Make sure tenants have a list of emergency numbers including contact information for you and your staff. Include a packet of emergency preparedness information with all tenant move-in materials and deliver an updated emergency preparedness packet to all building tenants once a year.
In multifamily buildings that allow pets, distribute ASPCA Rescue Alert stickers as needed. Also, alert tenants to any property alterations or changes in emergency procedures that might affect an evacuation.
5. Have a Trusted Recovery Partner
Solid emergency planning should address the aftermath of fire and water damage. If you don’t already work with a disaster restoration company, partner with a contractor now so that you’ll have 24/7 access to vital recovery services.
Talk to other property managers about their experiences with different disaster restoration companies; your insurance carrier can also recommend a restoration contractor who maintains Quality Restoration Vendor status. Be sure to connect with a restoration business that’s full-service, available 24/7, IICRC-certified and has positive online reviews.
Make your final decision based on a personal interview with the company’s team leaders. After you partner with a restoration contractor, add his or her contact information to your list of emergency numbers.
You Always Have Help
When my husband Neil and I launched our restoration business back in 2008, we knew we needed an emergency plan to protect our building and employees in cases of on-site emergencies. I reached out to our local fire, police and EMS departments. Even my insurance carrier was a big help.
As you form your own plan or update existing procedures, network with emergency responders in your area. Developing a disaster preparedness plan is a very big job, but it’s easier when you ask the experts for assistance. They’re always there for you, and they’re always happy to help.
About the author
Diana Rodriguez-Zaba owns and operates ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, with offices in both Chicago and Skokie, Illinois. Diana and her team work daily with property managers all across the city, providing water damage, fire damage and specialty cleaning services.