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Interdependencies in business have become increasingly complex because of outsourcing on a global basis. Disruptions caused by natural or manmade disasters have a crippling impact on dependent organisations. The modern marketplace functions on “just-in-time” basis and is characterised by time related pressures and fierce competition. Companies cannot afford to be non-operational even for a few days in the event of a crisis. Recovery and continuity planning involves the following five steps:

  • Project Initiation
  • Risk Analysis
  • Strategy Development
  • Implementation Plan
  • Support and Maintenance

Housekeeping/facility management department is required to plan and manage physical recovery and critical aspects of business continuity. These include, emergency response plan, relocation procedures, emergency access control and security, vital records recovery, hazardous contamination, health & safety issues and product / service recovery plans.

Risk management forms an inherent part of business continuity planning and deals with the non-commercial risks that may confront an organisation. Risk management needs to take into account the risks posed both by natural events and non natural events. While natural events may cause floods, earthquakes storms and epidemics, non natural events could result in fire, terrorist or arson related damage, bomb threats and major chemical or water leakages.

The emergency response plan is a very small part of this process which ensures that emergencies and crisis are detected at the earliest and all available resources are effectively employed to reduce the crippling effect of such situations. Invariably, the assistance of specialist external agencies is required to deal with major emergencies. However, timely actions by the people available at the premises go a long way in restricting damage to life and property.

These plans will detail the actions to be taken at each stage as also plan for provisioning of specific equipment and stores required for handling the emergency. For instance, if we are preparing an action plan against flooding, we may consider adequate flood insurance coverage, have a supply of sand bags readily available, locate critical equipment on higher floors, have portable water pumps with discharge hoses to remove water from low lying areas, maintain emergency survival rations and medicines to sustain occupants for at least 24 hours and have battery based emergency lights on all floors.

In the current security environment, terrorist related violence, especially the bomb threat has acquired prominence. The best defence against a bomb attack is preparation. Facility teams need to create a bomb threat checklist that serves as a template for bomb threats received via telephone. The checklist also seeks a response from the recipient about the description of the caller’s voice which may help in determining the legitimacy of the threat.

A credible bomb threat will normally be followed by evacuation of the premises and detailed bomb search operation by the security and facilities team. The building search should be conducted in an orderly and thorough manner. The search is typically carried out by the staff in pairs. The sweep and search is conducted for each floor/room zone wise. Each space is divided into four zones height wise – from floor to waist, waist to chin, chin to ceiling and above the false ceiling. The search party must stop look and listen for any unusual sound, scan the space zone wise and identify any unusual object. During search operations, use of mobile phones or any other radio frequency based communication equipment must not be permitted. If an unusual object is noticed, the area should be marked with luminous tape and bomb disposal squad intimated accordingly.

Fire related emergency response plan is universally applicable and needs to be prepared in detail. The risk assessment must be done carefully to identify the types of fires so that suitable fire-fighting equipment in adequate numbers can be positioned in close proximity to the critical areas. Help of local fire department can be taken in formulating of this plan.

Housekeeping staff comprises a major component of the facility management work force at any site. They are the readily available resource for confronting challenges posed during any emergency. Because of the nature of their work, the housekeepers have a detailed knowledge of the layout and various evacuation routes at any site. They are also aware of the location of the fire-fighting equipment and availability of personal protective and evacuation equipment. This makes them eminently suited for providing immediate assistance to the occupants during crisis situations. Keeping in view their skill sets, the housekeeping staff can be assigned the following roles:

  • Provide control and guidance for inmates during evacuation.
  • Assist physically challenged individuals to evacuate the building.
  • Evacuate the injured to safe areas.
  • Provide immediate first aid.
  • Provide manpower for fire fighting.
  • Provide manpower for cordoning off the affected area.
  • Help in sealing off an area during a terrorist or hostage related situation.
  • Guide occupants to the designated assembly area.
  • Help in search operations during a bomb related threat.
  • Provide guidance to external agencies like fire brigade, police and medical staff within the premises.
  • Help in damage assessment process.

Housekeeping staff should preferably work under their own supervisors during these emergencies. They can be divided floor wise or sector wise for easier delineation of responsibility. For instance, if the supervisor has been assigned the role of a floor marshal, his housekeeping team can then be divided to provide individual safety stewards for that floor to guide people to individual exits using torches and beacons. They should wear a bright luminous jacket for easy and quick identification Stewards must keep the occupants calm and ensure that evacuation takes place smoothly at a brisk walking pace. Critical areas like stairs, sharp bends and narrow passageways must be adequately illuminated by torches and emergency lights to avoid tripping. They will also ensure that all elevators are switched off, all exits are open and free from obstruction. Stewards will inspect all rooms and common areas to ensure that all occupants have moved out and will be the last to evacuate the premises.

The success of the emergency response plan to a great extent will depend upon the training of the housekeeping staff to undertake their assigned roles. Accordingly, formal training should be provided in related areas. The staff must be trained in bomb search operations, handling and evacuation of causalities and provision of basic first aid especially against burn related injuries. They should also be adept at handling of fire-fighting equipment and evacuation drills for the site. If special evacuation equipment for physically challenged is available at site, the facility staff must be trained to use it effectively.

Housekeeping and the other facilities staff at the site should be made to practice their assigned fire and other emergencies related role on a regular basis. At least one mock drill should be conducted every quarter to confirm that all fire fighting and other equipment is functional and all concerned are aware of their roles and responsibilities.

Emergencies occur when we least expect them and the reaction time is very less. Good training and regular mock emergency drills can equip the housekeeping staff to play an effective part in such situations.

Brigadier Ashok Jaitly
GM – Training FMS and PMC, Knight Frank India Pvt. Ltd

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