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By Ronald Kovach, Managing Editor
Emergency Preparedness Article Use Policy
Given today’s growing threat list for facility managers, experts offer additional tips on improving building resilience, including such issues as backup power, roof maintenance, and elevation of electrical systems.
Respect the power of weather. Plan for large amounts of water, wind, and lightning. Maintain or upgrade lightning protection to protect communication systems, and make sure anything anchored to the roof can withstand high winds. Wade once saw a storm event involving a couple rooftop HVAC units he estimated at 1,000 pounds each. When a tornado came through nearby, he says, the wind tore the units out of their anchors and moved them 20 feet.
Develop a backup power plan. Have a generator in place, or the electrical connections that will let you move one onsite, and put it all above flood level, Miccolis says.
Re-supply of generator fuel in a crisis is not a sure bet, because roads could be impassable. "A data center can run (on reserves) for a week without bringing in fuel, but an office building may not have that luxury," Wade says. Miccolis recommends that larger facilities have two fuel contracts. Or consider an out-of-region supplier.
The roof is the first line of defense against nature’s fury. A maintenance plan with a reputable vendor could buy you some peace of mind. In the absence of one, at least make sure your perimeter edge flashing is very well secured and tightly fit against the building, Miccolis says. On flat roofs get rid of any loose debris. If a contractor’s been up there, make sure they’ve left no tools, equipment, or debris behind and secured all equipment panels.
Practice preventive maintenance. If you have an "off-season" weather-wise, do major building repairs, if warranted; develop a supply of materials that may be needed during a severe weather event; and, if needed, develop vendor contracts for such things as generator and fuel deliveries in an emergency, Miccolis suggests.
If the roof is safely accessible, the spring and fall are good times to check for leaks, good drainage, flowing gutters, no standing water, shingles not curling up, and the condition of edge shingles, which are most vulnerable to high winds. If you’re repairing or replacing a roof, going beyond code could buy you extra wind resistance. Keep trees away from the building and trim loose branches.
Consider elevating electrical equipment. It’s not an easy decision because of cost, inconvenience, and space needs. "We try not to put equipment in the basement level any more from a new-building perspective," Wade says. "If you have your electrical switchgear in the lower level, I would definitely raise that up. I’d get it a foot or two above the main floor."
Miccolis says company records, electrical systems, computer and data equipment, and air conditioning equipment all should be elevated above flood levels. Why? Because problems with them can prevent a building from re-opening.
Drills and training have great value. With simulated drills, "you find out what works, what didn’t work, what you need to fix,"says Wade. John Shea, chief executive officer at the 1,311-building New York City Department of Education, also thinks training is vital. "As the great philosopher Mike Tyson used to say, ‘Everybody’s got a plan until they’re punched in the face,’ " he says. "The great storm is never going to be the same as the one you had in the past, so you’ll be dealing with slightly different issues. How you respond to that is 100 percent related to how well you’ve trained, the communication protocols you’ve put in place, and the interagency exercises you have done."
Determine your flood exposure. "Be aware of the depth of floodwaters, the velocity and the condition of the water — what’s going to be floating in the water?" Miccolis says. "Then you have to look at where the entry points are into the building. You need to protect against those areas with flood gates or sealing the walls or flood-resistant construction."
Prevent sewage line backup caused by floodwater by installing a backflow device on the main discharge line of the sewage line or drain plugs on the first-floor drains, Miccolis says.
Shea sums up the challenge by saying a big key to improving resilience is knowing your building. "Do your homework, walk your building, and look at it with resilience as a focus and a critical eye, and come up with a list of things and then prioritize them. Some are going to be very high cost and very low return, but some may be low cost and high return. Make a pitch to your business folks that these are some of the things that you should be doing first, and just do them before the first drop of rain hits the ground."
Visit the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s website for a wealth of resilience resources for facility managers, including a free business continuity tool: www.disastersafety.org
Using Planning, Checklists, Other Tools to Improve Resilience in Existing Buildings
Other Building Resilience Issues Include Backup Power, Roofs, Preventive Maintenance