Occupant Safety is Every Facility Manager’s Responsibility

From day one, the importance of security should be taught to new team members.

By Charles M. Thomas, Facility Influencer  

In any facility, the people that occupy the space need to be on the facilities teams’ mind. Occupant safety should always be a top priority. From elementary schools to assisted living facilities, no matter the type of building or the age of the occupants, the mindset is all the same. 

Facility managers must care, be knowledgeable, always be aware, and be concerned about safety and security — not only when emergency situations arise, but during day-to-day operations as well. From key cards to door intercoms, access control is not about fancy gadgets. It’s about the well-being of the building’s occupants. It’s the process of controlling and managing who has access to a building. The components of any access control program running with high efficiency do not happen by accident. It’s the work of the facility management department.  

Safety and access control go hand in hand with each other. The facilities team has a duty to be mindful of everyone’s safety, and this should be one of the initial skills taught to new hires on their first day.   

Every facility is different  

There are many different best practices for access control depending on the industry, but some facilities are better suited to issue key cards and fobs to end users, while others utilize biometric scanners or cameras. Whichever type of access control system is chosen to be the best fit, the products should be conducive to the expected level of safety.  

From a compliance standpoint, facility managers will need to determine how they aim to monitor and track occupants and visitors. Conducting an all-hazard risk assessment is one way to start. For example, conducting door checks, making sure they can open and close properly; evaluating the culture of the facilities surrounding area; and considering the likelihood of potential threats.  

Safety is not a “one size fits all” concept, and it should never be viewed in this way. Doing so would only set the program up to waste money and require re-evaluating everything shortly after the system went live. For example, a college or university environment is going to be different from building to building all throughout the campus. The library would be looked at differently than the maintenance facilities, and these facilities would be looked at differently than the stadiums or residence halls. An elementary school is different all together because it typically doesn’t have separate facilities, it’s all one structure. Hard and calculated decisions will have to be made regarding what will be needed for any facility.  

Like most decisions that are made in this area, bringing in third parties to the facilities department should be considered. The teams that do not consult major stakeholders are simply asking for a troubled situation that could cause a serious safety concern or disgruntled end users. Just like every building is not going to be one size fits all, neither will the major stakeholders that occupy the space in question. The scientist will have a different take than the correctional officer. Even educators at an elementary school, middle school, high school, and college or university will have differing viewpoints.  

Of the many access control systems out there, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. A majority of access control systems can be very expensive, so it is essential that managers do their research prior to making a purchase. The consideration of how well the system would integrate with the other systems such as video management, visitor management, etc. will be key. A harsh reality is that not all systems will be able to integrate with other existing systems. Knowing these facts beforehand will be useful before making a significant purchase like this. Although it is great to get exactly what the organization needs for the facility, it’s beneficial to have in mind the flexibility that will be needed down the line for the organization. It’s very easy to neglect what will be needed, but how will that help anything the organization is setting out to accomplish? The answer is, it won’t help and it’ll again waste time and money, and create unwanted headaches. 

Educate occupants  

Building security is not a subject all end users think about. The majority that do are the ones who take the time to report serious facilities issues (and we all know that’s a rare occasion). The other occupants are fine with leaving things how they are, no matter what the potential consequences may be.  

With so few end users thinking about security, it should be mandatory to educate everyone on how to best remain safe. The more awareness occupants have, the better equipped they will be and the safer the overall facility will be.  

Send all staff emails on the importance of access control best practices. This could include: only using their designated key card or fob, not giving out codes to others, not piggy backing in entry ways and reporting doors that are malfunctioning. You never know how much information or how many lives that would be saved by delivering education to the people that occupy the space.  

Without access control, an organization has nothing, and security and safety awareness quickly turns into the wild west. Without proper research, brainstorming, and other measures being taken, you’d never know what intentional or unintentional threats may arise to cause significant harm to a facility and its occupants.  

Educating ourselves as facilities professionals in knowing the facilities current state, conducting research and evaluation, and system selection is one thing, but the education of the individuals that occupy the space is paramount as well. It will save data, time, and money. But, more importantly, it will save lives, too.  

Charles M. Thomas is an operations professional, consultant, and writer who has held positions with reputable organizations as a facilities and operations manager, operations manager, and a technical writer. As a facility operations consultant with LACE Management Services, he helps organizations build their programs from the ground up, enhances their existing programs, and serves as a communicator for a generation of young professionals. 

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  posted on 10/11/2023   Article Use Policy

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