It goes without saying – the best way to recover from a disaster is not to have one. That’s why prevention, control and mitigation should be an integral part of your Business Continuity Planning (BCP) and/or Disaster Recovery (DR) Planning.
One area in particular affects all organizations: facilities. We all have facilities, whether it’s an office building, a manufacturing plant or just a home office. If we protect our facilities, we protect our ability to meet our customers’ needs.
So what constitutes a well protected facility? Here’s a checklist of 10 things you can do to make your facility a well protected one.
1. Make a Commitment to Property Conservation and Loss Control
This is absolutely critical; if you don’t do this, all the other steps will be ineffective. Your commitment to property conservation (PC) and loss control (LC) commitment must emanate from the highest levels of management and filter down to all employees. Everyone must be aware that PC and LC are part of their jobs.
You must also follow-up on PC and LC. Just as you have follow-up to make sure financial controls are working (audits) and recovery plans are functional (testing), follow-up on PC and LC is critical. Remember Murphy’s Law: what can happen, will happen. And I always say it will happen at the most inconvenient time. If you don’t do the follow-up, Murphy will!
2. Ensure the Facility is Suitably Constructed
Make sure your facility is constructed in a way that is suitable for the location and the occupancy. You may think you have no control over this area, but as a BC or DR professional you should have influence and input – and you may have more control than you think.
First, think about location. You shouldn’t locate critical operations in a masonry building in earthquake zones, nor should you locate those same critical operations in buildings of wood construction in hurricane or tornado zones. Even if your building already exists, it is still possible to mitigate risks.
For example, it is possible, and sometimes inexpensive, to retrofit earthquake protection into an existing building.
It’s also important to ensure the construction is suitable for the occupancy. Make sure the type of construction suits your business. If you’re a manufacturing firm that uses combustible dusts, perhaps you will have to retrofit your masonry construction with explosion venting panels because masonry cannot stand excessive pressure.
Finally, don’t forget your fire doors. Don’t temporarily wedge open any doors, because you might just temporarily negate a passive construction feature meant to protect the building… and the people!
3. Put Sprinklers Where You Need Them
Where do you need sprinklers? If the building is made of combustible materials or if the building is non-combustible but what’s in it is combustible, you need sprinklers. Yes, that pretty much means all buildings, doesn’t it? One of the more controversial areas for sprinklers is in data centers and telecommunications areas. But the fact remains: combustibles require sprinklers, and both of these areas have considerable combustible loading. The issue seems to be the prospect of water damage, but while the possibility exists, the probability is low. And the damage done by water is far more recoverable than that of heat and smoke.
Water is not the culprit; it’s the particulates that remain when the water evaporates. If you keep the items wet, rinse thoroughly with de-ionized water (or distilled water) and dry, you can preserve the equipment, media and data. On the other hand, if you expose these items to extreme heat or smoke, the smoke condenses to form acids which destroy the circuitry and media.
4. Safely Arrange and Protect Special Hazards
Special hazards come in three forms: solids, liquids and gases. What makes them special is the way they burn (fast and hot), as well as the fact that typical automatic fire sprinkler systems are not enough to extinguish most special hazard fires. The most common special hazard is flammable liquids, which include everything from cleaning solvents to cooking oil.
During a tour of your facility, see how many kinds of flammable liquids you find. Are they stored properly and well protected? If not, the facility is at significant risk.
5. Ensure an Adequate Supply of Water
Having an adequate supply of water for the sprinklers and fire service sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many facilities are destroyed because the water supply is inadequate. It may not have been inadequate when the facility was constructed, but facilities change over time. For example, an auto parts distribution center may have once been designed for metal parts, but filled with plastic parts for today’s cars, it could burn to the ground for a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.
6. Think About Prevention
Fundamentally, prevention is four programs: 1) regular fire safety inspections, including making sure fire protections systems are on and ready; 2) securing those systems in the on position with locks; 3) monitoring protection systems that are off for maintenance or repair, and; 4) ensuring any hot work (any operation that creates heat, sparks or uses an open flame) is conducted in a safe manner.
A good example of how the lack of these procedures can turn a crisis into a catastrophe occurred during the blizzard of ’93. A large carpet manufacturing facility had a major roof collapse as a result of the heavy wet snow and approximately half of the facility was down. To try and mitigate the loss, workers shut off water to the sprinklers. Since the valves were not locked open and there were no impairment handling procedures, they easily shut water off to the whole facility, including the unaffected half. Then they began to remove the damaged building steel using cutting torches, but there were no procedures to ensure the safe use of cutting torches. A fire started in the collapsed section and spread to the undamaged section. Since all the sprinklers were off, the good section burned down as well!
7. Maintain Buildings and Equipment
If you have protection equipment such as generators and fire pumps, but you don’t maintain them, chances are they will not work when you need them. The simple task of keeping gutters and roof drains clear of debris can prevent the collapse of a flat roof due to pooling water as a result of heavy rains. Follow this simple analogy: if you don’t maintain your car, it will surely break down. If you don’t maintain your equipment, it won’t be there when you need it.
8. Practice Good Housekeeping
When you hear the phrase “good housekeeping,” most of you will think immediately of some messy areas. But good housekeeping is more than just keeping the messes in check. Good housekeeping also means keeping aisles in storage areas clear. Not only do employees use aisles to get at the materials stored, they also serve as a fire break. Remember sprinkler rule number one: sprinklers are only good on small fires. If a fire jumps an aisle in a storage area because of continuity of combustibles (aisle storage), it’s no longer a small fire and chances are you will lose the building. And this can be as simple as too much storage in your office supply room. Storage that is too high can also cause a problem; sprinklers will not work effectively if they are blocked by high pile storage. Housekeeping is also a great check on your commitment to property conservation and loss control. If management will tolerate poor housekeeping, what else will they tolerate?
9. Have a Well-Trained ERT
Every facility, regardless of size or operations, needs a well-trained Emergency Response Team (ERT). Management’s responsibility is to: 1) identify the duties of the ERT, which will be different from facility to facility and location to location; 2) assign qualified personnel; 3) provide periodic training, and; 4) post a roster with duties and assignments. The roster is a more important item than most believe. It serves multiple functions. First, it keeps people advised of who does what. It’s also good peer pressure, because employees on the roster know everyone is aware they have duties to perform. If those duties go unfulfilled, everyone knows who failed. Second, posting the roster helps keep your ERT current. As a field engineer doing audits, I’d ask to see the ERT roster; it was usually in some manager’s drawer. When using the roster from the drawer to interview ERT members on their duties and training, I would find most of the listed members had either changed jobs, retired or died! When you keep the ERT posted, someone will surely tell you when one of the team members is no longer on the team.
If you remember only one word when it comes to ERTs, that word should be “pre-planning.” What is your nightmare disaster? What is your most likely or probable disaster? Your ERT should be ready for both, and everything in between.
10. Protect Against Exposures
In this context, exposures are threats from either within or from outside. Take, for example, a tank of propane or diesel fuel on site to run your emergency generator. A rupture or fire involving either might expose the facility to damage. That is a threat from within.
An example of an exposure from outside might be a neighbor, the local chemical plant or even a rail line that passes close to your facility. Location can create exposures, like being located next to a river or in an earthquake zone. Distance is the best protection for any exposure, but sometimes distance is not practical. Sometimes the only thing possible is just recognizing the exposure and preparing to deal with it.
To get an idea of your own exposures, go up on the roof of your facility and look around your site. Next, get in your car and drive around the site. You may be surprised at what you see.
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