When we conduct a risk assessment for a multi tenant office building, often our client expects us to provide them with very tangible recommendations—for example, instructing them that more security cameras are needed here; lighting is not sufficient there, and ingress and egress access to the building overall needs to be modified.
However, our risk assessments provide much more than that. We also address the need to train building users on what to do – and what not to do – in an emergency.
Tenants in a multi tenant building need to understand their roles in an emergency. What all too often happens in emergency situations is there is panic, and panic can cause harm to building users and impede emergency personnel from doing their jobs.
Tenant Panic | Case in point:
A fire broke out in a 40-story office building in Philadelphia. This was a fully sprinkled building, and tenants had been instructed to remain on their floors and in their offices in such emergencies until the fire department had a chance to assess the situation.
If it was deemed necessary, tenants would be ordered to evacuate. Further, building tenants had been instructed that only three floors of the building would be evacuated at a time, starting with where the emergency was occurring.
This sounds very logical and uncomplicated; however, in a crisis, logic tends to be tossed out the window. Initially, when the fire broke out, most of the tenants stayed in their offices. But then they heard others in the hallway running to stair exits and leaving the floor.
This caused a ripple effect.
Now everyone was running and evacuating the building. This put hundreds of people in the building at risk. Some tripped or fell in the stairways and were injured. In addition, the unwarranted evacuation delayed the fire department from assessing the situation and doing its job. Instead of investigating the fire, the firefighters were using their time to tell tenants to go back to their floors and stay put.
What happened here is not unusual. Often situations like this one arise because of what we call “tenant complacency.” Tenants are offered safety training, asked to participate in safety drills, but their focus is on their own interests in the building, and not their own safety or the safety of others should an emergency occur.
Tenant complacency makes it extremely hard for building owners and managers to protect those using their facilities. But it must be done. Fortunately, there are ways to address this situation.
Dealing with Tenant Complacency
Before addressing tenant complacency, we need to ensure we have a practical plan in place, compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and local and state regulations, to handle a variety of emergencies that could put a building and its tenants in peril. In many cases, these plans are shared with local authorities, especially if they deal with fires, power outages, violence, or active shooters.
Once this step is accomplished, we often recommend that our clients get to know other property managers in their area and share their building’s emergency preparedness plan with those managers. This way, if a situation arises, other property managers may be able to provide aid as well as take steps to protect their own facilities.
Now it is time to present the plan to building users and, taking this to the next level, ensure it is followed in an emergency. Among the steps we recommend are the following:
Require all building users to attend, either in person or online. If in person, donuts and coffee are often a draw. If online, make the presentation available at all times so tenants can view it at their convenience.
Never assume tenants are aware of basic emergency preparedness skills. They usually are not. Take the time to review all aspects of the plan, especially those that pertain to what tenants should and should not do during an emergency.
Repeat the training at least once per year. Many property managers and tenants think reviewing an emergency preparedness plan is involved and time consuming. Yes, it can be. But it also can save lives.
Conduct practice drills regularly. Once again, property managers are often uncomfortable with drills, and tenants consider them an interruption if not an intrusion into their day. But drills, conducted regularly, save lives, prevent injuries, and can help protect building assets.
Whenever there is an emergency, people must come together to help each other. This is never more true than when an emergency happens in a multi-tenant building. By preparing all building users for what to do, you might not be able to avoid every incident, but you can limit the ramifications and keep your people and property safe.
Johnathan Tal is Chief Executive Officer of TAL Global Corporation, an international investigative and risk-consulting firm. He served as a military field intelligence officer for the Israeli armed forces during the 1970s. Tal has also served as an antiterrorism security specialist. He is a licensed investigator, Certified Private Investigator (CPI), and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), and he holds a Bachelor of Science degree. He can be reached through his company website at www.talglobal.com.