Natural disasters affect Caribbean countries and cause major damage to our facilities (our built environment). We saw the devastation wrought by the 2017 hurricanes in several countries, the effects of nationwide flooding, and the effects of a relatively strong earthquake in 2018 in Trinidad. Additionally, we also face potential man-made disasters. We need only reflect on the 1990 attempted coup to remember the effect that it had on our buildings. How do organisations prepare their facilities for such disasters? How does one get started?
The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) identifies Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity as one of the 11 core competencies of facility management. The first of these relate to risk management.
The first step in the risk management process is to identify and assess all potential disaster-related risks. Risk to the facility can be internal, and might include such failures as inadequate roof anchors in the case of wind loads. Risks can also be external, for example, being near a busy road where a vehicle could lose control and crash into the building. In the context of the building itself, risk can also be categorised as natural, man-made, or technological, for example, building systems failure.
In the process of identifying risks, start by making a comprehensive list of all potential events, considering every type of disaster, however remote. One can feel overwhelmed in attempting this, but there are sources that can be used such as government bodies, insurance companies, first responders, facility managers and other experts in the field. It is helpful when identifying risks to make a list of all the assets or operations that could be affected. Assets include equipment and facility components.
A variety of strategies are applied for risk management:
- Tolerance will be sufficient with risks that are low, such as the risk of rain causing a facility’s car park to flood every five years. It is simply accepted.
- Avoidance is used when risks are high and costly, such as relocating a facility entirely to avoid a risk.
- Prevention is used when processes can control or prevent a risk from occurring, for example, fire alarms allow fires to be stopped before becoming disasters.
- Mitigation is used when there is no feasible way of avoiding a risk and the benefits of exposure outweigh the losses of an occurrence. An example of this is accepting the risk of a hurricane but putting business continuity plans in place to manage a disaster.
- Risk Transfer is used when neither avoidance nor mitigation is possible. It includes outsourcing certain tasks and risks and the use of insurance.
The strategic choices for the various risks combine to form the Risk Management Programme for a facility. Its scope and detail is dependent on budgetary and resource constraints. Risk management for the facility must therefore be aligned to the organisation’s overall strategy and its risk appetite. Risk Management Plans will not find traction if the organisation cannot afford them, but proper risk assessment certainly informs the organisation’s management of what is at stake.
Once the risks are properly understood and broad strategies identified, it will be possible to develop Emergency Response and Business Continuity plans. Given the growing impacts of climate change upon the Caribbean region, businesses can learn about risk management, developing emergency plans and other components of disaster management at the upcoming conference titled Natural Disasters – The New Normal: Developing a Disaster Management Culture in Caribbean FM, hosted by the Facilities Development and Management Committee of the TT Chamber and the TT chapter of the International Facility Management Association (TTIFMA) at the Hyatt Regency from September 18-19.
The TT Chamber thanks Edward Kacal, chair of the Facilities Development and Management Committee for contributing this article.