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Tuesday 17 September 2019
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Effective disaster preparedness

TT Chamber Column

Our annual flash floods have begun again. When these floods get bad, they can cause damage to our buildings, our places of work and public services.

The annual hurricanes and tropical storms have also started. Dorian passed the Lesser Antilles as a tropical storm but had major impact upon the US Virgin islands, which had been badly battered along with many Caribbean Islands in 2017. However, Dorian then morphed into a category 5 hurricane, and hit the Bahamas full force. Reports point to “unprecedented devastation” upon the group of islands, and even as this column is being written, the USA is bracing for its impact upon Florida and the eastern seaboard. We will certainly be hearing more unsettling reports in the days to come.

In 2017, while some Caribbean islands were devastated by storms, most buildings in Florida survived. There was damage, but Florida has become more resilient, meaning that they not only recovered, but became stronger, just as we expect the other islands to become stronger after they rebuild.

But why do we have to "burn to learn?" Can we not prepare better now? Floods often accompany hurricanes, and we are not stranger to floods. Just a year ago, we experienced intense floods that caused much loss of property.

Disasters come in many other forms – fire, earthquake, civil unrest. One common effect is that they damage our buildings or facilities. How can we as business owners and users better prepare and manage such disasters?

There is a process that can be followed to protect our facilities, and even small organisations can prepare without excessive expenditure.

The first step is to assess the potential risks that can affect the building, ranking them in terms of likelihood of occurrence and the potential impact to the building. The organisation then determines how to deal with each risk based on its rank.

An emergency response plan is then developed to cover each risk event that can affect the building. This lays out policies and procedures for dealing with each risk event and includes the management of the incident as it occurs. The authority for managing the event should be given to someone within the organisation who is trained for this – an incident commander – who will take charge and direct operations during and directly after the disaster.

Once the plan is in place, it must be practised and people trained, much like the regular fire drills that all organisations should be doing as part of its training in case of fire in the building. In an emergency, people do not always rise to the occasion, but fall back on their training.

A business recovery plan should also be developed for the building, to guide the organisation toward quick action to repair damage incurred to the property. This could include measures to temporarily use alternate locations or to fast-track procurement procedures in order to get repairs started. After last year’s earthquake, some organisations were able to begin repairs to their facilities within days, while others took weeks or months to start. Delays in getting facilities up and running, lead to loss of business.

These emergency preparedness topics for buildings and facilities will be discussed at our upcoming conference focusing on facilities (or the built environment) in terms of disaster management. Titled Developing a Disaster Management Culture in Caribbean Facilities Management, the conference is being hosted by the Chamber and the TT Chapter of the International Facility Management Association at the Hyatt Hotel on September18-19, 2019.

The Chamber thanks Edward Kacal, chair of the Chamber’s Facilities Management and Development Committee for contributing this article.

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