Managing commercial properties comes with massive responsibilities. Not only are commercial property managers responsible for large numbers of people who work or reside in buildings that they have oversight, but they also manage some pricey establishments. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, commercial real estate in 2015 comprised of more than $29.3 billion in industrial property, $14.2 billion in office property and just over $5 billion in retail property.
Being adequately prepared for unexpected on-site emergencies, though anticipated, stands as one of the industry’s biggest challenges. In the 21st Century, there is an upsurge of events that can be a nightmare for property managers. A fire, an active shooter, crime, robbery, and terrorism, are some of these. Not to forget that some seemingly minor incidents and everyday emergencies such as unexpected maintenance or a disgruntled tenant can be a challenge to property managers. As a result, property managers and building owners are under pressure not only to protect their tenants and properties but also to keep these people happy and retain them as customers.
Undoubtedly, whether you manage retail, multifamily or commercial properties, you give it your very best. Still, you have to anticipate the worst and develop a response incidents plan in the event of an emergency. Regrettably, it’s all too often that you hear property managers express remorse about not having a better incidents plan in place.
What is an Incidents Response Plan for a Building?
A building incident response plan is a systematic and documented blueprint that outlines the methodology of approaching and managing any challenging situations or crises that could negatively impact your real estate business. Such a plan is developed and used by real estate managers to identify, respond, limit, counteract and recover from potential—and, in some cases, inevitable—incidents that are peculiar to their type of business.
Your incidents plan should describe the type of incidents or crises that are typically anticipated and outline the actions that need to be taken to limit the loss of life and property in the time immediately before, during and after an incident occurs. In this blog, we will take you through what compromises an effective incidents plan, explaining how you can build a solid plan to ensure both your tenants and employees can handle an incident quickly, efficiently, and with minimal damage.
An Incidents Plan is All About Preparedness
Every real estate business should have an incident response plan and review it on a regular basis. Nobody expects an emergency or disaster—especially one that affects them, their employees, and their business personally. The simple truth is that incidents can occur anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. You, your employees and your valued customers could be forced to evacuate your property when you least expect it. Thus, even if you haven’t experienced an incident in the past, safe is better than sorry. Preparation can be a valuable defense in the event of an incident. According to FEMA, every $1 invested in preparedness will save a business $6 in recovery.
The Vital Ingredients of an Incidents Response Plan
Creating an incidents response plan for any building includes deciding who is on call, how an incident should be escalated, and how information should flow between different entities within the company. An effective plan should include the following:
Plan activation details, including a clear statement of the circumstances when the plan will be activated and the person(s) authorized to do so.
Details of the incident response team, including their key roles and responsibilities in dealing with the incident at hand.
An emergency kit.
Clear evacuation procedures for your premises.
A communication strategy, including key communication methods and timings needed to keep everyone safe.
A contact lists for all the people you will need to communicate within the event of a crisis, including staff and emergency services.
An event log to record information, decisions, and actions that you take during an incident.
The Basic Structure of an Incidents Response Plan
Most incident response plans follow the same structure, but the content of each plan varies based on the type and size of the property and the technology used. Larger properties often have a dedicated incident response team that works exclusively with analyzing threats and handling incidents. But this is often not an option for smaller businesses, which is why developing an incident response plan is an excellent opportunity to plan and assign temporary incident response roles and responsibilities.
The Different Phases of an Incidents Response Plan
A practical start to developing your incident response plan for whichever building is mapping out different threats to get a clear picture of what needs to be included in your plan. A broken water pipe in a residential house is a completely different situation than an active shooter in a shopping mall, but both are incidents that need to be addressed by real estate managers. Also, you need to define what qualifies to be called an incident.
It is of significance therefore that an incident plan typically consists of a sequence of steps leading from incident detection to recovery and lessons learned. Let’s consider six steps of creating a practical and effective incidents plan:
1. Prepare and Prevent the Incidents
It’s been commonly said that prevention is better than cure. And for sure such a proactive approach goes hand in hand with an incident response plan. Nobody is 100% secure, but good maintenance routines, comprehensive monitoring of properties, and a risk-aware mindset across all property management teams can go a long way to prevent incidents and minimize damage.
Incident prevention is a broad topic that covers everything from educating and training personnel, emergency planning, and performing regular property assessments to maintaining adequate security within each premise.
2. Detect and Identify the Incidents
Detection is a crucial step in incident response. It’s simple: you can’t tackle an incident if you don’t know of its occurrence.
Therefore, property managers need to keep building and contact information up-to-date. Moreover, tenants and key personnel should be equipped with mobile, real-time notification systems that will allow property managers to receive important information at their fingertips when they need it most. Such systems will also allow property managers to effectively alert tenants via phone, text, and email in a matter of seconds, respond to all hazards effectively and make better decisions in a crisis.
Once you know of the existence of an incident, you need to establish what type of incident it is and how serious it is. This will help you to determine what needs to be done next and who should be involved. For example, a low severity incident such as a lost key still requires appropriate steps to be taken, but law enforcement will obviously not be involved.
3. Contain the Incidents
Once you have identified the incident, it’s time to get into action. Containing the incident entails taking control of it to minimize risk to human life or damage to the property. It often involves making quick decisions that successfully neutralizes the incident with minimal impact on your business. For example, in a scenario where an active shooter invades a premise, well-trained security personnel needs to be on hand to arrest the incident as quickly as possible.
Understandably, it is far from easy to make important decisions in a stressful situation, which emphasizes why it is critical to have clear guidelines in place way before. To succeed in doing so, every property manager needs to map out different types of incidents and set containment criteria that indicate the right course of action to be taken in each. Such decisions are much easier when you do not have an ongoing incident on your hands!
4. Recover From the Incidents
The next step after containing the incident is working to get things back to normalcy. Recovery will depend on the type or severity of the incident. The sooner the recovery, the better for the business, as you do not want a small incident to lag on for many hours or days unresolved.
Additionally, an important part of recovery is reassuring the tenants or customers in the property that the situation is under control and that it is safe for them to continue staying or shopping in the property. A small fire incident in a restaurant within a mall that was successfully put off will likely create commotion but should quickly be neutralized so that shoppers can continue shopping within a few minutes while confident that the situation is under control.
5. What Lessons Were Learned From the Incident?
Every incident should be viewed as a learning experience and an opportunity to enhance and upgrade your existing incident response plan. Within a few days after resolving the incident, arrange to meet your team who responded and resolved the incident and reflect on lessons learned.
Some of the matters that should be discussed include what exactly happened, what was done to resolve as well as what worked well and what didn’t. Could anything have been done differently? What additional tools, routines or technologies could help tackle future incidents efficiently? What could be added to your prevention toolkit to avoid similar incidents?
6. Reporting the Incident
Preparing a detailed analysis report that documents the incident detection to resolving and lessons learned is an integral part of an incident plan. The report should include all pertinent incident details including what happened and when, how the incident was prioritized, what action was taken and relevant investigation results, such as the cause of the incident and its business impact.
Such a report can be useful both internally in improving your response plans and externally when communicating about the incident to stakeholders and other interested parties.
An Incidents Plan is Like a Living Organism: Keep it Alive and Breathing
In the words of the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” Getting started with a structured approach to incident response may seem intimidating and time-consuming at first, but it is a worthwhile investment that can save you of headaches later on. When faced with an incident on the property you are managing, nobody regrets having spent time developing an incident response plan!
Preparing an effective incidents response plan for your property will benefit your business in at least two ways. First and foremost, you will be able to tackle incidents with confidence and react quickly and effectively. On top of that, creating an incident response plan will also raise awareness within your organization, and that is always a good thing!
Keep in mind though that an incident plan is never complete. And here is why: As the threat landscape changes, so will the ways to approach and respond to incidents. Once designed, an incident response plan is not set in stone. It’s like a fire drill – it needs to be reviewed on a regular basis and updated when needed. An incident response plan is a long-term commitment that is never truly “finished.”