There is a CSA Standard for Emergency Response called the Z731. In this Standard it states that in every emergency there is an initial state of confusion and disbelief. When an emergency strikes there may be a time where responders are overwhelmed and cannot deal adequately with the emergency. Through proper preparation and planning the risk, loss and damage can be minimized.
Preparation of an emergency response plan for an apartment building can be divided into three categories: organizational objectives, hazard vulnerabilities and identifying resources. First off we must be able to organize what the objectives are in an emergency. The objectives usually are preventing injuries or fatalities, preventing damage to property and a return to normal activities.
The plan must identify who is to be called first. The initial responder must have the authority to make decisions, this is especially important over the Christmas Holidays when the ability to contact senior management may not be possible. A list of potentially hazardous situations should be compiled. They usually fall into one of three categories- natural hazards, manmade hazards and technological hazards. For the purposes of this article we will focus on the manmade/natural hazards of water damage and fire and smoke damage. Then a series of safe operating practices should be devised for each one of the potential hazards that may be encountered.
After having compiled your list of potential emergency situations it is fairly evident that the first thing to do in most situations is to call 911. This is what makes water damage so different as an emergency because 911 will not respond to such a call. You must have a list of internal resources who are able to respond such as the phone number of the caretaker/superintendent to turn off the water. These responders must know where the water shut off valves are. Having the number for a plumber familiar with your building also helps.
Call the plumbing company you use and see if you can obtain the emergency after hours number for the person on call and a secondary number just in case there is no answer. It is Christmas time we are preparing for here, the more numbers the better. Make sure you have the number for a disaster restoration company who offers 24/7 service and be sure its a company you already know responds quickly. When it comes to water damage the faster the response the less damage that will be caused. Have the number for your building’s electrician. Remind people that electricity and water are a potentially fatal mix. Electricians can be extremely difficult people to reach after hours. Have numbers for a second and even third alternative company just in case there are several other buildings being affected by the same situation.
The numbers for all internal and external resources should be readily available to all security personnel. If the building has no on site security then an emergency number should be posted on the call board. It is extremely effective to have these numbers on stickers or magnets and posted in places that they cannot be missed.
Once you know who to call and when to call them it is important to devise a list of do’s and don’ts in your buildings.
- In particular identify where the shut off valves are, if there are certain valves that should not be touched mark them as such.
- If there are energy sources that may require locking out then have them identified
- Be sure on site personnel has an idea where the electrical and plumbing conduits are in the building
- Never allow firestops to be compromised
- Never touch any power sources while you are wet
- Never enter wet electrical rooms
- Be aware of water lines that may have additives that are unsafe to the sanitary sewer system such as roof top heating systems and rust inhibitors in sprinkler systems
- Evaluate the source of the water and if it is potentially pathogenic ensure appropriate engineering controls, safe work practices and personal protective equipment are employed
- Clearly define what mitigating your water damage means in your facility
- Make sure the necessary building blueprints are available to emergency personnel
- Make it clear when an evacuation of the building is required and how the evacuation is to be conducted
The main purpose of this article is to identify the areas of concern during a flood that people who are not normally under the chain of command of the building may be required to make decisions on. Always remember that the longer it takes to make a decision in a water damage situation the more the water runs, the further it will go and the more damage it will cause.