Around here, we love mistakes. They’re incredible learning opportunities. In fact, SecureCore was built on a foundation of mistakes. Aside from all the entrepreneurial mistakes of building a business, we’re talking about the 6 most common mistakes most disaster plans make (did you miss our last blog post about this? If so, check it out here).
Today, we’re flipping the script on those 6 mistakes and are turning them into the 6 building blocks of your disaster implementation plan.
A successful disaster implementation plan should be…
Building Block #1: It’s quickly, easily, centrally accessible
These days, everyone keeps their cell phone nearby – in their pocket, on their bed stand while they sleep, on the dinner table. So, if possible, utilize an app to make it easy for everyone to access – it could be Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, or Dropbox, just for a few ideas.
Make sure things are labeled and organized well so the information is easily found not only for each property, but also for each building.
Think about the levels of access needed – someone from a regional level or above should have access to all of the properties he or she supports, while the manager of a single property may only need access to that specific property.
Build Block #2 – It’s clear and detailed but short enough to support quick, decisive action
Don’t get bogged down in the details – every emergency will be different in some way and it is impossible to account for every tiny step.
Instead, think of the 80/20 rule – what are 20% of the steps that impact 80% of how the situation is managed, such as…
- Shutting off the utility
- Notifying the right people
- Communicating the most important next step to your employees/residents/tenants/unit owners
Ask yourself “What are the three to five (up to 10 max) high-level actions that need to be taken?
Don’t get into why or detailed variations – you’ll have a million of them. Stay focused on the ACTION that should be taken.
Build Block # 3 – It includes emergency and people management
Your plan should include critical information about your building – like your alarms, utility locations and instructions, security systems, or evacuation routes. That’s the emergency part of it. But don’t underestimate the people-management required, too.
It is equally critical to include information about communication, such as:
- What needs to be communicated
- Who should be communicated with (residents, tenants, owners, employees, vendors, community support agencies, etc)
- How and when will they be communicated with
- Who owns the task of communicating with the various groups of people involved
And don’t forget to consider specific support needs for residents or tenants. Do you have differently-abled people on site who need special assistance? Are most of your residents elderly and unable to stand outside for a long period during an evacuation?
So as you evaluate the “what” in your disaster plan, think about who will be involved and impacted along the way – and how can you include their needs into your plan?
Building Block #4 – It’s written for an unfamiliar audience
Think about everything you need to know to manage a disaster…where the utilities are located, what vendors to call, evacuation routes, etc.
Do you know all of this information for your property? Quite possibly.
Now imagine you acquire a new property…
Or are on call for another property…
Or hire a new manager or super…
The best plans are written for an unfamiliar audience. They are designed to stand the test of time and turnover.
Here are a few tips to make sure your plan does just that:
- Think about who is on site when something happens, during business hours and after hours (hint: it may not be the people you immediately think of…front desk staff, leasing agents, security guards)
- Write it assuming the lowest level of familiarity with the property or experience with emergencies, building utilities, etc. Pretend you are explaining it to a brand new property manager during their first day at the property.
- Be sure to specify if keys are needed to access an alarm panel or utility shut off, or if special tools or vendors will be required.
- Clarify what can and cannot (or should and should not) be done. For example, Is your team permitted to turn off a security alarm? Do they need to call a particular vendor? Are they allowed to silence it until approved personnel arrive?
Let’s take a look at a simple example of descripting where to find your water shut off:
- Example 1: Water shut off is located in the mechanical room.
- Example 2: Water shut off is located in the mechanical room. From the front lobby, turn down the left hallway and take the stairs to the basement. At the bottom of the steps is a door labeled “Mechanical Room.” The main water shut off is located in the back right hand corner to the left of the boiler. The shut off lever is painted blue. Turn right until it will no longer move.
Which is more helpful?
# 5 – It clarifies roles and decision-making responsibilities
The best paid plans don’t just decide what needs to be done. They also assign roles and decision-making abilities.
Once you specify an action, then think about who could or should take that action. Focus on the role or position, not the name (names can change too quickly in property management). Instead of “Joe will contact the vendors,” it should read something like “The Maintenance Technician is responsible for contacting any needed vendors.”
It doesn’t matter if Joe is on vacation or left the company last week…your plan is still accurate if written this way.
Also consider how will it be different during hours vs. after hours, as the people involved may vary depending on when the emergency occurs or how long it lasts. If different people will be involved, who has those responsibilities and decisions after hours?
Most importantly – don’t get caught up in perfection. People will be on vacation. People will leave and new team members will be hired. Just focus on what will apply the majority of the time.
# 6 – It’s systematized to support ongoing training and updates
Without a system, your disaster plan will collect dust – which is a shame, because you put a lot of work into creating one, right?
Here are some questions to consider so your plan doesn’t meet the same dust-covered fate of so many others…
How will you train new hires so they know where to find your plan and how to use it?
Build it into your HR and new hire onboarding process so you know that every new hire is familiar with their disaster plan from the very beginning.
When done right, a disaster implementation plan can be a powerful new hire onboarding tool, not just something to be used during an emergency. It’s a great way to help them learn the property (shut offs, alarms, vendors, etc.). Plus, it keeps your plan front of mind so they know how to use it when the time comes.
How will you provide refresher training to existing team members so they don’t forget about it?
Who will be responsible for scheduling and conducting the trainings? How frequently will they be?
If turnover is a challenge, you may want to offer training monthly. Quarterly or twice a year may be sufficient for a more established team.
Studies show us humans need to hear something 7 times before we retain it. That said, you should sound like a broken record when you talk about your plan.
How will you keep it updated?
Disaster implementation plans are made to be dynamic. Your staff, your call lists, your vendors – they will all change (and sometimes quite quickly).
You will also learn what does and doesn’t work through live experience – and you’ll want to update your plan accordingly.
Consider these questions:
- How frequently should the plan be reviewed for updates? (Our vote is at least every 6 months)
- Who is allowed to make an update? (We recommend that the ability to update reside with the Property Manager and/or Maintenance Manager – too many cooks in the kitchen can cause confusion and quality control issues)
- How should that update be made? Do they make the update directly to the plan? Should they request an update that needs to be approved by someone else?
- How will that update be disseminated throughout the organization? (This is where binders are tricky to update)
As you can image, the quality and span of control can become very challenging depending on the format of your plan.
Make your mistakes worth it.
Mistakes will happen. Yes, they are frustrating…and embarrassing…and expensive…and sometimes downright dangerous.
But they are also an opportunity to improve your plan and train your team.
If you think your team could benefit from some training, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule our FREE DIY Your Own Disaster Plan training for your employees. We’ll walk the group through these 6 building blocks, our 8 essential elements for emergency and people management during a disaster, and more!