How Facility Cleaning Managers Prepare for Emergencies
- Training, Preparation Pivotal to Emergency Prevention in Facilities
"Emergency" is defined as a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action. Facility cleaning managers can't plan for an emergency, but they can be prepared. In fact, emergency preparedness plans ease the burden of unforeseen dangers for facility cleaning staff.
At 1:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, Chad Mackley, operations manager for Wicomico County Board of Education, Salisbury, Maryland, received notification of a water leak at one of the district’s new schools. The alert occurred when a fitting burst off a two-inch pipe, causing the building to flood. En route to the school, Mackley dispatched a crew equipped with an emergency response trailer to suction out the water.
“We lost about 8,000 gallons of water, and half of the school was flooded,” he recalls. “The children were evacuated at the same time the alert came in, and within two hours we had everything cleaned up and good to go.”
Facility managers, like Mackley, cannot predict when emergencies will occur, but they can have protocols and equipment ready to respond to hazards and mitigate damages. Whether the disaster is natural or manmade, written procedures help to alleviate anxieties in the moment and ensure that custodial staff knows what is expected of them during an emergency.
“It’s important to make sure that people understand their roles in an emergency situation so that their imaginations get in the way,” notes Brandon Baswell, custodial services manager, Michigan State University (MSU), East Lansing, Michigan. “Procedures should cover different scenarios and how people should respond to them, because everyone’s responsibilities are going to be different, whether it’s an active shooter or a weather event.”
When drafting contingency plans, managers first need to identify the types of threats that are most likely to impact their region and facility. In Michigan, for example, snowstorms have the potential to wreak havoc on campus, which is why Baswell’s landscape services crew follows a comprehensive snow plan.
Fortunately, adverse weather conditions are often predictable, allowing workers much-needed prep time. On the other hand, the event itself may be ill-timed, hampering or delaying cleanup efforts. In these situations — as with any emergency — communication is key.
Mackley relies on a call chain list during inclement weather to ensure that sidewalks are shoveled, pipes are checked, and the heat is turned on, even when schools are closed.
“Everyone knows that they’re mandated to report to work, so I call my foremen and say, ‘all hands on deck,’” he relates. “The foremen then call everyone they can to come in and lend a hand.”
Depending on the severity and timing of snowstorms, MSU may adopt modified operations, at which time Baswell designates essential workers to report for duty, providing it is safe to do so.
If staff is stretched thin, emergency preparedness plans may call for custodial teams to establish their priorities. For instance, Baswell’s landscape crew gives immediate attention to handicap entrances, stairs and loading docks when clearing snow. The department also puts the onus on others to facilitate the process, thereby alleviating the burden on custodians.
“Ice melt buckets and shovels are available at certain entrances, which gives everyone the opportunity to participate in making sure the entrance is safe,” says Baswell. “We provide signage that tells people what the chemical is and what it’s used for, and it lets them know that they don’t have to wait for someone else to spread it if they see a hazard.”
Basic equipment, such as wet vacuums, extractors and dehumidifiers, should also be readily available on site to handle large amounts of water due to weather-related scenarios or burst pipes. At MSU, sandbags and barricades are among the school’s essential supplies to control weather-related emergencies, including potential flooding from the Red Cedar River running through the campus.
When dealing with emergency situations, forewarned is forearmed. But when potential threats arrive unannounced, staff may be caught off guard and contingency plans are put to the test. In these instances, facility managers often find ways to improve protocols and response times by learning from their mistakes.
“We learned from previous disasters where we had pipes burst,” notes Mackley. “The pipes burst on a Saturday, but the building wasn’t checked until Sunday afternoon. By that time the whole school was flooded, and we had to hire a contractor to clean it up.”
Following the incident, the district installed water flow meters in all of its facilities that alert Mackley and the maintenance manager instantly if a leak is detected. The technology proved instrumental during the recent incident mentioned earlier. In fact, automation has become an integral part of the district’s emergency response programs. Everything from coolers and boilers to lighting and HVAC systems are outfitted with sensors that warn Mackley of a malfunction.
At Consumnes River College in Sacramento, California, Christopher Raines, director of administrative services, relies on an emergency alert app to warn staff, students and faculty of campus-specific threats, such as bomb scares and active shooters. The app communicates protocols and expectations via text, email and voicemail, depending on the nature of the incident.
The college has had several incidents that triggered lockdowns, including one in which a student threatened to come back to campus with a weapon.
“We made the news on that one,” Raines says.
Fortunately, no one was injured, and the lockdown was lifted after several hours. Like Mackley, Raines gained valuable insights from the incident that no amount of training could have prepared him for.
“You think you’re prepared until an emergency happens,” he says. “Then you find out what you didn’t think of.”
In this case, some students who were under lockdown did not have access to restroom facilities and had to relieve themselves in classroom trash cans.
“We did not have any shelter-in-place or restroom kits available in classrooms that lacked access to an interior restroom,” explains Raines. “We learned our lesson and purchased 150 restroom kits for these classrooms. Those kits consisted of a bucket with a toilet seat, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes and a popup tent for privacy.”
Furthermore, during the lockdown, Raines discovered that the college needed additional master keys to facilitate the police department’s search for the suspect.
“Not having enough master keys delayed being able to get into each area and search for the student,” says Raines. “Now we have additional keys in a secure area to hand over to law enforcement if or when the need arises.”
Training, Preparation Pivotal to Emergency Prevention in Facilities