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Real Estate

High-rises, commercial buildings and residential facilities can house thousands of occupants in any given day. Trying to proactively manage an emergency and effectively evacuate those individuals could present a daunting task. As the property manager of the building, it is your responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of the occupants. To ensure that you are providing the highest level of preparedness for your tenants and visitors, you need to be prepared for small emergencies, crises and catastrophic events. Your property management team should be led by proactive crisis & emergency response teams who know their roles and responsibilities. A proactive emergency response program will help your emergency response team take immediate action to stabilize and terminate the emergency. Your team’s quick, decisive actions can reduce the amount of property damage and bodily injuries. Your organization cannot take the chance of an unorganized emergency management approach or “shoot-from-the-hip” emergency management style. A sound emergency management program could be the difference between life and death.

 Trends and Drivers for the Real Estate Sectors

  • Governments in most major cities including New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles require high-rise property managers to have an updated emergency response plan in place, a fire safety director on-site, and conduct evacuation drills at least twice a year. In most cases every building occupant must participate in the drills.
  • The Real Estate Roundtable and the Real Estate Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) funded by 11 national real estate trade associations advises all property managers to conduct periodic threat and risk assessments, annually review their emergency response plans, test and exercise those plans, develop working relationship with local public safety agencies, and participate in joint exercises with the Red Cross and other local state and federal agencies.
  • Security spending in private sector office buildings lags government office buildings by 129%, a gap that the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) expects to be closed where tenant demand is highest.
  • The CDC and Columbia University’s preliminary evacuation study of the World Trade Center on 9/11 indicates that inadequate workplace preparedness planning, lack of evacuation drills and inadequate internal risk communication affected the evacuation. The lack of safety leadership to motivate and guide people during the evacuation was also a key finding in the report.
  • The Cook County Commission’s report on the fatal 10/03 high-rise fire in one of its administrative buildings concluded that property management failed to train its staff, tenants, and contractors on proper fire emergency procedures; that the building did not have an operational smoke tower; that management failed to communicate properly with the Chicago Fire Department; and that security personnel in the building were not properly trained in building evacuation procedures. The report stated that these errors were contributing factors in the loss of six lives.
  • Commercial tenants ranked “life-safety systems” and “building security” first and second in importance to them in a recent survey conducted by J.H. Cohn LLP, an accounting and advisory firm.
  • REITs are considering the positive effects to the value of their portfolios of properties with well planned and executed emergency response plans.

 Implementation Consideration

  • Do your buildings’ current crisis & emergency management programs follow the four phases of emergency management: mitigation/prevention, preparedness, response and recovery?
  • Have you conducted a Capabilities and Needs Assessment to ensure there are no gaps in your current plan?
  • Does your plan follow the nationally-recognized Incident Command System?
  • Do your buildings have trained emergency response teams?
  • Have you established clear defined communications plans with internal and external responders, building occupants, the media and the community?
  • Have you established a proactive relationship with local, state and federal agencies?
  • Do you have a dedicated Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to support your emergency response teams?
  • Is your facility equipped with a PA system and, if so, what back-up measures are in place if it is disabled?
  • Do building occupants know the emergency procedures for the facility?
  • Are exit signs clearly visible and can they be seen if all power is lost?
  • Do you have emergency evacuation assembly areas?
  • Do you have clearly identified sheltering areas and are building occupants familiar with these areas?
  • Have you recently exercised and tested your emergency response plan with your senior management and emergency response teams?
  • Has an independent audit been performed on your plans to ensure that they are current with regulations and best practices?
  • Is your risk management/insurance program linked to your emergency management program?
  • Do building occupants know the emergency procedures for the facility?

Case Study

In 2003, an intense but localized fire at a large commercial high-rise in the Midwest claimed the lives six people. Eight others were injured in the blaze. Individuals evacuating the building were trapped in stairwells as the doors on floors were locked and they were unable to reenter the floor to evacuate down the second stairwell. This tragedy illustrated the need for property managers and government administrators to enhance their emergency management program by training employees to effectively respond to a wide range of emergencies and to have processes in place to continually improve their emergency response plans.

Immediately following the fire, former FEMA Director James Lee Witt and his team were called in to investigate the incident. Simultaneously, our emergency management global practice leader was called in to strategize with the property management team and government officials on how to prepare the occupants to return to work. Our team worked throughout the holidays to construct an Integrated Emergency Response Plan and train all security staff, engineers and emergency floor coordinators in basic fire/life safety, and evacuation procedures. After the project, our lead consultant was requested to return and conduct a seminar to all leaders on Integrated Emergency Management Programs.

The property management company was so pleased with our work that they requested us to complete an emergency response plan template that could be used at all their facilities around the world.

 For More Information

For additional information on Risk Solutions International’s capabilities within the Real Estate sector, please contact Scott A. Corzine at


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