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5 Reasons Your Organization Needs an Incident Response Plan Now

Ever have one of those days? You know the ones….you have your "to do" list which includes all the tasks you didn't get to last week, then while you are completing item No. 1, you get the phone call. Your project manager (or community manager or facilities staff) reports that there was a leak due to a broken pipe that impacted at least five units—as far as he knows right now.

Ever have one of those days? You know the ones….you have your "to do" list which includes all the tasks you didn't get to last week, then while you are completing item No. 1, you get the phone call. Your project manager (or community manager or facilities staff) reports that there was a leak due to a broken pipe that impacted at least five units—as far as he knows right now. From that moment on, the race begins. Phoning the plumber, restoration vendors, maintenance staff members, property managers and the rest of your team consumes the next few hours. The afternoon is spent making sure the tenants don't need to be relocated, or if they do, completing incident reports and figuring out if this will meet or exceed your insurance deductible…and this is only day one. Sound familiar?

Your organization could benefit from having a proactive, written incident response plan so that the impact to your daily operations is minimized and business continuity can remain intact in the midst of these emergencies. Below are five reasons you need a written plan right now.

1. You will be able to predict the likelihood of future incidents. The first step in developing a plan is understanding what your risk factors are at each property and how they may affect the frequency and severity of incidents. Since your properties are located in different communities, cities and states, there may be varying risk factors, so perform a risk assessment. Start with identifying external factors, taking a look specifically at what seasonal events may affect the properties (i.e. frozen pipes) and topographical risks (i.e. is the property on a fault line, located at the bottom of a hill in case of mud slides, surrounded by woods in case of a fire). Then, look at internal factors such as age of the building, building materials, maintenance issues and history or trends that may affect building systems or materials.

2. Your staff will feel more confident and can better manage the incidents.
An incident response plan can be part of your written emergency management plan. Incidents such as leaks, floods, fires and biological events sometimes are not accounted for in a plan if they are smaller or don't include key emergency response buzz words like "evacuation" or "call 911.” These incidents, though, should be considered emergencies, and planning can greatly reduce response time if executed appropriately. The plan should be practiced so that all members are familiar with the steps to follow and aren't afraid to use it. Staff confidence in how to manage incidents leads to a more seamless and efficient response.

3. You will minimize your risks for potential lawsuits and out of control costs with vendors.  A written plan, shared with vendors, sets expectations and allows you to hold vendors accountable if they operate outside that plan.  Also, negotiate pricing and services with vendors before the emergency occurs, to keep the costs down. Vet the vendor qualifications and certifications before they set foot onto the properties to make sure they don't operate outside their scope. Discuss what your thresholds are for authorizations to proceed and what their scopes of work should be based on their credentials, industry standards and best practices.

4.  You can maintain a schedule and minimize tenant displacement.  Setting the expectation that vendors and team members deliver daily updates can shave days off the incident response. This is important especially when tenants have been displaced as a result of the incident. Requiring daily work logs, photos and schedules keeps everyone on the same page and can assist with effective management of the incident. Make sure to keep all the information in one location for future use.

5.  You can budget for the future.  By taking a look at what has happened in the past 90 days, you can better plan for the future. Look at which properties are having the most incidents, what types of incidents they were and their frequency. If a trend is identified (leaks occurring from the same source, for example) you can more readily make bigger decisions, like investing in a product or service, to mitigate the issue rather than continue to respond to more incidents. Share best practices and success stories. The goal should be consistent handling of incidents throughout all the properties for maximum benefit. 

While time is the most precious resource, taking a little of it to develop an incident response plan can save you a whole lot of it in the long run.

About the Author: Karen Trapane, MS, is national sales director for Forensic Analytical Consulting Services (FACS), an industry-leading environmental health consulting firm providing industrial hygiene services nationwide. FACS is an IREM President Level Industry Partner. This article is published on the IREM Blog as part of that partnership.


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