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Pandemic resources to inform, not inflame

"Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after a pandemic will seem inadequate.”

These words were spoken by Michael O. Leavitt in 2007 when he was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They came amidst warning signs of a possible pandemic with the emergence of H5N1, also known as the avian flu. Leavitt went on to say, “This is the dilemma we face, but it should not stop us from doing what we can to prepare. We need to reach out to everyone with words that inform, but not inflame. We need to encourage everyone to prepare, but not panic."

Leavitt’s prescient words formed a fitting introduction to a webinar presented byProFM on pandemic planning for facility managers. With the arrival of Covid-19, those companies that did prepare and had business continuity plans in place no doubt have fared better than others, although it’s doubtful that any were fully equipped for an unexpected emergency of this magnitude.

Noting that the threat being faced is very real, Stephen Brown of FM-adviso, Inc., who presented the ProFM webinar, offered guidance to those charged with managing facilities in the current coronavirus environment.  He urged everyone to “act deliberately and with composed purpose,” noting that the situation not only has health and safety impacts, but also has a significant bearing on building operations and logistics, and certainly the economy. He issued the reminder that even with the best of planning, all plans sound great until the first obstacle is met. If key activities have been outsourced, this can raise the risk. How, for example, will you respond if your cleaning contractor suddenly cannot service the site?

This point was echoed by Steve Quick, Chief Executive, Global Occupier Service with Cushman & Wakefield, AMO, in a webinar that focused on implications of Covid-19 for real estate investors and occupiers. For Cushman & Wakefield, said Quick, employee wellbeing was the number one priority.  Once they ensured their colleagues and loved ones were in a safe environment, attention turned to putting business continuity plans in place. Reiterating Brown’s observation, Quick noted that there’s a big difference between practicing plans and implementing them in real life.  The company’s plans have held up very well, he said, even as they continue to review and modify those plans along the way, and assess critical processes and critical people.

Having a plan in place also helped enable Blanton Turner, AMO, of Seattle to deal with the crisis, according to Barry Blanton, CPM, one of the company’s founding principals and its “Chief Problem Solver.” In a webinar sponsored by Bisnow, Blanton said that the company started with what it had in place from the last crisis, an earthquake, and built on that. He pointed out the need for the plan to be fluid and agile so you can respond in real time.

One thing that is often overlooked in developing a plan, said Quick, is the supply chain. He urged everyone to make sure their supply chain is healthy and has the capacity to ramp down quickly during a downturn and ramp up quickly once this is over. 

Similar messages were delivered by Brown, who offered other recommendations for facilities managers:

  • Consider compliance and legal implications–be mindful of OSHA’s standards to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards
  • Restrict visitors from entering the sites or limit the extent of entry
  • Provide information for employees and others in the building to take steps to protect themselves
  • Implement a strong mandate for anyone who is ill to stay at home
  • Promote and support teleworking, with focused attention on encouraging at-risk employees (those with underlying health issues and those over age 60) to work from home
  • Reduce or eliminate travel and in-person meetings
  • Shut down nonessential site services

One common theme espoused by all three of these speakers in their separate webinars was that everyone should look to authoritative sources for guidance and direction. “We decided that we didn’t want to filter what people needed to know,” said Blanton. “We let the authorities and experts be the source of information” and provides links to those sources. The CDC, WHO, OSHA, and other authoritative sources were cited as go-to places to obtain timely, accurate information and guidance.

For more guidance and resources for property managers during the coronavirus pandemic, visit the Covid-19 resources page on irem.org.


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