The Crucial Role of Facilities Management in School Emergency Planning

Published: June 3, 2024

In today’s world, unexpected incidents can happen anytime and any day of the week. When those incidents do occur, we always think of police, fire, and ambulance services as being the first responders we contact, but have you thought about the major role facilities management teams play when responding to such incidents?

Many of the facilities management groups include electricians, plumbers, heat and air techs, housekeepers, carpenters, and painters.  Depending on the size and complexity of your campus, it may also include fleet techs for your automotive fleet, parking enforcement, landscaping, and moving services. If you have a small campus, you may have a handful of employees who do routine maintenance for your buildings and grounds. Regardless of the size of your campus, the people who work in these areas are just as important to your response as everyone else.

Think about the people who are in the buildings all of the time — those who know where the electrical panels are located, where the shut-off valves for the water and gas are located, and the layout of the interior of your buildings. What about the exterior of the campus and what may be buried under the ground?  If there are ongoing construction projects or remodeling taking place, it is most likely your facility employees who know this information.  This is important information you will need at your Incident Command Post or Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for any response by the other groups or outside agencies arriving to help your campus(es), regardless of size or location.

Including Facilities Management in Tabletop Exercises

When we are conducting our tabletop exercises, we normally put our facilities individuals and like-groups in the “logistics” branch. This has been the mainstay of the Incident Command structure for a long time in the United States. It is normally the role of the logistics branch to find the goods and items needed and get them delivered on-site and set up. Who else in the organization knows better than facilities where they can find 100 cases of water? Who else has the heavy equipment or pickups to move the equipment around to where it is needed? Who else knows the layout of the buildings better? Who else has the contracts and contractor connections to provide goods and services you will most likely need during an incident?

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There are many examples where facilities management needs to be an intricate part of the response, including on-site, at the Incident Command post, or in the EOC. Regardless of the size of the event, large or small, I want you to consider making facilities management your “go-to” for response where logistics and various incidents will require their expertise. Get these people involved from the beginning and you will most likely find out they are willing to help in your exercise because you involved them from the start. You are letting them know they are an important part of your campus response.

Involving Facilities Management in Emergency Response, Recovery

Currently, the hot-button item is protests occurring on college and university campuses. It is often the police who are called upon to disperse the crowds. However, from the very start of the incident, you need to include facilities personnel in your response.  Who is going to be the individuals that will be involved in the clean up of the site, the trash pickup and disposal of items, and the repair to any of the buildings, or grounds?  If law enforcement officials need to take action within the building, guess who has the best idea of how the building is laid out and any considerations they need to be made aware of? Is there any crawl space that can be accessed? How about the possibility of gaining access to heater or boiler rooms? These are the reasons to get your facilities group involved from the beginning — to alert you to any hazards that may be lurking inside the building.

Another hot topic is the threat from an active shooter or active assailant. Your facilities management personnel must be involved at the Incident Command post or your EOC from the start. For instance, it is often the case that your facilities department will already have fencing contracts in place due to campus construction projects. They will know who those contractors are and can help with installing a fence in the days following an incident. If visual barricades need to be erected, it is very likely facilities already have the required tarps or sheets of plywood to secure any broken exterior windows and glass or to block the views of a crime scene.

How about temperature control of buildings? On average, it takes about 24-36 hours before victims are removed from an active assailant crime scene. If you live in a hotter climate, the temperature inside the building will need to be lowered to slow the progression of the decomposition process to allow crime scene investigators to complete their investigation. If you live in a colder climate, the same rules apply — you may need to adjust the indoor temperature to what the crime scene investigators request. How quickly can facilities management process this request?

Considerations also need to be made on how this happens. Many of your facility personnel may know the people affected by the terrible event and do not want to walk through the scene. Can the temperature of the structure be adjusted remotely so they do not have to walk or be escorted through the scene? After the scene has been released from the investigators and the building is returned to the campus, will your facilities management team be responsible for the clean-up and restoration? Does your facilities personnel have all of the training needed to clean up a large scene, and even if they do, will the campus administration ask them to do the cleanup? As mentioned earlier, most of your facilities personnel are in and out of the buildings throughout the work day. They may have known the victims and it could be very traumatizing to them to clean up the area knowing that it was someone they knew and talked to often. Is it possible your facilities group already has a service provider who can do the cleanup?

If the incident occurs in an older building, you will also need to consider the possibility of disturbing building materials that may contain asbestos. Stray bullets or impact weapons may cause the asbestos to become airborne. Many times, it may be your facility personnel who know where the asbestos is located inside the building and who needs to be contacted to do the testing and remediation.

In the event of a hazardous material spill, once again, your facilities employees are crucial to the response. How quickly will they be able to turn off or shut down your air handler units or fresh air intakes? Can it be done remotely without entering the building? What about the ability to create negative airflow throughout the building to help in removing the hazardous material or venting out the building? Often, your hazardous material expert for your campus is attached to facilities.

As you can see, when you are scheduling your tabletop exercises or full-scale exercises, your facilities management group must be included. Involve them from the very first meeting through to the after-action report. People will respond the way they have been trained, and when that time comes to put training into action, the facilities management individuals must understand their place in the Incident Command Post or EOC.

Captain Dalton Jackson is the Director of Emergency Preparedness at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.


Emergency Preparedness Director to Present at 2024 Campus Safety Conference

At the 2024 Campus Safety Conference, happening July 8-10 in Atlanta, Ga., Jackson, along with business continuity analyst EJ Miller, will share how their campus incorporated community emergency response teams in active threat exercises.

To learn more and to register, visit www.campussafetyconference.com.

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