Today is the day. 


While you were asleep, some type of crisis has affected your facilities and, by extent, the people that go through that revolving door on a daily basis, be it your maintenance technicians, customers, suppliers or the staff of the many companies that operate in the building.


While a “crisis” can be many things and vary greatly in degree, chances are it will affect the normal functioning of the infrastructure you manage. It can range from a flash flood in a region with slightly more capricious weather patterns to local accesses being closed off due to any type of social disruption, or even a viral pandemic such as the one we’re currently experiencing. As a facility manager, regardless of the type of crisis, you have to be prepared.


Even though you can shut down your facility and greatly limit the number of people using it every day, which would result in much lower maintenance requirements, the fact is some type of maintenance will still be required and you can’t simply shut down your basic regular security, health & fire safety protocols or even your preventive maintenance routines.


Crises are also often synonyms of cost management and sensitive decision making, so we’ve put together a few guidelines we believe can be useful in dealing with these types of issues.


Adjust your communication channels 


As a rule, how well you’ll respond to emergencies will be directly related to how well you can communicate with your team and others. You’ll still have to regroup with your staff, coordinate your plan of action and respond to urgent maintenance requests in your buildings (some of them might be a direct cause of the crisis, some might not) and some of these might be affected by broken communication channels or the lack of viable alternatives. 


Remember that different types of crises mean different limitations in how you communicate and you need to be prepared for all of them.


Therefore, establishing a command center that can serve as a main focal point for your staff, your customers and, if necessary, the government (or any external agencies involved in the crisis) is essential. This command center does not have to be a physical place within the facility, but rather a reference everyone can turn to when looking for answers.


Communication will be as important externally as it is internally and assigning a spokesperson (or people) to inform the public or your team can also be a big factor in increasing efficiency and getting important messages across. The types of channels in which you’ll be communicating can go from social media to press conferences or even WhatsApp or your good ol’ phone but with communication being key, establishing a channel and having it up and running can go a long way in keeping everyone in the loop.


Your team should also be prepared, prior to the crisis, and everyone should know the main communication channels, which of them are preferred in each type of crisis, and what the alternatives are. This can be particularly important when finding alternative communication channels or, in COVID-19 terms for instance, how well people can communicate remotely. Being able to quickly re-organise will allow your staff to get back to attending whatever emergency maintenance requests you might have to deal with.


Have a dark site ready to go live


A dark site is a premade, non-listed website that stores relevant emergency information and is ready to go live when crises occur. The information in the website can range from staff logistics to matters of national security or even public health information, depending on how severe the crisis you’re facing is.


The site is minimally designed and created with pre-written information and templates so that you can fill out all relevant event details in case the public (or your staff) are unable to access your regular website. Here, efficiency is key and having it ready to go live means maintaining communication with all channels and, hopefully, helping those who depend on you.


While the words “dark site” are not something usually brought up at your regular dinner party, they have been successfully used in the past to inform the public about situations not very different (in type) to the COVID-19 outbreak we’re currently facing. 


In April 2019, amidst the H1N1 pandemic (commonly known as swine flu), the Santa Clara County Public Health Department (SCCPHD) website faced an increasing number of hits from members of the public looking for information and crashed, leaving thousands without access to official public health communications. Within hours, and in coordination with a team from Stanford University, all traffic was redirected to SCCPHD’s dark site and communication was restored (including the main county portal which had also crashed) so that the public could once again be informed on what to do regarding the pandemic. 


Prepare for it, even if you don’t know what’s coming


While the optimal way to test your emergency plans is during an actual crisis, the best-case scenario is when you have none. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t plan, test and coordinate your team in advance so that everyone’s ready when or if (let’s stay positive here!) the time comes.


In order to successfully do this, the best course of action is performing mock crises


These are exercises you can implement at any point during the year that replicate what would happen in the event of crises, accidents, communication interferences, etc. You name it. These exercises should not be taken lightly (mandatory attendance is probably a good idea) and your entire team should be made aware of what’s expected of them. At the end of a mock crisis, everyone in your staff should now know the basic operational guidelines and what to do when facing different types of emergencies. 


Ideally, a mock crisis would include considerations such as a clear definition of the chain of command, what communication channels are preferable in each type of crisis or who has access to what (passwords, keys, entry codes, etc) but these can be easily adapted to your kind of facility or team, among many other factors.


Results should also be measured and this will give you a pretty clear picture of the composure, reaction time, decision making and leadership skills of each member of your staff which can help you coordinate things better. Measuring your overall success will dictate how well you’ll do in an actual emergency.


Managing costs, time and resources


Regardless of the type of crisis, how well you’ve planned for it and the resources you have available, chances are the situation will be challenging. 


It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how much of a challenge it is, every crisis has an end and you will still need to have your facility up and running when the time to reopen doors comes. 


With that in mind, once the priority issues – such as ensuring everyone’s safety or assessing the structural integrity of your buildings – are dealt with, you still have to think about some of your everyday routines. Preventive and corrective maintenance routines, air conditioning and water supplies, maintenance or health and fire safety are just some of the necessary checklists to go over.


Information is also your ally in these situations and understanding exactly what the bare necessities of your building are can allow you to channel your resources such as your team, your time or your money, into more pressing matters or helping nearby teams or buildings.


Infraspeak and the current COVID-19 crisis


Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that not all facilities are able to shut down their operations, we created a set of work routines based on the measures taken by multiple Infraspeak customers, which make up a contingency plan to help you deal with the current situation. 


The plan comprises both individual routines for each employee and an evaluation of your workspace and people working in it.


Download our contingency plan template here.


If you have any thoughts, opinions or want to share your experience managing facilities in times of crisis, we’ve love to hear them. Feel free to join any of our webinars or visit Infraspeak on social media and leave us a comment.