5 Steps to Resilience – Facilities Management Insights


Now is the time to apply the lessons learned during the pandemic on resilience and business continuity. Here’s how.



Laurie Gilmer

The past few weeks have been exciting as we hear about declining COVID-19 transmission rates, the lifting of mask mandates, and the removal of limitations on social gatherings. It’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve learned.

I reflected on the role maintenance and engineering managers have played throughout the pandemic and the roles they will play in their organizations in the future. The pandemic pushed managers to the forefront of their organizations to lead emergency response and facility preparedness at a time when no one knew how the pandemic would play out and how long it would last.

Now that we see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s clear that managers have certainly learned something about business resilience and the importance of having more than an emergency response plan in place. To be resilient, the business continuity needs of the organization and the facilities plan to respond to events must be connected. Whether an organization has a resilience strategy in place or it is a work in progress, managers can take several key steps to improve an organization’s resilience.

1. Understand the essential functions

Core functions must occur for the organization to survive. The key for managers is to understand not only what these essential functions are. They should also understand the role of the facilities management function in these functions. Managers are responsible for the organization’s assets, including critical infrastructure such as power and cooling. Here are some additional examples of essential functions:

• Air conditioning of sensitive areas. These areas include data centers and laboratories. In a facility where a laboratory was a critical function, the director realized that a loss of climate control could destroy crucial research. To protect it, the official installed backup generators as the main backup for the air conditioning systems and refrigeration equipment in the laboratories, as well as liquid nitrogen as an additional backup for the critical freezers.

• Critical Suppliers. Managers should identify key supplies and sources whose loss could disrupt the business, as well as suppliers that could support the business’s ability to continue. In another example, a large manufacturing facility requires continuous power to operate. In addition to providing a generator system, the manager has entered into an agreement with a supplier who will provide portable backup power in the event of an emergency. This arrangement gives the manager additional capacity beyond the onsite infrastructure.

• Network connectivity. Managers should ensure that staff can access necessary files and records. While IT infrastructure is not usually a manager’s purview, supporting these systems is part of it, which means managers must provide alternate power and cooling sources.

2. Understand timing

Managers should pay attention to the acceptable time frame for critical functions after which their loss begins to harm the business. In a critical lab or data center, for example, this time can be as short as a few minutes.

For other functions, managers may have up to a few days. For example, if processes or products can be moved to another location, managers may be able to buy a margin on system repair time. It is important for managers to understand this situation so that they can tailor backup options as needed.

3. Understand teams and roles

An effective resilience strategy defines roles and responsibilities. One thing organizations have learned during the pandemic is the importance of acting as a team, which includes facilities management, organizational leadership, legal, IT, and human resources. In an emergency, the role of a maintenance and engineering manager is often to advise and execute. This is typical of fast-acting emergencies such as power failure, system failures, fires, floods, and earthquakes.

But during slow-moving events, such as the pandemic, managers may find themselves in a leading role in ensuring that critical facility functions have been maintained, supported and, in the case of HVAC systems, enhanced. to provide improved performance and security. Over the past two years, managers have worked more prominently and regularly with other departments, sorting out critical decisions, responsible party, how they would be executed and how they would be communicated so that the general population could understand how the organization continued. respond and the results they should expect.

4. Practice, practice, practice

Sometimes when discussing training events, we talk about developing muscle memory. In a facilities context, this phrase refers to regular training so that in the event of a real emergency, the organization and the people within it instinctively know what to do. Their training basically kicks off and the responses become automatic.

If you’re like me, you’ve thought about fire drills and earthquake drills, and you might think those situations are covered. But think bigger. In prepared and resilient organizations, success is not limited to conducting emergency drills. You have to think at the company level.

Resilient organizations educate their teams on procedures, plans, and policies. They practice their procedures, and through that practice, they build a prepared workforce that knows how to react. What does the practice look like?

• Drills. We grew up with exercises. Typically, event-specific drills test a particular procedure, such as lockdown, lockdown, fire, tornado, or earthquake. The exercises help us practice quick responses.

• Tabletop exercises. Key personnel verbally walk through a simulated scenario, acting out their role in an informal setting. Tabletop exercises are effective for testing policies, plans and procedures. They also test individual responses and team readiness. In a living emergency response table I attended, one of the participants realized that the role he was supposed to play was not right for him. Luckily, we figured that out in a drill where adjustments could still be made with little impact on the team. In other tabletop exercises, we have reinforced expected roles, such as which core functions should be addressed and how, who makes certain decisions, who communicates decisions, and how communication should be handled. In some organizations, first responders are invited to attend so they can understand the plan and offer ideas.

• Functional exercises. Where a tabletop exercise resembles a Hollywood tabletop reading, a functional exercise is a “rolling cameras” event. People are playing their part. A functional exercise simulates a real-time scenario, creating pressures that can help team members understand areas of strength and weakness.

5. Understand what you have learned

One of the important benefits of developing and implementing a resilience plan, training and practicing against it is that you can see the holes in the plan. The same is true for real events. While my own team trains through drills and tabletop exercises, we have also benefited from real-life events over the past five years that have tested our resilience: evacuations in the event of fire, heavy snowfall and, of course, a pandemic. We regrouped to see where things were going well, where they weren’t and where we needed to improve.

The pandemic has been particularly helpful in providing opportunities for continuous improvement. A two-year event will. With each exercise or real event, we become more experienced in the roles we play on the team, we understand what needs to be done, and our confidence in our ability to react has improved. We have increased our resilience.

Managers are essential to organizational resilience. More than keeping facilities operational, managers have a responsibility to help the organization focus on what matters most, connecting the dots between core functions and preparedness so that in the event of a crisis, it there is little loss, commercial impacts are few and people are protected. .

If you think these are big shoes to fill, you’re right. But also remember this: as a manager, you know your organization and the way the people who work there think. You are uniquely positioned to help your organization prepare and succeed by preparing for and practicing resilience.

Laurie Gilmer is vice president and chief operating officer of Facility Engineering Associates. Gilmer is a published author and instructor and serves as the first vice chairman of the IFMA Board of Directors. She also serves as a liaison between IFMA and ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force and sits on the National Visiting Committee of Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow (BEST) Center.




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