Building  Owners  and  Managers  Association  International

Building Owners and Managers Association International

Disaster Preparedness and Recovery

Get the answers from first responders to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  The following Q&A was part of Disaster Recovery: Strategies for Making Buildings Operational Quickly, a BOMA/BOMI Audio/Web seminar hosted by Jim Weller and Ronald W. Hertwig, Jr., PE of the General Services Administration and  John J. Carde of the Trammell Crow Company. 

Questions and Answers

Q:  How did Public Building Services (PBS) assist with relocation of displaced agencies and did they have business continuity plans or crisis management plans?
GSA: Provided real estate services to develop their requirements, locate suitable facilities, lease the space, contract for their relocation and assist as needed with furniture, IT, etc.  Most federal agencies have Continuity of Operation Plans (COOP) and these are practiced annually.

Q:  How many days in advance do you put the plan in motion?
GSA: Based on your evaluation of the event will determine how much time you have to prep and what you will do to prepare. 

Q:  Can you identify the 3 most important things to do in each of the following - 1) before 2) during 3) after the disaster?

  1. Establish and confirm communication plans and equipment, account for your people—safety—prepare your buildings.
  2. Account for your staff—safety—establish communications with your customers if possible, wait for the event to pass.
  3. Account for your staff—safety—make a quick assessment to minimize further damage if possible, prioritize your work effort.

Trammell Crow:

  1. Continuously revisit your plan and make any adjustments for the upcoming event.
  2. Make sure your people are out of harms way.
  3. Execute Plan and make sure everyone is accounted for.

Q:  Aside from the unfamiliarity of using satellite phones, did they function effectively when they were used by appropriately-skilled staff?
GSA: Yes – just need to understand and practice with them.

Q:  How did they get past security check points - what mechanism was used to allow entrance to areas?
GSA:  Plan ahead, make sure you have the correct paperwork, use police escort when possible.
Trammell Crow:  Letter from McDonald’s providing permission to TCC as an authorized agent to access restaurants and also local Parish permits.

Q:  If possible please expound on the assessment teams—their make up and skill sets, internal vs. external providers, etc.
GSA:  We used engineers and property managers augmented by AE consultants.
Trammell Crow:  We used TCC Project Manager’s who are familiar with the McDonald’s buildings. In other scenarios (like FL) we used our reps for the different clients.  All part of our planning.

Q:  Did you issue a policy to your associates assigned to the disaster area regarding the carrying and use of firearms?
GSA:  We did not carry firearms.
Trammell Crow:  We did not allow our staff to carry firearms.

Q:  How do you recommend securing a building when your backup power only lasts 2 hours?
GSA:  Shut as much down as you can to include computer systems, etc., seal up the windows and doors and wait until power comes back up.

Q:  How did you determine what was acceptable for re-occupancy in regards to environmental concerns (i.e. mold, chemicals, etc.)?
GSA:  We used the Public Health Service to inspect every building, when they said it was safe we reoccupied the space.

Q:  How were you able to ensure security for the facilities that had confidential and sensitive information on site if they were unable to enter the space?
GSA:  We coordinated this with the Federal Protective Service.

Q:  What is GSA or Trammell Crow doing in preparation for a possible Bird Flu event?
GSA:  We are currently developing plans in conjunction w/our national office for possible bird flu issues.

Q: How long were your utilities out? 1 month? Several months?
GSA:  Varied from 2 -4 weeks.
Trammell Crow:  In some cases, they are still out, but typically 2-4 weeks

Q:  Outside Contractors: please expound on structure of agreements, retainers/penalties?
GSA:  We used our standard government contracting clauses.

Q:  Did any of your strategies involve acquiring temporary space with live high-speed internet? Did that expedite recovery?
GSA:  Most of our temporary space required high-speed internet. It did not help with the recovery. It has become the standard for working in the computer age.

Q:  Do you have a link which provides contact information for those contractors who currently hold the IDIQ contracts?
GSA:  Yes these contractors should be able to use the internet home pages and have a variety of numbers for the contracting offices.

Q:  What type of drills do you perform at your annual review?
GSA:  We have annual COOP exercise where we practice our employee recall plans, as well as use our alternate command posts and practice with various emergency scenarios.

Q:  How did you get fuel?
GSA:  Difficult – coordinate with FEMA and separate contracts for delivery from outside the impacted area.
Trammell Crow:  Our staff had trucks with extra fuel capacity

Q:  What actually went wrong with the satellite phones?
GSA:  Misunderstanding of how they work – we are spoiled by cell phones and they don’t work in the same way.  When used correctly they provide a means of backup communications.

Q:  You discussed the FlyAway checklist. Could we get a copy of that checklist?
GSA:  To view a copy of the FlyAway checklist click here.

Q:  For yearly drills and evacuations - will they include the tenants and how will they be conducted?
GSA:  Tenants are included for fire drills, etc., and we often participate in tenant COOP exercises.

Q:  What are the safety criterions to determine where proper staging areas are in relation to the storm/storm path?
GSA:  It is difficult to predict, move away from the coast is important, get in very solid structures, have extra food and water on hand, make sure you have batteries, first aid kits, and communications.

Q:  How much water per person is needed?
GSA:  Need to plan on a couple gallons per day.

Q:  Were there any issues with satellite phones outside of training and process issues (ie tech-specific issues)?
GSA:  No

Q:  What system was used for text messaging through your BlackBerries?
GSA:  The BlackBerry itself has this capability as do many cell phones.

Q:  Why were the satellite phones ineffective?
GSA:  Operator training.

Q:  How many people were on you assessment teams? How does GSA interface with FEMA?
GSA: 3 – 5 folks on the initial assessment teams.  We establish liaison people that sit in the FEMA Joint Field Office(s) and attend as many meetings with FEMA as possible.
Trammell Crow:  TCC had (2) two person teams… this is at minimum.

Q:  How many days did the government take to offer help in the affected areas?
GSA:  The Federal Government was offering help before the storm hit.

Q:  To re-enter until facility was cleared; what sort of safety equipment/process was provided for the inspectors themselves?
GSA:  No special equipment was provided – they needed to use their training and judgment to make sure they did not put themselves in a dangerous situation.

Q:  Was it easy getting in touch with property managers/leasing agents at your leased facilities? Was the public sector responding appropriately?
GSA:  It was not easy getting in touch with property managers and leasing agents – many of these folks had evacuated, telephone systems were down and the post office was not delivering mail.  I believe the public sector did a pretty good job of responding under the circumstances.

Q:  As a GSA tenant, what are the critical issues that a property manager/landlord should understand when dealing with their tenant?
GSA:  Understand the needs of the tenant – cooling for key computer systems, security of their FF&E, quickly responding and providing a water tight secure facility and making long-term repairs as quickly as possible.

Q:  Is cash important to get help and work completed?
GSA:  Not for the government, but it may be at the private level.
Trammell Crow:  Cash was very helpful, in the areas ATM’s and phone lines were down… no access to accounts unless you had cash.

Q:  How do you secure buildings before the storm? What about electric locks?
GSA:  Electric locks fail safe to open so in my view they are not good in this event.  Plywood on windows and doors when possible, make sure everyone is out of the buildings, sand bag where possible, shut down all sensitive electrical equipment.

Q:  Were you on the Nextel service and what aspects of Nextel could you use?
GSA:  On Nextel – could sometimes use voice (cell), direct connect voice worked for the most part, e-mail worked most of the time and PIN to PIN worked.

Q:  What is the Web address to view the customer Web site created as part of the reopening plans?
GSA:  We used an internal government Web site that is only accessible from government computers.

Q:  Do you recommend that personnel be assigned to remain on duty during the storm, or do you recommend the building be evacuated before the storm?
GSA:  Only in very few cases would I recommend leaving someone behind in a building.  Need to assess this based on the storm and what needed to be done.  Risking a life is never a good idea.
Trammell Crow:  Evacuated… McDonald’s folks stayed to the last minute for no reason.

Q:  Was satellite communication for the internet used and how well did it work?
GSA:  Did not use it.

Q:  Does the Federal government (e.g. Corps of Engineers) have a "blueprint" property professionals can follow to create an effective disaster recovery plan?
GSA:  No, but there are plenty of plans to use as samples and develop your particular plan from there.

Q:  What is meant by formal accountability?
GSA:  Not sure what is different by “formal,” but the bottom line is that you need to account for all of your people.

Q:  How do you coordinate with your tenant to get out sensitive data after the storm?
GSA:  We used our customer service organization to coordinate and plan for the temporary return and removal of items.

Q:  You mention your command post. Were you operating under a NIMS structure? Can you describe it?
GSA:  NIMS - we set up a forward command post in Baton Rouge and a main command post in Fort Worth.  These were organized to handle tracking of personnel, mission assignments, logistics, communications and a focal point for preparation of all reports, etc.

Q:  Were generators and spot coolers effective and was the fuel available to fuel the generators that were running?
GSA:  Yes, in some limited situations. Fuel is a challenge, and you need to plan ahead as much as possible.

Q:  Is there a disaster recovery program that can be used for a model on the West Coast for earthquakes?
GSA:  I would ask FEMA for some samples – beyond that I am not sure.

Q:  Do you have any buildings with additional diesel storage for generators and what have you experienced with them? Example (5000 to 15000 gallon tanks)
GSA:  Yes – they can provide longer use of your auxiliary power, but at some point you will need to get additional fuel to them if the outage last very long.

Q:  Were you able to use analog non-electronic phones after the hurricane?
GSA:  No because the phone switches themselves were out of action.
Trammell Crow:  We used out-of-area-code cell phones which seemed to work well.

Q:  How are you ensuring accessibility to key documents from a remote site?
GSA:  In some cases we relocated servers; in others we used laptops and flash drives.

Q:  Describe your fuel strategy - both gasoline and diesel.
GSA:  Plan for it not being available and carry extra if possible; bring it in from outside the impacted area.

Q:  What kinds of materials and supplies do you stockpile in your preplanning?
GSA:  Plywood, sandbags, cell phones, satellite phones, GPS devices, laptops, power converters, office supplies, digital cameras.

Q:  How do you manage the balance for employees who are concerned about their families and homes as well as the buildings/work?
GSA:  We send folks into the impacted area from outside and allowed those associates that were directly impacted to focus on their families.

Q:  Assessment forms, what would they include?
GSA:  Building location, size, windows, a checklist of key building functions to check, summary of damage, digital photos.
Trammell Crow:  A detailed account of building features, types of materials for walls, roofs, etc.  Photo’s of sites and an estimate of repair.

Q:  Did you work with tenants to determine where they were evacuating to?
GSA:  We offered assistance. Some used us and some handled it on their own.

Q:  Did they know where you were evacuating to and did you have contact numbers for communication?
GSA:  It took several days to sort all of this out.  Eventually we established a good routine for communications.

Q:  Did you do pre-assessments of the property and report back to the tenant or did they accompany you for a first look at the property?
GSA:  Tenants as a rule did not go on the assessments of the space.

Q:  Did you provide post-event counseling for the assessment teams, etc.?
GSA:  We offered counseling through the Employee Assistance Program.

Q:  Did you handle only company owned stores or all stores?
Trammell Crow:  All stores.

Q:  Did you feel that RVs were not feasible due to inability to get around easily or usability/lack of in the storm areas?
GSA:  They would be good to park them as a staging area to operate from, but they would not work in the impacted area – no fuel and difficult to drive them around.
Trammell Crow:  Not readily available, closet ones were in Ft. Lauderdale, then the size would be difficult to maneuver, and the fuel consumption would be costly.

Q:  Have you prepared for any earthquakes on the west coast? And if so, what would you recommend we prepare for?
GSA:  Not personally.  I would coordinate with FEMA and the Corps of Engineers to discuss preparedness plans.
Trammell Crow:  Not that I am aware of.

Q:  As a building owner, how can we get into these areas to perform inspections and secure our properties?
GSA:  Difficult, coordinate with local law enforcement.

Q:  Does Trammell Crow have emergency plans in place for locations that may\may not be impacted by hurricanes, but by other natural disasters? And do you practice those?
Trammell Crow:  Not that I am aware of.

Q:  What suggestions would you have for non-government agencies who do not have the benefit of a FEMA, etc. relationship?
GSA:  You can still do pre-planning, practice, stockpile materials, etc.

Q:  How would you address the personal safety of the evaluation teams in the disaster areas with the increases in crimes against people and property after the disaster?
GSA:  Brief your staff – their safety is more important then anything else.
Trammell Crow:  Again, this is why you have multiple person teams, never send someone alone.

Q:  What tools did you use to track the agencies impacted and the resources (i.e. people, systems, facilities) and keep up with each through the process?
GSA:  Web sites showing the status of the buildings, estimated recovery time, status of alternate space, weekly conference calls with customers.

Q:  Are you seeing a trend to have contractors (local or out of town) on a retainer for first response to the client?
GSA:  Within the government we have IDIQ contracts that fill this role.

Q:  How did you decide which of your employees would be sent in to assess properties?
GSA:  They had to be willing, they had to have the needed skills and they had to be physically fit enough to operate on their own without medications etc.
Trammell Crow:  Mostly we are turning people away… mostly everyone wants to help and participate.