Commercial facility managers are on the front line when it comes to assuring the safety of their buildings’ occupants and communicating those initiatives to them. That includes firms that outsource their management services.
Fortunately, Washington, DC-based CarrAmerica, a developer, owner and manager of over 25 million square feet of office space in the U.S., was prepared. “On 9/11, all our Washington, DC tenants and property managers were extremely anxious about what was going on and what they should do,” says CarrAmerica’s Phil Matchett, a regional director for the firm.
CarrAmerica had recently employed an outsourced Web-based communications medium called InfoCentre. The system demonstrated its value on that day. “It turned out to be the most reliable way of keeping in touch with our property managers and tenants on 9/11,” Matchett says.
On the day of the attack, the area’s telephone system could not keep up with the crushing volume of traffic. But InfoCentre enabled CarrAmerica to communicate with tenants at its DC area properties. “We constantly posted and updated information about security issues,” Matchett says. “Without this technology, communications would have been more difficult. The Web was the most reliable medium that day.”
Even before the tragic events of 9/11, clients were clamoring for more refined disaster plans and the means to communicate them to workers. Today, property and facility managers are re-evaluating their disaster plans to make sure they are up to date and that the communication line with all tenants is clear and effective.
In such an environment, two Seattle, Washington firms, Essention, Inc., a provider of property and facility management technology solutions, along with WPS, a provider of online facility management procedures and emergency response and recovery programs, created InfoCentre in late 2000. Their joint effort allows facility management (FM) outsourcing firms, building managers and tenants to communicate security and emergency response planning/recovery information faster and more efficiently.
“From a human factor standpoint, security communication is a big challenge,” according to Tim Springer Ph.D, analyst, founder and president of Chicago, Illinois’ Hero Leadership, which consults with facility management firms on communication issues. “People are suffering from information overload. The challenge to facility managers is: How they can break through that overload?”
Technology Streamlines Instruction and Communication
InfoCentre offers a secure Web-based information management and a maintenance and document archive along with a 24×7 customer service desk. Essention provides the technology backbone while WPS supplies security content development and revision as needed.
Such information includes step-by-step instructions and training, with detailed procedures for each client facility, ranging from cooperative emergency preparation to disaster recovery communications. It also offers targeted email notices as necessary to advise FM managers and tenants of periodic events that affect security.
By combining both companies’ strengths, commercial facility and property management professionals can more easily implement and manage emergency plans and procedures online with quick communication in case of a disaster.
“WPS is the industry leader when it comes to developing FM communications programs, especially in the area of security,” says Karen Little, Chief Operating Officer for Essention. “Our communication network and their expertise in creating security content tools are a perfect marriage, and this service continues to undergo revisions that only make it better and more valued by our FM clients.
“Both our firms had been aware of the other for quite awhile since we’re located in the same city,” continues Little. “Over time, our missions grew closer until we realized our services and products had matured to the point where they complimented each other.”
Changing the Way People Think and React
“Communication of the right information at the right time that has meaning is critical when it comes to security,” adds Hero Leadership’s Springer. “In the world of security, response time is the name of the game. Accelerating that with improved communications certainly hedges your bet.”
“It’s crucial that tenants know how to react during an emergency,” says David Strang, President of WPS. “Our partnership with Essention makes it easy for tenants to know what to do when a crisis occurs and for management to be able to get their businesses up and running as soon as possible following an emergency situation.”
On a daily basis, Matchett suggests that InfoCentre’s security communications system has evolved during the past three years. “Targeting emails is easier than it was at first,” he says. “For example, it’s easier to communicate with specific people about ongoing issues since email list management is much more refined than before. Now, for instance, they can easily notify only those affected that, ‘an indoor air quality subcontractor will be working on the property. Don’t be alarmed at the strange face with all that strange equipment; he belongs here.'”
Matchett says CarrAmerica has now added the InfoCentre security communications system to its list of vertical FM services that it offers to other management firms and third-party FM providers. “It’s part of a user-services product we market. We’re outsourcing the services we’re outsourcing,” he adds.
Essention’s Little also notices an uptick in such requests. “In the past few months, we’ve fielded more inquiries from property managers who ask if we can provide just the InfoCentre security communications program to them and our answer, of course, is ‘yes’.”
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal
- Even before the tragic events of 9/11, many property and facility managers were are re-evaluating their disaster plans to make sure they are up to date and that the communication line with all tenants is clear and effective.
- Communication of timely, correct information is critical when it comes to security in the workplace
- In a disaster like September 11th, a Web-based communications system is likely to be the most dependable way of deploying timely information to property managers and tenants regarding rapidly changing conditions.