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Celebrate National Preparedness Month by Making Sure You’re Ready!

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
natural disasters

We can learn from things that are handled right in natural disasters.

Recent events, such as Hurricane Irene, the east coast earthquake and this year’s tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Joplin are critical reminders about the importance of preparedness. So we’d like to take a one-week break from our ongoing series about lessons learned from 9/11 to discuss ways that you and your community can prepare for natural disasters. It seems particularly fitting we do so now, since September is National Preparedness Month.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate kicked off National Preparedness Month last week with a visit to New York. He posed one important question: “Are you ready?”

As active members National Preparedness Month Coalition, we at RJWestmore Inc. would like to echo Fugate’s implied call to action. We believe the more people are aware of available online and real world tools, the more prepared they will be to cope and bounce back when disasters strike.

A great way to learn how to prepare is to learn from past mistakes. This method is effective because people are always quick to point fingers and paws and complain. But let’s take a different tact this week, by learning from what went right in the recent events on the east coast as well as Missouri and Alabama.

Hurricane Irene: For Washington, D.C., Hurricane Irene was not only the most dangerous weather system to rip through Washington in some time, but it was also a test of whether the beleaguered power company, Pepco, could claw its way out of the basement of public opinion by keeping the lights on and restoring them when they blinked out.

Pepco’s response was to make automated phone calls alerting citizens before the hurricane hit and then to restore power within 24 hours to 140,000 of the 220,000 affected customers. Fewer homes served by Pepco in the District and Maryland suburbs lost power than did those served by neighboring power companies. Pepco bounced back from bad PR by keeping lines of communication open with their customer base. Whatever line of business you are in, make communication an integral part of your emergency management plans.

East Coast Earthquake: Immediately after the 5.9 earthquake centered near Mineral, Virginia, the FAA ordered planes at airports around the country to stay on the ground rather than fly to airports in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Virginia where traffic was temporarily halted. Among major airports in the region, only New York’s LaGuardia continued operations throughout the day. But by late afternoon, traffic at all the airports was returning to normal, although delays were expected into the evening. Controlling transportation is crucial to effective disaster management.

Tornadoes: According to an article in USA Today, the Alabama tornado killed 41 people, devastated vital parts of the city’s infrastructure, destroyed or damaged more than 7,000 buildings and affected 10% of local businesses. It was part of a system of twisters that killed 238 people in Alabama alone and another 100 or so in other states across the South.

Tuscaloosa is said to be further along the road to rebuilding than Joplin, Mo., which was struck by a tornado that killed at least 125, blasted 2,000 homes, took out one of the city’s two hospitals, ravaged big-box stores and smashed several hundred small businesses.

Thankfully, funds for survivors and reconstruction are coming in from many sources, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies, state and local governments, private insurers, volunteer and faith-based organizations and other non-governmental sources.

Although the rebuilding efforts will likely take years and millions of dollars, thanks to coordinated efforts of state and federal agencies, these devastated communities are on their way to recovery. Handling any large scale disaster, whether manmade or natural, requires coordination and cooperation.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Fire in a high-rise building: Is it safe to ride the elevator?

Monday, February 28th, 2011
People running toward an exit

Is it safe to use an elevator to exit in emergencies?

The 9/11 disasters prompted facility managers and emergency management professionals to discuss the use of elevators for egress in cases of fire-related emergencies. Among other things, the terrorist attacks shed light on the fact that, for optimum safety, certain emergencies require evacuation of all floors simultaneously instead of individually.

While not yet mainstream, research and discussion is beginning to challenge long-held beliefs. Some high-rise buildings, such as the 1,149-foot Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, utilize evacuation elevators due to the height of the building, which makes emergency stairway exits implausible.

So is change coming? Who will ultimately decide? Elevator use in buildings is largely managed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, who review and suggest changes for elevator codes that dictate standards for buildings throughout the country.

Challenges to implementation of evacuation elevators:

  • Changing ingrained procedures will be a challenge. Building occupants have long been told to “take the stairs during a fire.” Adapting tenants to the safety and expediency of elevator evacuation might be difficult. Intensive in-person training will need to be executed and assurances given about the newfound benefits of using elevators for speedier emergency exits.
  • Handling water from sprinklers is an engineering hurdle. If occupants need to escape quickly during a fire, it’s very likely the sprinklers will be on during evacuation. So operations and communications equipment in evacuation elevators need to be protected from potential water damage.
  • Smoke inhalation is the biggest health danger during a fire. So Smoke Control Systems should be installed, maintained and regularly inspected in elevator areas.
  • Other potential hazards, such as earthquakes causing fires, mean evacuation elevators need to be structurally reinforced.

If tenants plan to use evacuation elevators but firefighters on the ground recall all elevators to the lobby, precious time could be wasted. Working with fire department staff prevents this type of mis-communication. One way the RJWestmore Training System improves emergency communication between local fire departments and our clients is via the building-specific, automatic notifications and updates we send to fire departments with real-time information relative to Special Assistance, Floor Wardens and Fire Safety Directors. Thanks to this service, emergency personnel are well-equipped to provide assistance and direction when they arrive on scene.

Installation of dedicated emergency egress elevators is not usually valuable unless the elevators themselves are protected from fire. New codes are emerging which have been designed to protect evacuation elevators with fireproof padding and other structural safeguards. Dedicated emergency power supplies are also needed to ensure elevator occupants are not left stranded between floors during emergencies.

Widespread requirements for evacuation elevators might be on the horizon. So it’s important to stay ahead of the learning curve. Used correctly, they offer the ultimate promise of a higher degree of safety for those who work and live in high-rise structures. As always, be sure you review the latest national and local codes as they relate to fire-related procedures. It’s important to have an integrated approach to fire safety which includes sprinklers, alarms and safe evacuation routes.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Update on the Threat of Terrorist Attacks: How to Safeguard Your Residential or Commercial Property

Monday, January 10th, 2011
police line do not cross

Protect your property from terrorist attacks.

After the grand assault of 9/11, many security analysts worried terror cells were plotting similar or even larger scale attacks. Fortunately, however, due to law enforcement efforts and increased security, the likelihood of broad attacks involving multiple agents has actually decreased since 2001. This is due in part to decentralization of terrorist groups, which means more individuals might be operating without financial or operational backing. Unfortunately, it also means that the location of potential terror targets grows beyond high profile targets in major cities. City officials and police chiefs are responding by participating in terrorism-prevention training.

What should facility managers do in the face of the changing terrorism threat?

  • Installation of outside surveillance cameras can dissuade perpetrators from selecting your building for a “dry run” or actual attack.
  • Use Bollards to deter truck bombs. A Bollard is a large three to four foot post which can often be lowered and raised to allow or deny access into sensitive areas.
  • Ask city officials not to provide architectural plans of their facility to any outside person or organization.
  • Review procedures that allow non employees to enter the building. Set procedures to intercept packages and deliveries at a secure location. Require all visitors to be met and escorted by tenant personnel before being allowed into the building.
  • Go a block away from your building and then try to find a way back. Is the parking garage secure? Do side doors remain unlocked? If you do your homework, you will be able to uncover potential Security holes.

The importance of individual vigilance:

  • As potential terror perpetrators become less organized and individuals begin operating solo, law enforcement has less information to stop attacks.
  • Individual awareness of suspicious activities can thwart attacks in progress.
  • As with any goal, individual collaboration is the key to success. Encourage tenants to speak up if something seems out of place. Also, involvement of the custodial and parking staff can increase the potential for staff eyes and ears to spot potential issues.

In addition preventing potential attacks, facility managers should work with tenants to establish procedures in the event it becomes necessary to manage the aftermath of an attack:

  • Review and improve evacuation procedures for building occupants. Speedy and orderly exit during an emergency can save lives.
  • Establish protocols for reporting suspicious activity. Make sure there is a clear “chain of information,” with one facility point of contact for law enforcement.

In our free society, it is likely that terror threats will occur. However, individual attention combined with enhanced security measures can stop threats in action. With the recent Times Square bombing thwarted in part by a street vendor, ordinary citizens can make a real difference in terror prevention.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Preventing Terrorist Attacks

Monday, May 24th, 2010
Are you prepared for the threat of terrorism?

Are you prepared for the threat of terrorism

With the recent attempted bombing in Times Square, terrorism prevention and surveillance of threats are, once again, front page news. This is the first post in a series about terrorism-related issues, which we will explore to help property owners and managers recognize and mitigate terrorist threats.

Thanks to the efforts of intelligence and law enforcement agencies, several terrorist plots that focused on commercial buildings have been thwarted over the past several years. As seen in the recent New York City attempt, the actions of diligent civilians can also prevent catastrophe. Also, common sense and surveillance procedures increase awareness about things that “just don’t look right.”

Our first post in this series is an introduction to terrorist groups and explanation of their probable motives for planning an attack. Knowing this basic information can help provide context as to the types of targets and methods that some groups will likely use to cause damage.

Terrorist Threats

  • Domestic Groups:
    • Before the 9/11 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing was the largest modern terrorist attack in the United States.
    • Domestic groups have anti-government agendas that can be based on perceived racial or socioeconomic issues.
  • International Groups:
    • Al-Qaeda is arguably the most well known terrorist group in the world. The group seeks to broadcast its views by destroying well-known targets in headline-producing fashion.
    • Other lesser known internationally-based groups, such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, also have aspirations to attack U.S. interests.

Remember that surveillance methods should not be relegated to racial profiling or stereotyping. Instead of identifying race during surveillance, look for suspicious behavior patterns. Future blog posts will explain specifics.

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies:

  • Establish relationships with law enforcement for your building, including the FBI. This is a key step in preventing terrorist attacks.
  • Provide law enforcement direct access to your property so they can quickly and effectively respond to incidents and advise you about where to place surveillance equipment.

Complete emergency and disaster training should cover acts of nature as well as man-made disasters, including terrorism. While not all attacks can be predicted or prevented, property owners can take steps to identify and prevent attacks. The next blog in our series will explore how terrorist groups typically choose targets and how you can use surveillance and physical modifications to detect and deter potential threats.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. RJ Westmore, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Approaching the Eight Year Anniversary of 9/11

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Blog Twin Towers Pic

Thousands of lives and both of the Twin Towers were lost on the now infamous day of September 11, 2001. The disaster gave Americans an uninvited lesson about the necessity of developing a comprehensive high-rise evacuation plan. It also shed light on the fact that, to be effective, disaster preparedness plans have to be taught to the people most likely to need them…all of the occupants in a building.

Fire Life Safety

One of the unavoidable risks of working or living in a high-rise building is fire. According to NFPA, the National Fire Protection Association, the following factors are unique to training for fire safety in high-rise buildings.

High-rise

  • The multiple floors of a high-rise building create the cumulative effect of requiring great numbers of persons to travel great vertical distances on stairs in order to evacuate the building.
  • The physical demands of evacuation made on occupants often exceed the capabilities of many.
  • The process of evacuating some of the largest high-rise buildings in the world may take upwards of two hours.
  • The fire and life safety systems installed in high-rise buildings today, including automatic fire sprinkler protection, are designed to control a fire and therefore lessen the need to totally evacuate all occupants.
  • Typically, the fire floor and the floors immediately above and below the fire will be evacuated. (Depending on the city where you live, there could be as many as five to seven floors within the building.)

Also according to NFPA, the key elements of emergency preparedness include:

  • Early warning (typically through an alarm or voice communication system)
  • Adequate means of egress (exit routes)
  • Occupant familiarity with the plan through knowledge and practice.

The RJWestmore Training System provides unlimited access to building-specific, web-based emergency preparedness education to the folks who need it most. Using an educational, entertaining and user-friendly format, the system has been approved by all of the major fired departments across the United States. It was most recently recognized and approved by the Los Angeles Fire Department as one of the first approved online training systems to comply with the newly implemented LAMC 57.33.19 high-rise fire code. Simply stated, the system saves lives.

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Making a Fire Escape Plan

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Your house is on fire – what do you do?

Most people panic and create even more chaos. But that’s no way to handle a serious situation – especially when lives are at stake.

To make the most of precious time when disaster strikes, RJWestmore recommends that all households have a fire escape plan in place. It will only take a few minutes to create – but it could be your lifeline when survival is a matter of seconds.

To learn more about making a fire escape plan, including how to download a FREE fire escape plan grid, visit www.firesafety.gov.

In the meantime, consider these safety tips from FireSafety.gov, which will help you and your loved ones put an escape plan in place.

Practice Escaping from Every Room in the Home
Practice escape plans every month. The best plans have two ways to get out of each room. If the primary way is blocked by fire or smoke, you will need a second way out. A secondary route might be a window onto an adjacent roof or using an Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) approved collapsible ladder for escape from upper story windows. Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly and that security bars can be properly opened. Also, practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.

Security Bars Require Special Precautions
Security bars may help to keep your family safe from intruders, but they can also trap you in a deadly fire! Windows and doors with security bars must have quick release devices to allow them to be opened immediately in an emergency. Make sure everyone in the family understands and practices how to properly operate and open locked or barred doors and windows.

Immediately Leave the Home
When a fire occurs, do not waste any time saving property. Take the safest exit route, but if you must escape through smoke, remember to crawl low, under the smoke and keep your mouth covered. The smoke contains toxic gases that can disorient you or, at worst, overcome you.

Never Open Doors that Are Hot to the Touch
When you come to a closed door, use the back of your hand to feel the top of the door, the doorknob, and the crack between the door and door frame to make sure that fire is not on the other side. If it feels hot, use your secondary escape route. Even if the door feels cool, open it carefully. Brace your shoulder against the door and open it slowly. If heat and smoke come in, slam the door and make sure it is securely closed, then use your alternate escape route.

Designate a Meeting Place Outside and Take Attendance
Designate a meeting location away from the home, but not necessarily across the street. For example, meet under a specific tree or at the end of the driveway or front sidewalk to make sure everyone has gotten out safely and no one will be hurt looking for someone who is already safe. Designate one person to go to a neighbor’s home to phone the fire department.

Once Out, Stay Out

Remember to escape first and then notify the fire department using the 911 system or proper local emergency number in your area. Never go back into a burning building for any reason. Teach children not to hide from firefighters. If someone is missing, tell the firefighters. They are equipped to perform rescues safely.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst: September is National Preparedness Month

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

On this seventh anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, preparedness in the event of a disaster has even greater importance to Americans.

As a society, we must be ready to handle – at a moment’s notice – emergencies in our homes, businesses and communities.

But it’s not just the ongoing threat of attack for which we should prepare. Natural disasters – such as devastating hurricanes, floods and earthquakes – and the outbreak of epidemic diseases all demand a plan.

“Those with the capacity and wherewithal to help themselves must do so in advance, so that in the event of an emergency, responders can first assist those who are unable to tend to themselves,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in a statement.

Throughout September, the Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Campaign – part of National Preparedness Month – highlights preparedness steps, including having an emergency supply kit, making a family emergency plan, and becoming informed about different types of emergencies.

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