Business Continuity Planning for Facilities Managers

Facility Management should play a crucial role in Business Continuity – they manage the 2nd largest and most consequential business “assets” (after IT) on which day-to-day business operation rely.

Yet many Facilities Management (FM) departments are often excluded from the planning process, either because BIA surveys skew a focus toward IT dependencies and financial impacts, or because Recovery strategies lean toward alternate site configurations (under the assumption that a damaged facility will be a total loss).  Both of these perspectives ignore the fact that ‘total loss’ of a facility almost never occurs.

Then there are Facilities Managers who perceive little value in planning for potential disruptions – either under the assumption that response and recovery are part of their existing job duties (and don’t require planning), or that they can’t plan for what they can’t anticipate.  Both are short-sighted.

Having spent more than a dozen years as a Facility Manager (I began my involvement in Business Continuity in that role), I’ve learned that there is a great deal Facility functions can do to plan for recovery from disruptions; and FM can play a vital role in Response and Recovery activities – but only with advance planning and coordination with overall BCM objectives.

First, the typical “Loss of Building” scenario which many organizations use as a foundation for BCM Planning is an exaggeration: damage to facilities (other than small buildings and stand-alone facilities – like branch banks or retail stores) almost never results in a total loss.  Damage may occur, but the facility is seldom rendered useless.  (See our earlier blog for more on this subject).

There are things the Facilities Team can do to plan for a ‘total loss’, but they are limited.  I’ll touch on those planning requirements later.  Meanwhile, Facility Managers can plan the logistics in the event of building damage (a water or sprinkler leak, broken windows, an isolated power outage, small fires and other partial disruptions).

Prioritized Internal Relocation

Facilities Managers plays a vital role in helping to devise a Recovery Strategy for ‘partial loss’ (damage to a floor, quadrant or other portion of a building).  A sound BIA will enable the organization to determine their most critical business processes.  Facility Managers hold the key to determining where critical business process participants can move if their portion of a building is damaged.

Using the BIA’s prioritization results, the least critical process participants can move out (work from home, or just go home) and be replaced by more critical players.  Armed with floor plans designating the occupied space for each business process, Facilities Managers can work with the BCM team (or Incident Managers) to shuffle employees within the facility to reduce the impact of damage on those most critical processes.

Repairing Building Damage

Although overlooked as part of their day-to-day job, knowing whom to contact – plumbers, electricians, restoration companies and similar skilled trades and suppliers – is critical to responding quickly and effectively to facility damage.

A good Facilities Manager is adept at responding to day-to-day ‘crises’; they can be invaluable in during any disruption because they also know (or are responsible for) critical support functions:

  • Physical Security (including access controls and security guards)
  • Mail and overnight deliveries (and internal distribution)
  • Adds, moves and changes of furniture and equipment
  • Vending, catering and food services (IM and Recovery Teams can’t work on empty stomachs)
  • Coordination with local Emergency Services (they should be on a first name basis with the Fire Marshall)
  • Logistics (shipping, receiving, inventory and suppliers)
  • Interaction with landlords and building owners.

Capturing that knowledge in a Business Continuity Plan assures access to those contacts under all circumstances (including damage to the Facilities Management Department, or absence of their staff!).

Temporary Facilities

Some impacts may render a facility temporarily uninhabitable (or off limits).  If only a day or two, work-from-home strategies may suffice – but they begin to lose their effectiveness in 3-5 days.  Knowing where local, alternate space may be available (workspace sharing or hoteling vendors, neighboring buildings or other tenants with extra space, for example) may provide better long-term temporary solutions.  Having a good working relationship with a landlord or building owner can pay big dividends in a disruption.  Having quick access to those contacts – within the Business Continuity Plan – will ensure adequate time to make phone and network connections to make such spaces usable.

In the unlikely event that a building is destroyed (a ‘total loss’) those same contacts will enable the organization to begin sourcing replacement facilities quickly.

Risk Mitigation

Electrical outages can be annoying (and costly) disruptions.  Adding a backup power generator can help mitigate the impact of those outages.  And FM can help determine not only the siting (where) but also the capacity (what) of generators – to serve both the primary objective (keeping the data center running) and secondary objectives: providing emergency power at the desk of critical business processes (like Customer Service or Order Fulfillment).

Need to shelter-in-place?  FM should have the best understanding of the most structurally safe areas of the building.

Planning evacuation gathering points?  FM can coordinate with other tenants or neighbors to make sure everyone isn’t planning to meet up in the same locations.

Flooding a problem?  There are as many ways to divert water as there are budgets to pay for them.  If you understand the financial impact of a possible flood, FM can help find a permanent or temporary means to mitigate some or all of the potential damage.

These are just a few of many areas where FM can help reduce the potential risks an organization faces – if they’re included in the planning process.

Decision Support for Incident Managers

Facilities Managers – often overlooked as a purely ‘administrative function’ – can be a highly valuable participant in Incident Management.  They have access to knowledge that no one else possesses.  They have established contacts with suppliers, vendors and trades that may be needed following a disruption.  And they have an understanding of the capacity (for people, electrical loads and HVAC) that may be crucial to determining long- and short-term recovery strategies.

Every Business Continuity Management program should include Facilities Management.  A smart Business Continuity Manager works hand-in-hand with their FM team to help build both their high-level strategy, and their Incident Management plans.  Just like the technical support provided by IT, FM possesses a set of skills and a wealth of knowledge that BC Managers can leverage both before and during a disruption.

Jim Mitchell

Jim Mitchell

A frequent speaker at Business Continuity conferences, many of Jim Mitchell’s blogs can be found elsewhere on eBRP’s website and has published articles in DRJ, Continuity Insights and Continuity Central. Jim has more than 20 years of experience in Business Continuity; if you don’t agree with his opinions – he won’t be surprised.

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