If there is one thing that employees across the world are missing greatly amidst this pandemic, it is their professional haven — the office workplace. The pandemic has also taught building managers the importance of being prepared in the event of an emergency, should a similar one arise.

Emergencies can either be natural disasters like floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, or even man-made crises like explosions, bomb threats, civil disturbances and workplace violence. While we may not be able to predict when such disasters will strike, we can definitely plan to be cautious by incorporating a range of regulatory requirements that encompass health, site safety, and evacuation procedures.

Developing an emergency preparedness plan is a critical decision a business can make. After all, the safety of employees, on-site contractors, and visitors is a company’s responsibility. Deploying a few simple and effective technologies can not only save lives but also ensure a business's survival in the long run.

Although each office building exhibits unique challenges, there are some commonalities that they have and some tools can be implemented to ensure office safety. Below are some tools/guidelines to ensure office safety:

Emergency notification system

Emergency notification systems are nothing but messaging platforms that administrators use to effectively communicate with individuals, groups, business associates, or a business’ entire database of contacts. By using such multiple communication channels, emergency notification systems provide the right information to the right people at the right time so that evacuations can be executed efficiently.

With an increasing mobile workforce, distributed teams and large campuses, the traditional approach of relying on perimeter office security alone is not enough when employees are continually in motion and modern threats know no boundaries.

Panic alarms

Panic alarms are used when it is unsafe or uncomfortable to seek help without drawing any attention. They are also used to alert concerned teams and employees about a wide variety of incidents including thefts, medical emergencies, accidents, active shooters, etc.

Several types of panic alarm systems are available in the market today. The most traditional is the fixed alarm with a hard-wired connection. Fixed panic buttons are appropriate for workers who are in stationary positions — for example, a school secretary from the front-office desk, or a bank employee at a cash counter.

However, by using a mobile, wireless panic alarm button solution, the alarm can be sent several ways depending on the system selected (WiFi or cellular network). Some wireless solutions have at least two ways their alarm signals can be transmitted, which makes them more reliable.

Elevator monitoring systems

According to fire experts, it is not advisable to use an elevator for transportation during a fire or an emergency. However, elevators are a critical part of a multi-story building’s infrastructure. In the event of an emergency, a centralised remote monitoring and predictive maintenance of lifts is required.

Typically one where the software can pull data from any lift — regardless of brand or location — onto a single dashboard that tracks physical condition, utilisation, and ride comfort and sends alerts in real time if anomalies are detected. The fire service modes in elevators can be automatically activated whenever smoke is detected in the building.

It is important to monitor the elevators, the elevator shafts, and the lift pressurisation fans.

Evacuation escapes and exit routes

Emergency evacuation is of key importance in any premise, be it residential, commercial, industrial or hospitality. It could be a simple power outage or a fire or security emergency. If we take the case of a fire emergency, the fire-alarm system would detect and alert the building owners, facility managers and tenants of the fire.

The public address voice alarm system would give announcements to ensure systematic evacuation. Apart from these two systems, we need to have a centrally powered, addressable and monitored emergency and exit lighting system which would ensure that the egress path is illuminated and the correct directions are given to the tenants to ensure safe and systematic evacuation from a building.

Scheduled data back-ups

Cyber-attacks and system failures result in data losses, and in the event of such hacks, recovering from losses can be costly and time-consuming. The main need to backup data is to save important files if a system crashes, data corrupts, or hard drive failure occurs. This option is best done via the cloud or offsite storage.

Advanced cloud services can protect the enterprise from losing valuable backup and configuration data, and manage backup from one online location using IoT technologies. This helps to have a fail-safe environment for data by providing continuity of operations and disaster recovery which is critical in every industry.

Post-evacuation protocols

A building owner, facility manager or building operator has to ensure the safety of the building tenants. It is important that once an evacuation takes place the re-occupancy of the facility takes place only after the root cause of the alarm is evaluated and rectified. This is to ensure that once the building is occupied again, we should not have a scenario wherein evacuation needs to be done again because of the same alarm or emergency threat.

To summarise, we cannot stress the importance of proper technological tools in the event of an emergency. While regular building inspections, safety audits, and evacuation drills, are essential to ensure site-specific safety procedures, technology is what gives offices tools to create a customised emergency preparedness plan that will eventually protect vital business assets and saves lives.

The writer is Director Operations, Netix Controls India