Emergency Preparedness

Hurricanes Make Office Buildings Hard to Secure

With the arrival of hurricane season comes the potential for significant damage, loss of life, and housing and electrical power difficulties for those in their paths. While emergency management officials put most of their efforts toward helping residents, security practitioners still must protect their facilities, before, during, and after hurricanes.

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While it helps that hurricanes are predictable and this gives people time to prepare their personal lives, office buildings, factories, and other facilities protected by security professionals and officers, these spaces may need to be operated or at least staffed by a skeleton crew during these events. Security personnel may need to be on hand during the worst of the weather to put up sand bags, monitor rising water levels and wind damage, and operate emergency generators. In the case of retail stores or warehouses with high-dollar goods still on-site, security officers may need to be on-site, working their shifts, to prevent burglaries, thefts, or looting.

In a serious weather emergency or other crisis that threatens the business operations and distribution of the products and services to customers, it’s likely that some employees will have an “everyone for themselves” mind-set and not want to report to work or stay there. It’s understandable that they would want to protect themselves and their loved ones from harm first and not consider the needs of their employer. Conversely, the directors of facilities and security (and safety and risk management, if those departments exist in the organization) have significant concerns about the safety of the buildings, electronics, and products during a hurricane event. Those department representatives can’t call in sick, leave for home, or abandon their positions, even in the face of a serious weather threat.

Since hurricanes are not historically rare in the Gulf and coastal regions of the U.S., many companies have well-established and practiced contingency plans and business continuity plans already in place and are prepared to “ride it out.” But when the national and local news media continue to talk about the possibility of a so-called “Storm of the Century” hitting the area, it’s easy to lose faith in a business plan if your personal safety is at high risk.

Nonetheless, someone must be at the facility to operate generators, shore up damage to windows and doors, make sure the backup power systems can keep the IT systems and critical electronic security assets (cameras, fire, and burglar alarms) in some operational mode, verify that all nonessential personnel are out of the facility, and watch for potentially deadly wind and flooding damage before they decimate the building.

Of course, in any man-made or natural disaster, there is a time to stay and protect the facility and keep the business in even a limited operation (e.g., hospitals, power plants, water pumping stations, fire and police stations, and similar critical infrastructures), and there is a time to evacuate completely and hope the buildings survive. Police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and private security officers can only do so much before the protection systems they have created start to fail and they need to protect themselves. Protecting a building or a warehouse is not worth the cost of a single human life. Fortunately, as recent hurricane impacts have demonstrated in the U.S., the safety and security stakeholders were safely able to protect themselves and their citizens or customers. That happens with plans, policies, training, equipment preparedness, awareness for all employees, and significant amounts of courage.