Are You Ready For Building

There are some situations managers and owners of commercial buildings hope will never happen on their property: natural disaster, large-scale theft, sexual assault, or even a terrorist attack. But all these things can happen, and real estate professionals have to be ready for them.

That point was brought home to Luis Alvarado, executive vice president for property management at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank in Boston, during the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. His previous company, which he declined to name, was managing the building at 699 Boylston St., in front of which the first bomb was placed.

“Thank God we had plans in place, including how to evacuate,” Alvarado says, adding that their manual for unexpected disasters runs near 100 pages long. His company cooperated with the investigations of Homeland Security, Boston police, Massachusetts police, and the FBI. The building was shut down for almost two weeks. “You need to establish communication with every tenant and have three contacts for every tenant.”

So how should you prepare for such emergencies? “It’s important to have a written policy manual covering all those foreseeable events, so that standards of practice can be adhered to,” says Neil Merin, chairman of NAI Merin Hunter Codman, a commercial real estate services firm in West Palm Beach, Fla. “There has to be a reasonable approach that mitigates the problem but doesn’t inconvenience tenants excessively.”

The range of crises that could arise stretches long and wide, which necessitates thorough preparation. Jesse Holland, president of Albany, N.Y.–based Sunrise Management and Consulting, has virtually seen it all: “a bomb squad, a hurricane, fires.” He’s happy to note they haven’t had any reported cases of sexual assault, but have had to deal with “sexual offenders who didn’t belong on the property.”

Holland says there are four crucial steps in preparing for crises, and the first step is compiling pertinent information. “Where are the locations of the water shut-offs and gas mains? Who needs to be contacted in case of emergency and what are their phone numbers?” Holland says.

Being prepared can also help you deal with smaller emergencies. For example, when the computer system Holland’s company relies upon crashed, they were saved by the fact that part of their disaster plan is to print out the rent roll for apartment complexes each month. “All the information was there to rebuild our records,” he says.

The second major issue for Holland is relationships. “All emergency situations involve a lot of other agencies and stakeholders,” he says. For example, if there’s an active shooter on your property, you’re interacting with the police department. “That’s a lot easier if you already have a relationship with the police.”

When Sunrise puts up a new building, it invites the fire department during construction so officials can see where things are and how they are put together. “We have relationships with town officials and assessors too,” Holland adds.