If you have found yourself as the Facility Manager, Property Manager or Owner of a property that has been vacated by suspended operations due to the COVID-19 virus orders, there are some best practices that should be followed in order to assure your property can weather the duration and avoid losses. Without employees on-site, who normally are the eyes and ears, many potential hazards and risks may go un-noticed. A first step to reducing the potential of a loss or liability is to consider the following factors:

Theft and Vandalism
Unfortunately, unoccupied businesses are an easy target for burglary, trespassing, vandalism and arson. Vacant properties invite those looking for shelter or a spot for criminal activity and with our current situation, these properties lack many or the usual deterrents occupants  and the presence of passers-by normally provide. We are now more reliant than ever on electronic detection and surveillance systems.

Fires can spread very quickly and there may be additional delays in reporting because the building is unoccupied and there is less traffic in the area. Opportunistic people seeking shelter may inhabit your facility and become reckless and unsafe with smoking or open fires. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association, 43% of unoccupied building fires were intentionally set and account for 25% of all building fires.

Temperature Concerns
It is important to maintain utility service to regulate temperatures and avoid possible damage from extreme fluctuations. Not maintaining temperatures can also possibly lead to a less effective security system.

Plan Ahead – Prior to vacating a building, have a plan in place
When shutting down a facility, you cannot just lock the doors, turn off the lights and walk away. Idle and unoccupied buildings still have substantial property values exposed to loss. Before leaving a building unoccupied, there needs to be a comprehensive plan in place including detailed risk assessment of areas to focus on.

Upon vacating a building, it is important to notify the local authorities including police and fire departments and Land-lords and Owners. They should be aware of any issues regarding access to the building including names and contact info for keyholders and the security measures in place. Consider stopping mail service if relevant and seal letterboxes

Securing the Physical Property:
* Lock all doors , windows and openings
* Limit access points to the property and facility
* Secure fencing and barriers
* Intrusion alarm should be provided on all doors, windows or glass break detection as well as motion detection for interior traps
* Video cameras should be installed and strategically placed on both the interior and exterior of the facility

A well-lit property will deter crime by increasing visibility and add to possibility of detection. Automatic lighting is imperative throughout the perimeter of the building and should be considered inside as well.

It is important not to interrupt utility service at the facility as well because many of the critical systems rely upon them. The alarm systems, lighting, surveillance systems, emergency responders radio amplifiers (ERRC) and access control are dependent upon electricity supply to function. While many of these systems have a back-up power source, they have a limited capacity. Internet service may be the means of transmission for alarm signals and camera image transmission off-site so it must be maintained. While not as prevalent these days, telephone lines may be utilized for security system transmission and still support a surprising amount of the fire alarm system even though cellular systems are the communication mode of choice now-days. Gas service and janitorial should also be considered.

Periodic Inspections:
Conduct frequent (daily or weekly) inspections of all areas of the property. The inspection should focus on security, fire protection systems and maintenance items like lighting. Alarms should be tested for connection to the Central Monitoring Station. Address items of deficiency quickly. Consider hiring a professional guard service if prudent.

Required Inspections:
Fire alarm systems detect a fire and alert with a visual, audible and remote signal to a monitoring center. It may include automatic detection, water-flow and valve tampers for the sprinkler and smoke detectors. The integrity of these systems is critical if a building is unoccupied. Fire protection systems protect the physical property via sprinkler and suppression systems. They rely on an adequate water supply to perform and become increasingly important with the absence of occupants for early warning.
All of these Life-Safety Systems require annual, semi-annual, monthly or even weekly testing in some cases by law. Before leaving a property unoccupied they should be tested by a licensed fire alarm company. In fact, some tests that require setting off the audible alarms may be well suited for scheduling when the building isn’t full of workers, so now me be a great time. If the property ends up being idle for a while, be sure to test before re-occupying the facility.

For an emailed copy of the ProTech  Building Inspection Checklist, contact us at [email protected]

To schedulea fire alarm or sprinkler inspection in the Houston area, contact [email protected] or [email protected]

To inquire about cellular monitoring. Contact [email protected] or [email protected]

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