Business Continuity: How facilities management fits in


Most facilities managers would agree that their lot is a varied one.  This can also apply to their involvement with their organisations Business Continuity Plan and in this article we’ll look at where FMs fit into the overall plan and how they can contribute to the development, maintenance and execution of the business continuity plan.  The availability and operability physical property is absolutely fundamental to business operations for the majority of organisations and there are many issues related to protecting and recovering physical facilities.

Where there is no full-time business continuity manager (and surveys have shown that around 80% of organisations that do have a formal plan, do not devote full time resources to its maintenance and upkeep), the facilities manager tends to be  the main “owner” of plan maintenance activities  together with other key functions such as IT and HR.  So, for many organisations, the facilities managers are not only a key part of the plan, they are a principal catalyst for ensuring the continued relevance of the plan.

This article was written by Steve Dance who is the managing partner of RiskCentric, which provides business continuity management services including business continuity training and plan development, ongoing management and support for business continuity programs and business continuity management systems.

When we consider the broad spectrum of activities that make up comprehensive business continuity plan there are many activities that a facilities manager might take ownership of at the various stages of plan development and maintenance.  A business continuity programme goes through several stages during it’s development and implementation and all can involve the FM in some way:

  • Defining and implementing preventative measures to protect the organisations key assets
  • Identifying and maintaining resources and processes required to establish the required levels of preparedness within the organisation
  • Invoking and following a plan for recovery in the event of a major incident

When we look at each of these in more detail, the facilities manager, whether he is working in conjunction with a full time business continuity manager or taking overall responsibility for the overall plan, plays a major role in any organisations business continuity programme.

Implementing and maintaining preventative measures

One of the best ways to manage business continuity is to make incidents less likely or to reduce their potential impact if they do occur.  Implementing preventative measures around critical areas of premises and associated plant and technology ensuring that a safe and legal place of work is maintained falls directly within the FMs remit. Let’s take fire risk for instance. Here, areas such as fire detection and suppression equipment are obvious issues that any FM would expect to address.  In the UK, the FM may also undertake the legally mandated activities of the fire regulations, maintaining the fire risk assessment and performing the required activities to keep the risk assessment up to date.  Protecting the premises against water damage – particularly flooding from extreme weather conditions – is again a likely issue that will fall within the FMs remit.  Ensuring that flood risks are well understood, where and how they might manifest themselves and the potential countermeasures that need to be put in place are again part of the traditional remit of the facilities manager.

But the facilities managers job does not stop there.  There are many aspects of the physical attributes of a building, regardless of its use, that need to be considered.  In terms of a building being available as a safe and effective place of work, there are many sources of potential disruption that must be addressed to provide the required levels of resilience in the business.  Some of the more common building services that are required to keep the premises operating are:

  • Power.  No building today can operate without electrical power.  Maintaining an adequate power supply, even in the face of major disruption, is critical.  One of the most common outcomes of extreme weather conditions involving storms, snow and high winds is loss of power supply.  Planning for and implementing an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) requires a great deal of analysis to understand the power consumption of resources that support critical business activities and the priorities that would be observed in crisis conditions.  Sizing of the UPS is crucial to back-up power supplies being fit for purpose if called upon.
  • Site access is often taken for granted. Even if the facility is undamaged, if access is denied it’s still unavailable for use.  This is a key area for facilities managers to consider, access to building and surrounding facilities needs to be considered.  In many commercial complexes there is only one route in and out and if this is unavailable an alternative method of access will help to ensure that the facility can be accessed.
  • Water Supply.  As most FMs know, clean water supplies are a legal requirement.  If the water supply to a building is unavailable or contaminated, the building cannot be used until the water supply has been established.  Maintaining the availability and integrity of a building’s water supply is again a major business resilience issue that is likely to fall within the remit of the facilities manager
  • Critical Environments. These are areas within a facility that require additional care and protection over and above those required by the facility as a whole.  Examples of this are parts of the building that house particularly sensitive equipment such as server rooms, communications rooms, telephony plant and clean rooms.  These critical environments need additional measures to be in place to ensure that temperature, humidity, dust and other potential contaminants are kept within required tolerance.  Some may have specific power requirements (take server rooms for instance where a large proportion of electrical supply is concerned with powering cooling systems as well as running the servers themselves).  Many of the considerations for critical environments will fall within the responsibilities of the facilities manager who will be expected to create the specifications for them and ensure their continued operation.

Once these threat countermeasures have been put in place, they have to be maintained, of course. So even after the planning and implementation for them, a schedule of regular maintenance and inspection is required to ensure that they continue to work as expected.  Some, such as UPS systems, will require periodic testing.  This may be as part of the overall business continuity plan exercising programme or a more frequent localised test to ensure that the UPS system will work when called upon.  Whatever the requirement is whether it’s testing or inspection if it’s related to physical premises, it will be the facilities manager and his staff who will perform these activities.

Moving on to preparedness now, there are many activities that a facilities manager will be required to do to ensure that, if invoked, adequate resources are in place to support and facilitate recovery activities.  Regularly reviewing the capabilities of recovery sites is an important part of making sure that the business continuity plan remains fit for purpose.  While IT may regularly review back-up and retention strategies and ensure that critical application can be recovered within required time frames, the facilities manager may well become involved in ensuring that physical premises can absorb the required number of staff that could be relocated.  In this context, the facilities manager could be involved in ascertaining changes to departmental plans to ensure that the identified premises remain capable of providing the necessary levels of accommodation required.  In addition to obvious issues such as the number of desks and chairs, issues such as power points, catering capacity, car parking, and public transport services all need to be regularly reassessed to ensure that the business continuity plan remains viable.  The principle of “moves, adds and changes” is a further consideration to maintaining preparedness.  As most facilities managers will agree, almost every building is in a constant state of flux, groups of people move, areas are reconfigured and services are adapted to meet the requirements of the business.  Some of these can have a material effect on the business continuity plan and they need to be evaluated in terms of their potential impact on the plan.

Thus far, we have considered activities related to planning and maintaining preparedness, but there remains one final area to consider – what does the facilities manager do when the plan is invoked?  When the plan is invoked because of some kind of denial of access to physical premises, the facilities manager is likely to be the pivotal role holder in recovery activities.  If the normal place of work is not available then a series of complex logistical exercise is required to manage staff and suppliers.  Some of the issues a facilities manager might become involved with when a business continuity plan is invoked could include;

  • Deciding which staff and how many of them can be accommodated at alternative locations;
  • Arranging to transport staff to the alternative locations;
  • Arranging for catering services at both the incident scene and the designated recovery centres
  • Sourcing alternative sites for storage and incoming deliveries;
  • Securing the affected premises until they are declared fit for entry;
  • Liaising with emergency services and occupational health specialists during any required building inspections

Even when the initial incident is brought under control, if the physical business premises have been materially affected, the process of business recovery will require heavy involvement from the facilities manager.  After buildings have been declared safe, the facilities manager will become involved in the process of restoration and repair, managing the repair works and contractors undertaking these activities.  Again the facilities manager plays a crucial role here in ensuring that the affected premises are brought back into operation as safely and quickly as possible.  The timeliness and effectiveness of performing these activities can have a considerable influence on the period of post-incident disruption experienced by the company. The time taken to recover “business as usual” has an important influence the organisation maintaining its reputation with customers and can minimise financial losses by  recovering business activities within any business interruption insurance indemnity periods

In this digital age where we seem to rely on information and information system do just about anything, it’s easy to fall into a mind-set of “as long as we have IT we’re safe”.  Information systems are, of course, critical, but when the chips are down and we have lost our business premises too, the facilities management considerations are just as critical as is the role of the facilities manager in protecting, maintain and recovering physical business premises.

This article was written by Steve Dance who is the managing partner of RiskCentric, which provides business continuity management services including business continuity training and plan development, ongoing management and support for business continuity programs and business continuity management systems.