As a specialist in high-rise emergency management, what do you think is the number one “Building Safety” concern facing Canadian residential property managers today?

Professionals who manage residential buildings in Canada have long been a vital component in ensuring our community is safe and secure. The term “Building Safety Program” is not new and it is an umbrella term, encompassing the three pillars of an effective residential building safety program.

These three pillars, which are created by both legal requirements and industry best practices, are:
Fire, Safety and Security. It is important to remember that each pillar is just as important as the other, so it would be difficult to highlight just one.

On that note, let’s focus on the first pillar that you mentioned. In your opinion, what is the number one “Fire Safety” concern facing residential property managers today?

While fire safety remains a top priority for most high-rise Property Managers, one component that is often overlooked is the delivery of resident emergency preparedness information. Unfortunately, no one is communicating emergency procedures to residents on an ongoing basis.

When the fire alarm goes off at 2:00 a.m. residents have to make the tough choice whether or not to leave the building.  Property Managers and the Board of Directors are responsible for occupant safety of the building; they should ensure they are giving residents the tools and the approved “building specific” fire safety information that they need to make that important decision.

Recent media coverage of high-rise fires within the Greater Toronto Area has highlighted the lack of resident awareness regarding building emergency procedures, including procedures for persons requiring assistance during evacuations. Persons requiring assistance during evacuation (commonly referred to as Building PRA’s), may be described as any resident who has reduced mobility, a speech, hearing or visual impairment, or a cognitive limitation.

As a best practice in both resident communications and Board due diligence, many property managers are hosting “Annual Resident Information Sessions.” These yearly sessions allow property managers to meet code compliances and best practices in communicating building emergency procedures.

Typically under one hour and presented by a specialist, these sessions allow residents to learn and review emergency procedures such as fire alarms, evacuations, shelter in place and also discuss requirements for persons requiring assistance during an evacuation. These procedures are designed specifically for their building and approved by the local fire services. Residents are reminded of building fire, safety and security procedures in a positive way…it’s the new standard in high-rise safety.

Let’s now move on to the second pillar. Is there a building “Safety” tip you can provide residential property managers?

Building staff training continues to be a big concern in this pillar of most building safety programs. This tip focuses on hazardous processes and materials as well as building staff training. In Ontario, all employees who handle hazardous, flammable, or combustible materials are required by Ontario law to completely understand the hazards associated with the materials. In high-rise buildings, multiple hazardous materials are present and both building superintendents and security personnel must be trained to understand how to both operate and respond to hazards like carbon monoxide, R123 refrigerant, domestic water treatment chemicals, diesel fuel, pool chemicals, and many more. Property Managers need to ensure that building staff, both day and night, are aware of these hazards and can safely respond to them.

Lastly, what do you think is the number one “Security” tip for residential property managers to support their building staff?

A tried and true tip for all Property Managers and guard service providers to focus on in 2016 is know your residents.

If the building staff know their residents and even regular guests by name, plus they are familiar with who typically arrives at the building (and when), they will be able to quickly identify a new face. This is the process of allowing your security to be enhanced through customer service – it is nothing new but it is still extremely functional.

This process allows your security program to be inviting, welcoming and highly observant to new faces, providing best practices in access control, not to mention having your security program add to the level of comfort and satisfaction a resident feels when they come home.  Encourage your building staff to have a heightened situational awareness in all that they do, at the main entrance as well as while on patrol. High levels of customer (resident) service is the best security.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It is important for all property managers, residential and commercial, to understand that once established, a Building Safety Program can better protect residents, allow an ease of code and best practice compliance. Building Safety programs should be reviewed at minimum, annually, and redeveloped every five to ten years to account for changing demographics, building renovations, new laws and changing communities.