The biggest threat to companies right now isn’t the pandemic, according to a risk expert

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This article is sponsored by FM Global. Read more »

The disruptive effect of coronavirus has seen a number of businesses close their doors, be it permanent or temporary.

It’s because of these closures we’ve seen an increase in empty shopfronts, warehouses and office spaces. By becoming idle, these facilities have opened themselves up to a new set of problems that can further impact their businesses, potentially damaging their ability to bounce back once the pandemic has subsided.

To better understand some of the threats currently facing idle companies and what can be done to avoid them, we spoke with Lynette Schultheis, the Operations Manager for FM Global Australia.


Criminal activity

According to Schultheis, we’re seeing a lot more criminal activity through the pandemic.

As there is no one present in these idle facilities – including security or maintenance crews – vandals are able to run unchecked. When you’re able to go back to business as usual, the last thing you want to do is have to replace any broken equipment because someone has broken in and either smashed up your facility or stolen property.

Schultheis presses the importance of having an active security presence at your facility. If you can’t have a security guard physically present in your business space and performing regular daily rounds, she also advises to have security cameras and sensors installed. Being able to deter a potential vandal from harming your business now will ultimately serve you in the long run.

“One of the other weekly checks we’re asking our clients to do is make sure that your sprinkler valves are locked open,” Schultheis explains, “You could have a vandal or someone else playing around with the valves, turning them off.

“The last thing you want to explain to your board is why your sprinklers – that you spent the money to install – didn’t put out the fire because there was no water due to a shut valve.”


A lack of maintenance and upkeep

Similar to having a security presence in your idle facility, Schultheis also recommends having a maintenance crew making regular checks to ensure your business is still running without faults. As there is no one present in your facility, a small problem could become a much larger one if left unchecked.

A common example is water damage. In usual day-to-day business, a small leak in your roof caused by a broken pipe or heavy rain could be addressed fairly quickly. However, during this idle period, this small leak could potentially grow into something larger if left unnoticed for days or even weeks.

Schultheis also suggests having someone regularly check to make sure your facility’s prevention systems are working how they’re meant to. As mentioned previously, it’s beneficial to have someone regularly check that your sprinkler valves are in working order. If a fire were to start because of malfunctioning equipment, it could wipe out an entire facility because of a faulty valve or because someone has turned off the water supply to a building’s sprinkler system.

In a report published by FM Global non-arson-related fire account for 45% of losses in idle or vacant buildings from 1982 to 2012.


Natural disasters

A natural disaster could deal a sudden, but devastating blow to an idle facility. Be it cyclone, flooding caused by heavy rain or bushfires, if your business doesn’t have a proper plan or preventative measures in place to deal with these scenarios, they can lead to major set backs when it comes to reopening your doors – or could wipe out the facility entirely.

In a property loss prevention document related to natural hazards, published by FM Global, it’s noted that the risk of these threats has been “complicated by a strain on emergency services and the supply chain.”

Schultheis advises business to update their Emergency Response Plan, so if their facility is beset by a natural hazard, a correct course of action can be followed. By having this plan updated, it can be used by whoever is on site to follow the right preventative measures, while also giving someone the authority to make any important decisions.

She notes that installing natural hazard prevention measures will vary business to business, based on geographic location, but FM Global is able to provide clients with advice based on similar facilities.


What can be done to avoid these threats?

One of the services provided by FM Global is a series of resources that can help business stay on top of any potential threats to their facilities. These resources provide advice and solutions relating to various topics, and can be used to develop loss-prevention strategies to help make sure that your business can restart normal operations as smoothly as possible.

“We’re always in the business of trying to prevent the loss from ever occurring,” Schultheis explains, “So you can continue on with business as usual.”

One solution she suggests is to have your security and maintenance personnel classified as essential employees, so they can perform regular rounds at your facility. She also recommends making any overdue upgrades or repairs to your business while these facilities are empty. If you’ve been putting off installing new security cameras or alarms, now is the time to get it done.

The solutions to avoid or lessen the impact of these threats aren’t necessarily large ones, either. Something as simple as elevating any expensive equipment can stop water caused by flooding or a burst pipe from damaging them.

With bushfires, you should look into removing low hanging branches that are close to your building, reassessing where you store any ignitable liquids or substances. Placing temporary covers on air intakes and vents, and shutting down HVAC systems will help to make your facilities more resilient.

Your facility doesn’t have to be completely burnt down during a bushfire to suffer a great loss. If you house sensitive equipment they could also be at serious risk from smoke damage. Filters can clog up quickly due to bushfires so they should be checked regularly and replaced if needed. Outdoor equipment should also be regularly checked for soot and particulate buildup, and be cleaned as necessary. This will improve equipment reliability and performance.

As put by Schultheis, “If you want to be fully functional and working at full capacity when this pandemic subsides, then you need to start doing some things now.”

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