Pandemic Preparedness for Property Teams

With the Covid-19 coronavirus spreading within the United States, now is a good time for property and facility managers to review their pandemic preparedness plans. Basic protocols for infectious diseases help minimize transmission between building occupants, reassure tenants that management is doing all it can to protect their health and safety, and reduce business disruption should the virus develop into a widespread pandemic.

Currently fewer than 20 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the US, mostly affecting those who have returned from the outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan, China. However, despite health officials’ extensive efforts to contain its spread, the virus is already afflicting people on every continent except South America. Covid-19 is highly contagious, and in our modern globalized economy, the likelihood of stopping its spread altogether low. The best outcome will be to delay its spread long enough for the healthcare system to prepare, then minimize the rate of new infections, which will lessen its disruption to the overall economy and help prevent healthcare facilities from being overwhelmed.

Regardless of whether this coronavirus develops into a widespread pandemic in the US, facility managers should be ready to implement protections at any time. Pandemics occur on average every 10 to 40 years, but even local outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant infections such MRSA can extensively disrupt a building’s operations.

As a first step, property teams need to be ready to:

  • Escalate cleaning protocols, and stockpile disinfectants in advance
  • Conduct training or education campaigns for occupants
  • Set up hygiene stations in lobbies, cafeterias, and other gathering places

In a large-scale pandemic, such as the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed between 20 and 50 million people worldwide and the pandemics of 1957-58 and 1968-69, building managers need to act quickly to mitigate longer-term disruptions. Health officials predict absenteeism rates of 30 to 40 percent are likely in a severe outbreak, posing a challenge to maintaining basic building operations. Global supply chains will be severely affected, and basic supplies of everything from paper to cleaning products to air filters will be in short supply for months.

In these major pandemics, property teams will need to stockpile months of supplies and determine how to continue safe operations on a skeleton crew. When the infections escalate locally, buildings should consider banning public meetings and closing high-traffic common areas such as amenity rooms, cafeterias, and terraces.