Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Are Your Tenants and Managers Ready for the Big One? Quake Tests Customer Service Commitment

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Are Your Tenants and Managers Ready for the Big One? Quake Tests Customer Service Commitment

Article excerpt

Considering all the technology that goes into the design and construction of today's high rises, it should not come as a surprise that they are among the safest places to be during an earthquake.

Although commercial buildings themselves may be earthquake resistant, tenant safety can be enhanced with educational programs and a knowledgeable property management team. Some of the top commercial property managers in Los Angeles learned this lesson during the January 17 Northridge earthquake.


Although cooperation from the tenants is vital to the success of an earthquake preparedness and disaster recovery program, getting it is not always easy.

Managers say that tenants can be better prepared and educated by following the instructions of property managers; participating in courses such as fire department training programs; learning from video and slide presentations, or handbooks disseminated by managers; and attending tenant floor warden meetings.

Jack Dunbar, CPM(R) property manager for Summa Corporation's Howard Hughes Center in West Los Angeles, says, "The education and training process involves a tremendous amount of time and money. Some tenants have participated in seven-day fire department training programs. We continuously disseminate handbooks on earthquake preparedness and fire and safety programs to our tenants, and we can only hope that they follow through with good preparation and not simply ignore the possibilities of a major earthquake."

At the 2.1-million-square-foot Warner Center Plaza in Woodland Hills, The Voit Companies' property managers have similar challenges in preparing tenants. Carol Powell, a property manager for Voit, says, "We stress that our buildings are some of the safest places in which to be. They have movable structural beams that flow with the motion of the quake, and our windows are designed to fall away from the building; another reason our tenants should remain indoors."

In downtown Los Angeles at MCI Center, a 2.5-million-square-foot mixed-use complex, property managers rely on a different form of disaster recovery program to ensure tenant safety. Since MCI Center consists of 700 S. Flower, a high-rise office tower; Broadway Plaza, a retail center; and the Hyatt Regency, a major hotel, the task of organizing the tenants is considerably more complex.

In order to ensure their tenants' safety during and after a disaster, the office tower utilizes a floor warden program to respond to emergencies by individual tenants. According to Cushman & Wakefield's Stephen Sear, MCI Center's property manager, "Each tenant has at least one floor warden who receives annual specialized training in their responsibilities, in addition to an Emergency Guideline Manual."

Each floor warden is instructed to organize tenants, and take them up or down the stairwells, depending on the emergency. "Every fifth floor we have meeting stations. The wardens are instructed to get everyone there, and then do a head count, and go back to look for someone if they need to."

The company also maintains a public address system and a backup in each facility that can be heard clearly even in the stairwells.

"In an emergency situation, you are going to have people who will panic," Sear says. "We have to be able to communicate to them to tell them not to get in the elevators--or they won't be going anywhere."

One of the main things Sear says they try to teach every tenant through their training sessions is that they should not follow their first instincts to run out of the building. Instead, they should get under their desks to protect themselves from broken glass and falling cabinets or ceiling tiles. After that, he says they want to make sure they have systems in place to organize and evacuate tenants, as well as to assist in moving the injured out of the building.

Sear says that each and every tenant receives the individual training that is required by the city of Los Angeles for occupants of high-rise buildings through the use of a slide presentation and brochure. …

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