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Black Swan Facilities Maintenance Disruption: How to Come out Ahead

The risk of facilities maintenance disruption is now at an all-time high. Facilities managers must know how to approach black swan events to succeed.

Take a moment to define an emergency facilities maintenance need. A simple example would be a malfunctioning refrigeration unit. Without timely intervention, the unit fails, and customers are not able to purchase the products contained within it. Obviously, today’s facilities have significantly more units and options for moving products and ensuring a surplus through proactive measures, but what happens when something unexpected happens? What occurs in the facilities maintenance disruption timeline that can help team members reopen a store, such as after a tragic hurricane’s landfall or even a health pandemic? Does maintenance take a new level to include sanitation services and added measures to avoid the growth of mold and possible pathogen spread? It’s an endless foray into uncertainty, and that’s what this post will seek to unlock.

The Challenge of Black Swan Facilities Maintenance Disruption Management

Today’s level maintenance has evolved from a purely reactive process into a data-driven method for understanding building assets and ensuring their optimum performance and life expectancy. Unfortunately, emergencies still arise. So, what is an emergency? It’s an unforeseen event that goes against all expectations, but even still, emergency management has come to save the proverbial day.
Any uncertainty could turn into an emergency, and facility managers have spent years focused on building better emergency management strategies. As explained by Janellle Penny of

“There’s no way to be 100% prepared for an emergency, but keeping your organization’s emergency management and communication plans up to date will get you as close as possible.

You probably have some emergency procedures in place already, but it won’t do any good if they’re in a dusty manual sitting in a drawer. The most effective plans are regularly practiced until everyone is familiar with procedures and updated often to reflect changes in building use, campus layout, technology innovations, or perceived threats.”

With that in mind, the challenges of black swan facilities maintenance disruption are more severe. The challenges may range from a lack of supplies to complete shutdown of facilities. In fact, complete shutdowns of non-essential businesses, following the orders of state and local governments, is now a reality in 2020. Without focusing too much on the current situation, this is a learning opportunity—a time to figure out how to navigate Black Swan facilities maintenance disruption and come out ahead when the event passes. 

Data-Driven Facilities Maintenance Provides the Instructions for Success

Any event may be considered a disruptor. Positive disruptors might include new technologies to improve facilities maintenance and management planning. Negative disruptors bring the plans to a crashing halt. The state of the global market in response to health concerns in 2020 is one such instance where a disruption transcends boundaries and causes significant disruption to the standard business operations. In fact, crisis planning is part of critical facilities maintenance disruption management, explains the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) :

“Chapter 5 of NFPA 1600 states, “Crisis management planning shall address an event, or series of events, that severely impacts or has the potential to severely impact an entity's operations, reputation, market share, ability to do business, or relationships with key stakeholders.” In the case of COVID-19 that is easy to identify. What’s harder to put a finger on is the vulnerability of people, property, operations, the environment, the entity, and the supply chain operations.”

To attempt to quantify the vulnerability of variables considering a black swan event, facilities managers are increasingly leveraging the power of data to make informed decisions, prioritize needs, including maintenance, and mitigate risks. 

How to Improve Maintenance Planning During Disruption

There is not a finite way to address each maintenance need during a time of disruption, especially during a black swan event where standards may be impossible to achieve. Think of the lack of cleaning supplies that is expected to continue through early summer 2020. The global supply chain was built on efficiency, but efficiency does not always translate into responsiveness. So, facilities managers should follow these tips to improve maintenance planning through the smallest of disruptions and even during Black Swan crises:

  • Determine leadership for crisis management in advance, reports John Beattie of FacilitiesNet
  • Set clear communications protocols to avoid miscommunication and keep everyone informed.
  • Use centralized facilities management controls, such as a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), to manage multiple locations and take advantage of remote capabilities.
  • Assess risk factors within an event and make decisions that will mitigate such risks, such as installing additional dehumidifiers after a hurricane or sneeze guards during public health emergencies.
  • Reassure staff of your ability to enhance safety, sharing your steps to preventing injury or illness and working together to make the facility whole again.
  • Recognize the financial impacts that will come; it’s best to use data to again assess the budget and make changes to the facility maintenance schedule to avoid losses and added costs.
  • Take advantage of government resources, such as disaster financial assistance programs, to get through the crisis.
  • Think about the nature of your business, such as moving senior residents in a nursing home or relocating services temporarily to avoid the problems created by the event.
  • Recognize that Black Swan Events are highly irregular and unpredictable by definition, so planning for all possibilities is essential to overcoming such events.
  • Integrate all systems to track the effects of the event in real time and avoid further worsening of the disruptions’ effects.

Reap the Power of Informed Facilities Maintenance Disruption Management Now

Only time will tell when the next black swan event will arrive. There are some clear examples to look to as of now, and companies will benefit in the long run from the improvements made to combat COVID-19, such as promoting worker safety and the health of customers. However, this event highlighted a need to rethink crisis management and recognize that data must be at the heart of all activities, ranging from maintenance through open hours and beyond.

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