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When Disaster Strikes - Are You Ready?

publication date: Apr 4, 2012
author/source: Marla Cimini


             When Disaster Strikes     

Most hotel companies do their best to properly prepare for disasters of all kinds. Whether they are natural or man-made, catastrophic events can impact even the most organized and well-equipped properties. From fires, floods, and hurricanes, to power outages, earthquakes—and even acts of terrorism—hotels must be ready for anything.

General managers, along with the hotel engineering staff, usually create strategic plans and appoint catastrophe response teams to ensure all potential emergency situations are covered. However, when the unfortunate disaster strikes, it is often unexpected and requires a great deal of quick-thinking and precise responsiveness.

In an effort to be prepared for unfortunate occurrences, many hotel companies choose to partner with experienced risk management and recovery organizations that work closely with onsite hotel staff in the event of an emergency. These teams are trained to clean, repair, and restore properties, no matter what type of disaster occurred at the hotel.

Companies specializing in disaster recovery provide restoration at every level, such as debris removal, room scrubbing, eradicating smoke odors, and handing moisture control (dehumidification). They also have professional construction teams that repair walls, ceilings, and floors, manage microbial remediation, among other cleaning services. Additionally, most risk management organizations address damage to furniture and fixtures; fine art; electronics and computers; historical collections; industrial machinery; and even documents.

Tim Draney, executive vice president of disaster recovery company BMS CAT, explains that it is essential for a recovery and restoration firm to become an extension of a hotel’s in-house team. Prior to any emergencies, hotels should research the prospective organization to determine if their cultures and styles mesh well.

“We understand our unique relationship with each hotel, and know that the staff wants to be up and operational as soon as possible,” Draney says. “We also understand that a hotel has an image to uphold, and we do everything we can become a part of the hotel’s team and support the integrity of their property’s brand.

“Daily communication between the hotel and the restoration company is critical in allowing the hotel to get cleaned properly and get back up and operational just as quickly as they can,” he continues. “That’s the key element in all of this.”

What to Expect
What can you really expect if your hotel is suddenly damaged by fire or another catastrophe?
Once a disaster occurs, an initial mitigation team is dispatched to the property to begin the clean-up process. They review the project scope and formulate an assessment, while holding regular planning meetings with the hotel engineer and appropriate staff.

Depending on the project requirements and the extent of damage, a disaster recovery crew can range from a small group of 25, to a large number of 500 or more persons.

This fall, George Dube, the director of engineering at the Hotel Viking in Newport, R.I., found himself working with a disaster recovery team from BMS CAT when his hotel experienced a fire in the banquet kitchen.

When the fire started burning through the kitchen area, the 210-room hotel had to be evacuated, and guests were moved to new rooms in another section of the property. During the evacuation, the fire department extinguished the flames within approximately 20 minutes. However, the sprinklers continued to run and the hotel ballroom suffered extensive water damage.

As most hotels book meetings well in advance, the Viking had special catering events planned in the flooded ballroom for 9 a.m. the very next morning. The situation was dire and required urgent attention.

“My best piece of advice is to get on the phone quickly and call your disaster recovery company right away,” Dube says.

Dube says that he never expected to need a disaster recovery company. A few years ago, his corporate office sent him a copy of the risk management contract and instructed him to keep the information in case of an emergency.

“I have to be honest, when I got it, I kept it, thankfully,” he admits. “But I said to myself that I would never need to use this.”

Once disaster struck, Dube called BMS CAT's 24-hour emergency number the night of the fire and left a message. He received a call back from a representative about five minutes later and provided the scope of what happened, and described the fire damage. In the next few hours, the project manager arrived and surveyed the situation. He and Dube discussed a game plan and what needed to happen first, regarding the water, fire, and smoke damage.

“By 3 a.m., the first crew of five people arrived and started unloading all sorts of equipment, like blowers and dehumidifiers, and started working immediately,” Dube recalls.

He says the recovery team hit the ground running and worked all night, successfully drying, scrubbing and preparing the ballroom for the early morning event. Shortly after, a larger restoration team arrived with even more machinery, including huge blowers. Since there was a serious amount of damage, the team worked on the property for the rest of the week to address the damage suffered by the hotel.

Ideally, during an emergency cleanup, disaster recovery crews should seamlessly integrate with a property’s engineering team and establish a positive rapport with the hotel’s general manager and lead engineer. Draney says that such a collaboration can help make the recovery effort go much more smoothly. It also helps keep the business running while the recovery process takes place.

“We value good communication between the engineer and our project managers, because we make sure the hotel gets back in place the way the engineer wants it,” Draney says. “It’s his (or her) life and home. We’re just temporary visitors trying to get it back together again.”
Dube, who has been with the Hotel Viking for more than eight years, points out that the team worked closely with the hotel employees and guests in a manner that did not disrupt their normal daily business.

Still, he says he wishes he never needed to have a recovery team at his disposal, but he’s glad he had one when the time came. “I wish I’d never met them, but I had to,” Dube says. “It was a very positive experience for us, considering the circumstances.”

12/21/2009 | By Marla Cimini

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