The coronavirus pandemic has forced many types of businesses across the U.S. to shut down their commercial properties for weeks or months, creating a surplus of challenges. Vandalism, rodents, weather, water leaks and a lack of periodic system operation are just some of the potential culprits that can threaten an unoccupied property.
Businesses can implement specific measures to help protect their facility, its utilities and contents during a long-term closure of one month or longer.
Zurich’s Risk Engineers have created a 21-page RiskTopics report, “Management practices: Locations unoccupied long-term and restart procedures,” to help companies maintain their commercial facilities when a closure is necessary. The report includes specific actions to take before a facility is shut down, steps to consider while it is unoccupied and, just as important, how to safely restart operations when business resumes.
Here is a snapshot of the report, which you can download using the link below.
5 steps to consider when planning a long-term shutdown
When a facility is closed for an extended length of time, here are some measures to help protect the building and its contents before and during the shutdown.
- Notify emergency personnel: If applicable, notify the dispatch center of your local emergency services regarding the unoccupied buildings and give them emergency contact information. If conditions permit, contact local fire and police services to allow them to become more familiar with your unoccupied location and how to access the site and buildings.
- Monitor buildings: A combination of regular human presence and remote monitoring systems can help protect idle facilities. These might include:
- Guard services to inspect the interior and supplemental outside patrols
- Building visits by selected personnel. A daily inspection can help mitigate potential problems. Zurich’s Risk Engineers have created a sample checklist of items to review; it is included in the downloadable PDF below. The checklist can be modified as needed.
- Remote electronic monitoring systems (such as fire detection and alarm, intrusion alarms, building management systems and closed-circuit television systems)
- Schedule regular maintenance of the building and its systems: Shutting down utility systems and production machinery may reduce potential sources of physical damage such as water leaks, fuel leaks or electrical faults. However, those systems may still be vulnerable to deterioration, such as corrosion. Also remember that some utilities and systems will need to remain in operation, and these active systems should be subject to the same inspection, testing and maintenance they received when the building was in normal use.
- Maintain routine management programs: Even idle buildings require ongoing management programs, such as housekeeping, hot work, fire protection impairments, fire teams and emergency response plans. Plan accordingly.
- Plan for emergencies: Depending on your facility’s location, remember that emergencies such as earthquakes, fire, floods, hurricanes and wildfires may still impact an idle facility. Review all emergency response plans that are relevant during the shutdown. Also, recognize that reduced human presence may adversely impact the effectiveness of your existing emergency plans, which may need to be reviewed and revised. Finally, be sure to schedule visits to the facility immediately after any severe weather event.
5 steps to consider when reopening the facility
When it’s time to resume normal business operations, these actions can help minimize the challenges of reopening a building that has been unoccupied for an extended length of time.
- Establish a procedure for process and equipment restart: This includes following manufacturers’ guidelines for all equipment and using qualified personnel staff or contractors for the respective reactivation (e.g., plumbers, electricians, etc.). Also, be sure to review your shutdown procedure. The isolation and disconnection actions that were taken for shutdown should be reversed in an appropriate order when you restart.
- Monitor environmental conditions: Make sure environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, are suitable for the reactivation of systems and that contaminants such as dust and dirt are controlled.
- Review legal requirements: Complete any legally required actions on pressure vessels, water heaters, boilers, lifting equipment, elevators, escalators, and other equipment or systems prior to start-up.
- Be prepared to interrupt the start-up: Monitor all systems for abnormal conditions such as circuit-breaker trips, heating, sparking, vibration, noise or odor. If abnormal conditions occur, shut down the system to correct the problems before resuming the start-up process.
- Oversee operations for 24 hours: Monitor all systems and machinery for 24 hours following start-up, looking for signs of abnormal operation.
For more information on what you can do to protect your facilities during a long-term shutdown, download our RiskTopics report, “Management practices: Locations unoccupied long-term and restart procedures.” Please note: The measures offered in this article and the document below are for property-protection purposes and include considerations for lone workers onsite during a shutdown. Measures beyond these topics are outside the scope of this document.