Sunday, March 11, 2007

from 2002 - lodging stories

It is really nice to know that those fire sprinkler systems put out a lot of water. But I wasn’t expecting to learn how much water they actually put out while I was working. We found out just how much water damage happens just this year. A delivery person knocked off the head of one of our sprinklers. We were planning on replacing the carpet and one of the rolls of padding came too close to the ceiling. In just under fifteen minutes six rooms and a hallway sustained water damage.

Which employees know where the shut off valve is for your sprinkler system? If it is only one employee each shift it may not be enough. The employee who knows the systems valves could be anywhere around the property. A quick tour to show each staff member where to reach emergency equipment and other equipment could save your property hundreds of dollars in replacement and other costs.

We lost the use of six rooms. The carpet padding already in storage was damaged. Furniture and other fixtures had to be replaced. Rooms were out of order while the carpet was dried. Rooms remained out of order until the insurance adjusters examined them. If you are solidly booked you may have to walk some customers. Walk-ins may leave when they see some of the damage. Every minute saved is worth the time spent training or re-training each staff member on where are your system valves and switches.

The fire department was a great help in containing the damage. They helped us move the water off of the carpet. But the men and women of the fire department will not know where your system valves and shut off switches are located. The fire department is not going to be on your premises when the accident happens. I have to confess I was not up to speed when we had our sprinkler incident. My first thought when hearing that a sprinkler head had been broken was that someone had driven over a lawn sprinkler. By the time I walked down the hallway and saw that it was a fire sprinkler the water was flowing out of the room door. That took two or three minutes. I squished down the hallway. Fortunately I had a portable phone with me so I could call the fire department immediately. Their arrival was about ten minutes later. The staff is your first line of defense in cost containment

By the way, does your staff know more than the location of the shut off valves? What are your emergency procedures? Who do they call first and are those numbers easily found in an emergency? The property where I work has the phone numbers of the general manager and owner posted near the numbers for local services at the front desk. This is out of sight of the customer and easily seen by the front desk staff. We assume that they will hear about a problem from the customers or other staff. For most locations 911 is the first number to call, but what about others that need to be informed. The general manager, owner(s), and several others may need to be informed. Customers will want to know what has happened. Your staff - whether housekeeping, front desk, maintenance, engineering, or other – will help you keep the good will and business of each customer, if they know what to do in an emergency. The staff will help you retain your customers in the face of an emergency.

The fire alarm will probably ring, while your staff deals with any accident to the sprinkler system. Your staff will need to know how and when to shut off the alarm system. In our case shutting off the alarm before finishing with the water was not sufficient. The alarm would continue to be set off as long as the water was flowing. But that leads to another question. If a fire alarm is accidentally pulled do your clerks know how to turn off the box along with the main system?

Since I have been at this property, an exploring child pulled the only fire alarm. While many fire alarms are not pulled because of an actual fire, the person on duty needs to treat them all seriously. Is the list of customers readily available? Who does the clerk call first? Is there a way for the clerk to call rooms without staying by the front desk? And what do you do to get the mechanism of the fire alarm back together?

Most of these questions need to be answered by the owner or general manager before an emergency happens. Even if the alarm goes off without an emergency or the sprinkler head is broken without a fire the staff present must know how to deal with the situation. Each property will have different procedures depending upon the equipment present, but a game plan is needed. Written procedures are necessary, but it is just as important to train your staff to handle the problem. Anyone who will be at the front desk or by themselves at the property will need to know the proper procedures. There must be training and regular review of the procedures. When there is an emergency whoever is on duty will not have time to look up instructions.

Preparation and training is the key to success in an emergency. Looking at the knobs and bells and whistles will take a little time during the day.

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