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Playing by the rules

18 February 2017

Once described as a facilities management “heavyweight”, Julie Kortens shares some of the biggest frustrations she has after several decades in the facilities sector.

FIRE AND security have always been vital to facilities management and essential to keeping people safe. As such you’d think that everyone would appreciate the importance of top quality fire and security systems, but this isn’t always the case. All too often key steps in fire and security processes are overlooked and at the end pf the day, our processes can only ever be as good as the people who follow them.

So, what can we do to get everyone in a business to work with fire and security professionals, rather than against them? During my time in the industry, which included a recent two-year tenure as chairman of the British Institute of Facilities Management, I’ve had the privilege of working with a whole host of amazing, well qualified people. Some had worked on security during the 2012 Olympics, others were involved with counter terrorism and a few specialised in travel to the most dangerous and hostile parts of the world.
I personally spent years promoting the importance of both fire and security processes, especially in the years after terrorist attacks hit the headlines at home and abroad. My entire team took both concepts incredibly seriously and always did their utmost to ensure that everyone in our buildings was kept safe. It was infuriating when their efforts were undermined by people who really should have known better. I mean, when senior executives are caught leap frogging security barriers into a building, just for laughs, it can certainly set your blood boiling.

Indeed, I often think the more senior someone becomes, the more they think that they are above the rules. This certainly isn’t the case when it comes to fire or security, blazing infernos don’t care what your job title is. CEOs shouldn’t re-schedule fire drills simply because the timing isn’t convenient for them, or refuse to have one at all because they have meetings that just can’t be interrupted. This serves only to undermine the importance of fire preparedness and the team working so hard to protect the people and the business.

These sorts of people will be the first to complain if they have a problem (whether real or imagined) but sometimes they just don’t seem to understand the importance of our fire and security systems and procedures.
But they aren’t the only offenders, far from it. I spent most of my facilities management career working in creative, media-type environments. There were many great things about the culture in the office, but there were downsides as well. For example, there were people refusing to wear security badges because they clashed with their trendy outfits. I saw fire wardens, these are volunteers remember, giving up their time to keep people safe, abused by supposedly creative folks who thought their time was more valuable.
Unfortunately, this might be a situation where we have to lay the carrot aside and pick up our sticks. In my experience sending out all staff emails is just shouting into the wind and if you go out of your way to bring in specialist speakers or arrange demonstrations, hardly anyone bothers to turn up. It seems that the only way to really get through to people is by disciplining the worst offenders.
Of course, you don’t want to go too far and end up hurtling off the deep end. Remember that at certain organisations employees caught using mobile phones on the stairs are taken to task. We don’t want to end up like a certain high profile head of state who is currently accused of issuing executive orders in every direction. There are limits!
Julie Kortens is a former chairman of the British Institute of Facilities Management