Fire Drills During COVID-19
From the Houston High-rise Team
Due to safety concerns during the COVID-19 crisis, high-rise and midrise buildings requiring fire drills will be allowed to use alternative methods for conducting the fire drills. Fire drills should remain at the forefront of individuals’ minds to ensure they follow their building’s evacuation procedures should there be a fire emergency.
Per the City of Houston Fire Code, Chapter 4, fire drills in high-rise buildings are to be conducted at least every six months. The fire drill is for the management staff and building occupants. The primary purpose of a total building fire drill is to allow the people in the building to hear what the fire alarm tone sounds like, hear the public address system (where provided), and to learn where the exits/stairs are located.
Note: Fire drills will be conducted; however, the gathering of individuals at the stairwell will be discontinued at this time to limit the spread of COVID-19. Follow this link for procedures that should be followed as an alternative method of conducting fire safety drills.
CDC Re-Opening Guidance
Reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by cleaning and disinfection is an important part of reopening public spaces that will require careful planning. The CDC has a new resource to navigate this process. Download the guide here.
For more information, including the EPA's list of disinfectant products that can be used against COVID-19, visit the CDC website here.
The CDC has also released a workplace “decision tree” flowchart summarizing the safeguards that employers must meet in order to proceed with workplace reopening plans.
Building Re-Entry Guidance from BOMA International
BOMA International has just released its Building Re-Entry Guidance Document. This document includes important areas for planning and consideration as we look towards tenant re-entry into our office buildings. Download it here.
For industrial owners and managers, BOMA International has created Industrial Re-Set: Operational and Management Guidelines for Industrial Properties Amid COVID-19. This guidance document that provides a framework for developing customized management and building plans, and identifies questions and important topics that should be considered for industrial properties.
Information from Industry Leaders
Hines has created a new dashboard, www.hines.com/ready, with a comprehensive guide to facilitate the return to the office, tenant checklist, photo examples of new workplace social distancing procedures, and more.
Wakefield announced the release of Recovery
Readiness: A How-to Guide for Reopening your Workplace, a comprehensive
guide for real estate tenants and landlords on reopening workplaces as
stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. This follows the creation of the firm's
Recovery Readiness Task Force (RRTF) and the launch of its new social
distancing product Six
JLL has created a guide
for how CRE occupiers can respond. There are four phases of response,
from preparedness to resilience, with timelines for each. When you are
determining who will return and when they will return, use JLL's
checklist of 10 focus areas for workplace re-entry to make sure you are
addressing every aspect, from government regulations to new employee safety
Transwestern has assembled a
company-wide task force to create the company's Back
to the Workplace Playbook. The document will be refreshed as more
information becomes available, and to share what clients should be considering
at each stage of the recovery process.
Crisis management professionals at full-service, global law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman have compiled 10 key takeaways that property owners and operators should consider as they plan to confront the coronavirus outbreak. Among other considerations, the article provides advice on assessing risk, as well as guidance for reviewing language in property policies and leases regarding liability management. The firm’s resource page also includes insights on relevant topics such as cybersecurity considerations while working remotely.
ASHRAE's Guidance for Building Engineers and Operations
ASHRAE, a global society of heating, refrigerating and air conditioning engineers, has released guidance for building operations during COVID-19. While ASHRAE notes that the "HVAC systems in most non-medical buildings play only a small role in infectious disease transmission," there are still some HVAC-related actions property professionals can take, such as increasing outdoor air ventilation. However, based on our current understanding of the virus, ASHRAE says measures such as social distancing, disinfecting surfaces and handwashing are "far more important than anything related to the HVAC system."
Staff Screening for Businesses
View a sample staff screening checklist here.
Rent Relief, Collection and Evictions
The Supreme Court suspended all actions on residential evictions through April 19. The Harris County Justices of the Peace have suspended all eviction dockets through April 19, 2020, including commercial. New filings will be accepted, but no action on them will occur until after April 19. Lockouts are governed by the terms of your lease and the Texas Property Code. You can still send rent demand or default notices before April 20, but all deadlines will likely be tolled until after April 19 in the discretion of the court. The Supreme Court residential eviction suspension applies statewide. You will need to review each of the jurisdictions in which you operate to determine if they have any additional restrictions regarding evictions.
The CCIM Institute has released guidance for landlords on navigating this and other issues related to the outbreak. When it comes to rent conversations, CCIM offers six potential options ranging from rent deferral to applying a deposit.
Tools and Resources
Templates for Communication
These materials do not contain formal legal advice or healthcare recommendations and may not be applicable to all properties; it is strongly recommended that you stay in contact with your local health officials and consult with your legal counsel on any crisis communications.
The CDC's Crisis Emergency Risk Communications (CERC) resource offers helpful guidance for appropriate and effective messaging, including a checklist of messaging components, like expressing empathy and establishing credibility, that industry professionals can refer to before pressing "send."
Tenant FAQs: How to Answer Tough Tenant Questions - As the recent COVID-19 outbreak continues to rapidly evolve, building owners and operators must implement emergency response plans, anticipate risks and provide thoughtful and timely responses to tenant questions. This document from BOMA International contains industry best practices, as well as sample language that might be helpful to use when communicating with building occupants. It is encouraged that individual building teams modify this language to reflect their particular property, the conditions in their area and other factors.
Sample Exemption Letter Stay Home Work Safe Order - Use this template to create a letter requesting exemption from the Harris County Stay Home Work Safe Order.
Sample Customer Notice for Stay Home Work Safe Order - Use this template to create a to customers about your business operations during the Harris County Stay Home Work Safe Order.
- Tenant-Staff Advisory of Infection Letter Template - Use this template for any tenant-staff communication regarding Coronavirus infections. These are examples have been harvested from BOMA members. The message may change based on suspected, proximal or confirmed cases. It is strongly recommended that official crisis communications should be shared/discussed/approved with the advice of legal counsel.
Pandemic Planning and Preparedness Guides
- COVID19 Preparedness Checklist - In response to increasing questions and concerns about Coronavirus (COVID-19), BOMA International has released a new COVID19 Preparedness Checklist. This checklist, along with BOMA’s Guide to the Coronavirus, provide foundational knowledge to better understand the contagion and how to best prepare and react in a commercial building setting.
- Pre-pandemic Planning Guidance from the CDC - This document provides interim planning guidance for State, territorial, tribal, and local communities that focuses on several measures other than vaccination and drug treatment that might be useful during an influenza pandemic to reduce its harm. This interim guidance introduces a Pandemic Severity Index to characterize the severity of a pandemic, provides planning recommendations for specific interventions that communities may use for a given level of pandemic severity, and suggests when these measures should be started and how long they should be used.