Condition Assessment: The master key to disaster recovery, Capital Improvement Programs, and progressive facility and infrastructure management

Richard J. Evans
Public Works Director (Retired)
City and County of San Francisco
Chair, Debris Management subcommittee

Disasters...and the road back.
Response...dealing with what happened.
Recovery...getting over what happened.
Mitigation...fixing to reduce impact.
Condition Assessment...finding out vulnerabilities.

If this were a perfect world then all of the above would be a natural continuum. But it isn't perfect—we have disasters. So let's plan for and around them to see if we can make this a better place to live.

APWA has recently published an outline for a recovery plan. APWA and FEMA have recently collaborated on the development of a course designed to help communities develop recovery plans. Now it's time to finish the process and deal specifically with mitigation and condition assessment.

Mitigation can take place at any time—hopefully before a disaster strikes. But equally important, when making repairs and designing new facilities. Mitigation can take place as part of routine maintenance programs; it can be planned. This is best accomplished through a well-thought-out condition assessment program.

Condition assessment, when done properly, analyzes a facility or property and identifies deficiencies or liabilities that should be corrected. These range from code violations and legal requirements (ADA, etc.) to structural, safety-related, and health-related issues. Condition assessment examines suitability for the type of use, develops values so decisions may be made as to what to do, and assesses just about everything else pertinent to the property.

Condition assessment provides the basis for a Capital Management Program or Capital Improvement Program that will result in money being spent where it is most needed. It also provides the basis for mitigating deficiencies, promoting recovery, and making response easier. Obviously, you can't design for the ultimate disaster, but you can do your best to minimize the impact of whatever happens.

Now let's go one step further and look at risks and vulnerabilities. These are the necessary elements to consider when trying to find out what you are designing for or around. What's liable to happen? What's going to be a problem if it does happen? And how will you need to either prepare for or make the repairs when it does happen?

Now for one more dimension. Your local law enforcement agency is probably looking at your community with regard to another type of condition assessment, that being vulnerability assessment. However, this time the vulnerability being assessed concerns what might happen if a terrorist group or someone tries to damage your infrastructure, water supply, airport, or the like.

Weapons of Mass Destruction has become the catch phrase for the new millennium. Many law enforcement agencies are in the process of assessing local vulnerabilities. Some, but not many, are enlisting the support of public works and utility agencies to get a better handle on the lifelines that support our communities. Is yours? If not, why don't you give them a call—maybe they don't realize the resources that you have that might give them a better analysis of the situation.

All of the above can be supported by a condition assessment program that considers a multitude of elements. To begin with, you need a team of people to review your agency's infrastructure: buildings, treatment plants, transit and transportation facilities. In short, everything that is important to the quality of life in your community.

This team may include the property manager, person responsible for maintenance, engineer or architect, real estate manager, building code inspector, legal staff person, financial advisor, city planner, and whoever else that might be helpful in developing a factual assessment (for example, law enforcement officials for their take on criminal vulnerabilities).

Next, the team visits the facility and reviews all elements including such things as what is the best use of the facility, should it be improved, repaired as is, torn down, disposed of, etc. In other words, what its weaknesses (vulnerabilities) are, what is at risk if it is lost or destroyed, and what it would take to replace or relocate the facility. Maintenance histories are evaluated and this information is added to the pot.

This process is repeated until all community facilities have been studied. Results are grouped by service area, i.e., health, law enforcement, and libraries. Priorities are developed within each service area, and the result is the basis for a master plan that has credibility based on factual information and will assist political leaders in making informed decisions for capital programs. Including as many people on the evaluation teams as recommended ensures that the interests of all parties will be considered.

An additional benefit of having an accurate condition assessment of your community's facilities is that you have a sound basis for a recovery program if a disaster strikes. Your program should promote speedy recovery as opposed to a drawn-out recovery due to the need to develop justification for proposed actions.

To reach Richard J. Evans, call (925) 933-0920 or send e-mail to kidsnave@earthlink.net.