Citing the feared outbreak of avian flu in the United States as an example, disaster planning experts and corporate real estate executives at the CoreNet Global Summit in Philadelphia yesterday urged companies to prepare for catastrophes. Panelists cited best practices instituted before recent natural calamities and urged commercial property owners and tenants to establish processes in order to mitigate human and economic losses.

In fact, Jones Lang LaSalle’s International Director Bruce Ficke convinced his client, American Financial Realty Trust (AFRT), to prepare in advance of the 2005 hurricane season and to “be a little more prepared” for the storm season to come.

It wasn’t a hard sell. With over 1,100 buildings in the Southeast region, AFRT’s Chris Lindberg determined that “something will hit us somewhere,” and deployed a Jones Lang LaSalle Web-based tool called “4Sight” to help protect AFRT’s considerable bank assets in the region.

The proprietary software product helped AFRT with planning, safety, compliance and preparation for what became Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and helped stem what would have been much more severe property losses from those storms.

Ficke and Lindberg urged other property owners and tenants to adopt disaster plans for their businesses, communicate openly and clearly up and down the decision chain, lock in fuel vendors, practice disaster plans frequently and consider the human factor when disaster strikes.

Another panelist, Ian Marlow, president of Gale Global Facilities, which prepares clients for being “in the eye of a storm,” also had recommendations for businesses with critical systems. Marlow recommended redundant communication systems including voice over Internet protocol, satellite phones and simple “phone trees,” to easily locate displaced colleagues during disasters.

With the possibility of an Avian flu pandemic spreading in the United States, Ficke urged businesses to begin planning for the possibility of large numbers of employees working at home for two weeks at a time. The reason, he said, is to ensure that, “there is enough technology to enable work, while access to the building is restricted and surfaces are being sanitized,” to prevent the flu from spreading.