191211_FIRSTSERVICE__cards_1268-1.pngLiving in a hurricane-prone area can be stressful and the boards of condo or community associations may find hurricane preparation overwhelming. With a wide range of responsibilities - from securing the property to ensuring effective communication with residents - it may be difficult knowing where to start. A good property management company will work with your board to help you take the necessary steps to keep your residents safe and weather the storm.

Before the storm hits

If you serve on a board in a Florida community, you know hurricanes and extreme weather events are common. Severe storms with pounding rain, destructive winds and localized flooding can take a drastic toll on your property's infrastructure, value, safety, and security. Boards should have emergency plans in place.

Create a plan
Create a customized emergency preparedness plan based on your property's equipment, structure, and evacuation routes. This plan should include steps to take before, during, and after the storm. Your property management team should work with your board as early as possible to ensure everyone, including your residents, knows what to do during severe weather.

Share your plan
Your property management team should communicate your emergency plan information well before a storm hits. This includes sending notifications to all residents and reminding them what to do at each stage. Information about shelter locations, evacuation protocols, and knowing what the association is doing to protect the community should be included in that communication. Even the most comprehensive hurricane preparedness plan won’t be very effective if you haven’t communicated it to residents, staff, and vendors.

Make sure your insurance policies are up to date
Examine your policy to ensure you have the right coverage. Without proper insurance, repairing or rebuilding your property after a disaster could be challenging and lead to special assessments or other increased costs. Speak with your insurance companies before a storm hits. Ensure your insurance policies are current and you understand their limitations, exclusions, and deductibles. Prepare ahead by keeping an up-to-date inventory of assets with photos for potential insurance claims. Ensure your insurance broker is familiar with your community and its assets and knowledgeable about risks in your region.

During the storm

Keep the community informed
Do your residents know where to turn or who to contact in an emergency? Communicating your emergency preparedness plan in advance of a storm is essential. Share critical information with your community, including pre-storm plans, storm procedures, disaster relief information, shelter locations and hours, evacuation routes, emergency response numbers, and information on shutdowns on your property. Share the information via email, in your newsletter and at your association meetings.

Keep in mind, when a storm hits, your community must have a reliable communication system, like FirstService Residential Connect™. This system features a mass communication tool that can reach your entire community via email, text message or phone call in seconds. You should also have a backup communication plan, as many residents may be without electricity or won't have cell phone access if cell towers are down.

"Information about a storm and its hazards can change quickly in real-time, and rumors can run rampant," said David Astrello, regional director at FirstService Residential. "During Hurricane Ian, we realized that many residents weren't getting our email blasts due to a widespread power outage, so we immediately had to pivot. We needed to ensure that the information we were getting in real time was shared with each resident, and the best way to do that was through the building's emergency broadcast system to get regular updates to residents. This allowed us to make regular critical announcements via a speaker system in each resident's unit. This helped us control the message while giving residents the most up-to-date information."

Be flexible
Storms can be difficult to predict, and during a hurricane or severe weather incident, flexibility is essential. Storms can throw even the most well-prepared plans into disarray, and it's vital to be ready to pivot. This might mean making your fitness center showers available to residents who want to bathe or use the toilets if they lack water. This might also mean, if your property management company manages multiple properties, taking advantage of their available resources.

“Whatever plan you think you have is probably the best case scenario,” according to Anh Nguyen, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Don’t be afraid to assess the current situation and do what works best in that moment.”  For example, when one of our properties temporarily lost water after the storm hit, board members, staff, and volunteers came together and formed a human daisy chain five floors high to deliver water to residents. At the time, this was the most efficient way for residents to receive water.

 “We also set up an amenity center with emergency power and Wi-Fi access that residents could use while their power was out,” said Astrello. “Our goal was to help them feel more connected during the power outage.”

Download our Hurricane Preparedness Guide for a helpful step-by-step checklist.

After the storm

Assess the Damage
After you’ve confirmed everyone on your property is safe, you can assess the damage to the property. A quality property management company will visually assess the extent of damage in and around your community as soon as possible and contact contractors to pump excess water, clean up hazards and remove debris.

Turn to your emergency response vendors for help
Vendors are critical to your community’s emergency planning for any hurricane or storm. In the wake of Hurricane Ian that hit FirstService-managed properties in 2022, vendors played a crucial role in our properties' emergency response.

After the storm passed and it was safe to travel, our teams got to work.  

We found that some elevators in our high-rise buildings were temporarily out of service due to power outages. Residents were unable to walk their pets outside; the result was pet waste in the common areas of these buildings. Our management team worked with our emergency response partner to remove hazardous pet waste, and clean and sanitize the buildings.

“We have built great relationships with vendors who specialize in removing hazardous materials,” said Ivy Montero, vice president at FirstService Residential. “We also have vendors who will work to get our elevators back online and even deliver fuel for generators that supply power to our buildings after a hurricane. Our commitment to working with top-notch vendors is a hallmark of our efforts to provide unparalleled service and support to our valued communities.”

Work with your association’s insurance company
Association board members often find dealing with their association's insurance company the most challenging part of recovery. Your property management company can support your board from start to finish, coordinating with the claims adjuster if needed, documenting the property with "after" photos, addressing any issues and communicating progress with the board.   

Work to rebuild
Your property management team will support you during rebuilding and recovery so project managers, contractors and other service providers deliver what they promise. They can also help your property prepare for construction by developing schedules, communicating with residents, and liaising with your board.

Watch our video, Ask the Experts: Hurricane Preparedness, to learn more about how an experienced property management company can help.

Hiring a professional property management company is one of the best ways to protect your property during a hurricane or storm. A good management company will have local area experts and go-teams that will work to protect your property before, during, and after the storm.  

For more information on how we can help, contact FirstService Residential.

Friday June 30, 2023