Emergency Preparedness: What You Need to Know, and How Your Property Management Company Can Help
Emergencies are a fact of life. Having a comprehensive emergency plan in place can mean the difference between an emergency situation that escalates into a crisis and one that is resolved efficiently and effectively.
Make sure that your building is prepared.
Although you can’t predict emergencies, you can prepare for them. The most important thing that both board members and management can do to ready themselves for the unexpected is to create a customized emergency preparedness plan. A quality community association management company will have the experience, resources and knowledge to help you develop a plan that fits your specific situation.
What should you keep in mind when creating an emergency preparedness plan? Start with the following:
- Onsite staff – Management should establish a clear chain of command and clearly defined roles for staff to minimize confusion during the chaos that usually accompanies an emergency. Look at your staffing and make sure that you have people on staff who are able to respond appropriately to an emergency at any time. Do both management and the board’s leadership team have printed lists of emergency contacts (for both residents and staff) and vendors? Property management and staff should know to regularly walk the building and grounds, looking for hazards and examining the building’s safety systems and equipment.
- Safety equipment – Emergency response equipment, first aid supplies, fire protection and fire suppression equipment should be on hand and readily available for staff and residents responding to an emergency. Establish storage areas on designated floors to house emergency supplies, including a stockpile of bottled water, flashlights, LED lanterns, glow sticks and batteries. Two-way radios are also a good idea for building staff and security, in case cell service goes down. Your community association management company can help you keep an updated checklist of emergency items on hand. Test all emergency generators regularly, and keep fuel for them on hand, stored according to safety protocols.
- Evacuation plans -- Are your residents prepared to shelter in place or evacuate as needed? Do they know where to go if they are required to leave the building quickly? Where are the safest areas in the building? What happens if they cannot re-enter or stay in their residences immediately following an emergency? All of these questions need to be answered in your emergency plan.
- Back-up Systems – Consider how you can improve building safety, such as installing backup power or generators. Emergency lighting and photo luminescent strips in stairwells and hallways can help reduce confusion and panic in an emergency by directing high-rise residents to safety.
The best emergency plan in the world is useless if no one knows how to follow it. Share the plan with all residents, building staff, management and board members. Distribute a printed guidebook with evacuation routes, contact information and responses for any kind of emergency. Reinforce the guide through email or newsletters. Including links to demonstration videos can help residents visualize and better understand the procedures. Post conspicuous reminders in high-traffic areas like the mailroom or valet stand.
Consider creating a building emergency team comprised of board members, staff, building security personnel and resident volunteers. The role of this team is to lead communication and plan deployment before, during and after an emergency, as well as to spearhead continued communication efforts to residents throughout the year. The team can conduct regular safety drills if appropriate, and host periodic meetings to share the building’s emergency plan or update residents on any changes to emergency procedures.
Some high-rise buildings work with their local offices of emergency management and fire departments to bring in presentations of important safety information. This not only provides residents with useful information, but also helps them feel more secure.
No matter how prepared you are, it can be easy for communication to break down during an emergency. Prevent that from happening by maintaining a master emergency contact list, including a list of residents with special needs, in both digital and hard copy formats. Pair that list with a reliable resident alert system that sends automated email, phone and text messages in an emergency. It is also very important to make note of apartments with elderly residents or those who may not be able to receive text messages. Appoint floor monitors to assist during all emergencies also. Having that clear chain of command will help keep communication flowing smoothly during an emergency as well.
Have the right insurance coverage before an emergency happens.
It’s important to make sure that you have the right insurance coverage for all emergency possibilities, including flooding, fire, earthquake, tornadoes and other disasters. Making sure that the community is properly insured extends to homeowners. It’s a good idea to encourage high-rise homeowners to have HO-6 policies which cover the contents of their units. Condo owners don’t always understand that they need their own policies. Property insured under a master association policy includes the common areas and property owned by the condominium corporation. Boards should routinely remind unit owners to purchase their own unit coverage and suggest that all homeowners to include loss assessment coverage on their policies. That coverage will provide funds to offset the association’s master policy deductible and cost far less to each homeowner than a special assessment.
To get more information about protecting the financial and physical health of your community association’s assets, contact FirstService Residential, North America's leading community association management company.