A community management company never wants to find itself in the midst of an emergency, but it can happen anytime and anywhere. Whether you face an outbreak of illness, earthquake, or a flood, the impact of any devastating event can be minimized if your board has prepared for it. No doubt, your board meetings are already chock full of agenda items, but it’s important to make emergency preparedness planning a priority.
Some emergencies may not have a foolproof emergency plan, and this is the case with the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, this is an opportunity to create flexible plans tailored to a specific situation, providing an adaptable roadmap to help you with any similar emergencies in the future. The ultimate goal for community managers and board members is to work together to keep their community safe. No two emergency plans are identical. Variables that can affect your board’s specific requirements might include the type of community or building you have, your location, your available resources and your demographics, to name just a few. Despite these differences, your association can create an effective – and life-saving – plan by following these eight basic steps.
Designing an emergency preparedness plan for COVID-19 measures may not be effective due to its nature; however creating a general committee still takes dedicated work. Start by forming a committee or assigning an existing committee (such as a security committee) to do the preliminary research and make recommendations. A security committee can begin doing this before sharing with a general committee.
Depending on the emergency, one of a community manager’s first steps should be to speak with other boards that have already developed emergency plans. This will enable you to better understand what should go into your emergency plans so you can clarify your mission, as well as determine what volunteers will need to do and what resources you’ll require to fulfill that mission.
For example, as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, FirstService Residential has been working with board members to close amenities, to provide guidance on critical repairs and managing social distance, and to prepare boards and residents for options to hold board meetings.
If you don’t already have one, create a list with emergency contact information, including phone numbers, addresses and websites, and distribute this list throughout the community. Be sure to include local hospitals, radio stations, onsite security staff, utility companies and your community management company on the list.
FirstService Residential’s Connect system, used to manage community association information, contains an Information Centre page for each community, listing information about fire and
police contacts, alarms, emergency plumbing, resident contacts and more. This information helps our Support Centre Staff quickly help residents even in the most trying times.
An emergency preparedness plan won’t be effective unless residents, onsite staff and your community management team are familiar with it. Your board should also remind residents of the plan periodically. Communication is especially critical during an actual disaster situation, so be sure you are working with a community management company that provides you with a system to alert residents of an emergency. When an actual emergency occurs, it is especially critical that your community have a reliable communication system in place, like FirstService Residential Connect's mass communication tool. Connect allows management to alert residents about everything from upcoming meetings to an emergency via email, text and robocall.
Phil Swaile, Vice President of Strategy and Operations, described “often in times of crisis our judgment can become clouded and we may assume someone else is taking responsibility for critical actions. Having an emergency plan serves as a set of agreed upon instructions that separate judgment from action allowing the crisis team to function more effectively. Swaile continues by saying that “above all, ensuring that everyone knows what their role is during an emergency by communicating the necessary information at the right time and frequency is highly important”.
Training is a critical part of emergency preparedness planning because knowing how to respond quickly in an emergency can save lives.
Your community management company may also offer emergency preparedness training. For example, FirstService Residential conducts regular training seminars to help board members develop their emergency preparedness plan and learn what to include in an emergency kit.
Phil Swaile also provided his thoughts on this point, saying “there is no such thing as being too prepared. This can mean ensuring that critical supplies are stocked and back up vendors are determined but can also mean being better educated to handle an emergency. This can include formal training such as Disaster and Emergency Management certification but can also mean staying on top of government recommendations for Personal Emergency Kits to ensure that everyone has the necessities to endure an escalated crisis such as an extended power outage or water cut-off. Knowledge and information need to be part of everyone’s preparedness plan”.
It’s important to identify homeowners who would be willing to jump into action during an emergency. What are community management staff responsible for during a weather or pandemic emergency?
They need to make sure that there is a priority sequence for high-level issues, which filter into medium and small-level issues.
Residents need to know that community management staff are not able to or be responsible for helping secure individual homes. Staff need to focus on high-level issues like making sure that drains in the street and parking areas are clear. They need to be safeguarding common areas, including bringing in objects that can become projectiles and putting up shutters on common areas.
Do you need to stockpile water or gasoline? Should you get first aid kits? Although these may all seem like necessary investments, it is easier to determine what and how much you need of something by seeing what is in stock, and what may need replenishing overtime and at what pace. To be prepared, the community manager, board members and possibly a safety committee can brainstorm through possible scenarios and decide which resources they need to overcome the emergencies.
It’s an uncertain time for all and although social distancing measures are in place, partnering with neighbours can be adjusted during this time. Even though you may not be able to get immediate help from first responders, joining forces with other communities can provide additional help. When it comes to COVID-19, we’re all in it together – from a proper social distance.