It’s 2:00 AM and you get the call. A water main has broken and there is flooding in your managed property. Are you ready to handle it?
Building emergencies can run the gamut from a power outage to a gas leak, to a flood, or in the worst scenarios, a fire or a shooting. The one thing they almost always have in common? They happen when you least expect them. 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.
How to Prepare Your Building
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, based on each building’s equipment, emergency processes and residents’ needs. A capable property management company will have the experience and expertise to help you develop a plan that fits your specific situation.
What resources and capabilities should be considered when creating your building’s Emergency Preparedness Plan? Start with the following:
- Personnel – Who do you have on staff to handle emergency situations? Do you have a readily accessible list of emergency contacts and contractors? Building staff and property managers should be trained to understand their roles during an emergency. They should also regularly walk the building and grounds to conduct hazard assessments and re-examine the building’s safety systems.
- Equipment – Emergency response equipment, first aid supplies, fire protection and fire suppression equipment should be on premises and readily available for residents and staff responding to the emergency. There should be storage areas on designated floors to house emergency supplies, including a stockpile of water, flashlights, LED lanterns, glow sticks and batteries. Two-way walkie talkies are also a good idea for building staff and security. Your property management firm can help you keep an updated checklist of emergency items on hand. In addition, all emergency generators should be tested on an on-going basis so they are working properly for any situation that may arise.
- Building Features – Are your building’s sprinkler systems and fire alarms up to date and in working order? Do you have audio communication systems and defibrillators throughout the building? Sometimes emergencies may need to be dealt with without directly entering the premises. Building emergency features that can be operated from a remote location, such as HVAC, security, and communication systems, are a smart investment. The right property management firm will secure competitive bids for these upgrades to ensure you’re getting maximum value.
- Facilities – Are your residents prepared to Shelter in Place? Where do they go if they are forced to flee the building? And what happens if they cannot re-enter or stay in their residences immediately following an emergency, say during a storm or fire? Evacuation facilities, temporary shelter areas, first-aid stations and even decontamination facilities should be considered, and a plan put in place to direct residents to these facilities during the emergency.
- Back-up Systems – Consider what system redundancies can be implemented to improve building safety, such as backup power or generators. Emergency lighting and photo luminescent egress guidance systems help reduce confusion and panic in an emergency, and can help direct high-rise residents to safety. Recovery and support systems should also be thought through so that they can be put into practice as soon as possible following an emergency event. Be sure these items are routinely tested for readiness.
Communicating the Plan
Simply having a custom Emergency Preparedness Plan in place is not enough. It must be shared with and understood by all residents, building staff and management. One of the best ways to ensure resident buy-in and awareness of the plan is to disseminate a printed guidebook with all relevant contact numbers, and instructions on how to react to any type of emergency. Emails with links to demonstration or instructional videos can help residents visualize and better understand the plan and building procedures. Post procedures in a conspicuous location in the building like a mail room.
It is a great idea to establish a Building Emergency Team comprised of board members, superintendents, 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. Your property management firm can help establish and guide this team.
The Building Emergency Team can ensure regular safety drills are conducted, and host periodic meetings to share the building’s emergency preparedness plan or update residents on any changes to emergency procedures. Some condos and co-ops arrange for informational presentations by their local offices of emergency management and fire departments. 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, and pairing it with a reliable resident alert system that sends automated email, phone and text messages to residents in an emergency. It is also very important to note apartments with elderly residents or those who may not be technologically integrated. Appoint floor monitors to assist during all emergencies also.
Is Your Building Prepared?
Residential buildings face the possibility of emergencies on a regular basis. Every community should have a solid Emergency Preparedness Plan in place. Although planning is a critical first step, training, drills, regular testing of building safety features and equipment, and a commitment to regularly revisiting the plan to ensure its current are all important tools.
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Find out how an experienced property management company can leverage its propriety technology and professional expertise to help your community create a comprehensive emergency plan. Contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading property management company, today.