As communities in Texas and Florida discovered in 2017, hurricanes can be devastating, even if your community takes all the proper precautions
to reduce your association’s risk. Hurricanes can pack a punch that can affect coastal communities for years.
The first and most important thing to do after any major weather event is make sure everyone in your community is safe. Once that’s done, it’s time to assess the damage and get started on cleanup, repairs and rebuilding. Prioritizing what needs to be done can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, the right professional property management company can be a tremendous help with that process, providing an experienced team and best practices to help get your community back on track including:
- Damage assessment
- Project management
- Vendor management
- Insurance claim filing
- Emergency financing
Read on for more about how a property management company should assist your community after a storm passes.
1. Communicate with residents.
The time immediately after a storm can be confusing, especially if residents were forced to evacuate. Your management company should have a resident alert system set up before the storm impacts your community. This system will enable you and your management team to send email, text messages or phone calls en masse with important information and warnings. The system is also invaluable post-storm, because some forms of communication can be received and delivered when others cannot due to storm damage. If you can’t communicate through electronic devices, post paper notices in as many places as you can throughout the community or building.
- Information should be provided to all residents including:
- Critical warnings, e.g. if drinking water needs to be boiled or if the elevator is out of service
- Frequent updates about what the board and management company are doing to cleanup, repair and rebuild
- Other helpful resources, i.e. waste management contact information, and location information for operational gas stations and grocery stores
- Once electricity, phones and internet service are restored, make use of digital communications – email, community website, social media, online newsletters, and resident alert system – to deliver immediate, urgent information to your community.
- Rely on your property management company’s 24/7 customer service center to report and resolve any issues or emergencies. In preparation for Hurricane Irma, FirstService Residential transferred operations of its Florida call center to its Nevada call center. The Nevada center was fully prepared and staffed appropriately to handle the calls from residents while the Florida facility was offline during the storm.
A great management company will update the board at least daily on the progress of cleanup and repair work as well as any important updates within the community. As Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, the operations team at FirstService Residential created a template to help their community association managers to easily and consistently provide informational updates to board members every day.
After Hurricane Harvey decimated Houston and the surrounding suburbs, and Texas coastal locations, FirstService Residential stood out, thanks to its exemplary communication efforts. “We were constantly in touch with boards, getting approvals for work, letting them know what progress was made that day, communicating what local agencies were doing to help displaced residents and more,” explained Maria Shaw, senior regional director at FirstService Residential. “We sent associates out to the communities, talking to residents to make sure they had the information they needed. We have a great relationship with local UPS stores, so we worked with them to quickly produce door hangers and went door-to-door giving out information about available emergency services and relief efforts. Remember that people were out of batteries by this point, phones were dead and the electricity was out, so we used every means possible to reach our residents. We wore branded shirts so residents knew who we were, that we had information for them, and that we were there to help.”
2. Make it a team effort.
Centralizing post-storm efforts will help eliminate duplication and inefficiencies so that work can progress as needed. A single command center, with the right tools for collaboration among management and boards, will help get your community back on its feet quickly. Shaw said that FirstService Residential associates used whiteboards listing the names of every community that had damage, and then tracked the necessary steps to getting insurance claims filed and work started. That centralized approach kept all team members apprised of the status of all affected communities, in as efficient a manner as possible.
The rebuilding team can go far beyond management teams and board members. “Communities that were unaffected by Hurricane Harvey wanted to help those that were,” Shaw said. “So, we helped them do that. We helped organize a blood drive with the American Red Cross and blanket drives for flooded animal shelters. We even had residents volunteering to drive other residents to the grocery store! Because of our centralized approach, whenever people from an unaffected community asked how they could help Harvey victims, we directed them to other FirstService Residential communities.”
3. Connect you with trusted vendors.
Before beginning any work on your property, review your governing documents. Some state laws dictate the process that must be followed to contract for remediation and rebuilding, as well as the allocation of insurance funds or other short-term financing needed to fund these activities. Always check with your association attorney and discuss the process with your management team.
Once you understand the appropriate remediation and rebuilding process, clearing roads and exits, debris and water removal and the repair of immediate hazards should be your top priority. Mitigating the extent of the damage is required by your insurance policies and is an important step to getting your community back to normal. Your management company should have existing relationships with a variety of certified and licensed contractors to deal with these matters as quickly and efficiently as possible. Your management team should collaborate with your maintenance or engineering technicians to assess the damage, request estimates, as well as oversee the work.
“Our vendor relationships and the breadth of our company gave us priority with contractors—they simply serviced us first,” Shaw said. “Because of the amount of business we do, we were able to tap into a network of contractors and get work started. Our associations know that they can trust any of our vendors, and we were able to get mold remediation, water removal and landscaping work done in a quick and efficient way by contracting with a number of vendors.”
4. Assist with insurance and financial matters.
Dealing with your association’s insurance company is a huge part of recovery and often the most daunting to board members. Your property management company can take the lead role, from start to finish, including initial notifications to preparation of records to coordinating with the claims adjustor, facilitating the process so your association gets the best possible settlement as quickly as possible. (Remember, after a disaster, adjustors in your area will have a backlog of work). During this time, your property management company will also compile and review all estimates and complete all the preliminary steps it takes before work can begin at your community. Board members can assist by photographing and documenting damage as they see it, making the process both more accurate and more efficient.
As Hurricane Harvey’s landfall became imminent, FirstService Financial, the financial services and insurance affiliate of FirstService Residential, created a proprietary insurance claims reporting process and deployed it to all community association managers. By the time managers could inspect properties, they had the appropriate tools to file claims in real time as they assessed damage. They could use an electronic form, or if they didn’t have internet or power, a hand-written one. FirstService Financial’s team worked tirelessly to ensure that questions from board members and management teams were addressed rapidly.
If you want to get started on work more quickly, it is helpful to have access to short-term emergency financing to implement remediation and repairs as soon as possible while waiting for insurance funds to arrive. In 2017, FirstService Financial created two emergency loan funds of $10 million each for communities affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Those funds could be accessed by FirstService Residential-managed associations so that critical work could begin before insurance payouts arrived.
No one wants to go through a major storm, but it’s easier with the right property management company on your side. A good management company will be there for your community, consistently communicating with your board and residents, assessing damage and managing cleanup and repairs, connecting you with certified, trusted vendors, and helping make the insurance claims process as painless as possible.
“Residents knew we cared,” Shaw said. “We came together on a grand scale, helping our residents get through the storm on every level. Nothing can prepare you for a storm like Hurricane Harvey, but we were able to help our communities through it.”