In Florida, we have two seasons most of the country doesn’t: tourist season and hurricane season. One is much more enjoyable than the other! The official Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, peaking in August and September. Rarely is there a storm before or after the season; some years, as when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, the first named storm isn’t until late August. It’s important to prepare for the hurricane season well ahead of time and no matter how nice the weather is. Preparation includes making sure that your onsite property management staff know policies and procedures, as well as their individual roles, when a storm is imminent.
Edwin Lugo, vice president of the South Florida High-Rise Division of FirstService Residential, said that he and his teams begin working with Boards during the spring, no later than April, to make sure that everyone knows what hurricane plans are in place. Lugo said that communication and planning are important long before a storm hits. It’s important to share the plan at Board meetings and then with the community, making sure everyone knows what to do at each stage of a tropical event.
What are property management staff responsible for during a tropical storm or hurricane watch or warning?
Lugo said it’s important for residents to know that property management staff are not able to or responsible for helping secure individual homes. “Staff need to focus on high-level issues like making sure that drains are clear. Is there debris that can block drains and cause flooding? Are gutters clear?” he said. “They need to be safeguarding common areas, including bringing in objects that can become projectiles and shuttering. A lot of our access points have motors, magnetic strips, electronic locks, and unfortunately, they sometimes get forgotten in storm preparation. They have to be secured so that they don’t fly open or get stuck in the closed position if the power fails.”
If a storm watch is announced, property management staff will send notifications to all residents, reminding them of the community’s emergency plan and what they should do at each stage. That communication should include shelter locations, evacuation protocols and information about what the association is doing to protect the community as a whole.
What is proper staffing in the event of a storm?
“Our teams know they are the last to leave when a storm is scheduled to hit and the first to return once conditions are safe,” Lugo said. “But that doesn’t mean everyone needs to be on the property at once.”
The Board and staff should work together to make sure that the right people are handling the correct jobs to get everything accomplished as quickly and safely as possible so that staff have time to get home. An effective chain of command needs to be established so that contradictory orders aren’t given. If the situation allows, a staff point person can remain on site through the weather event. Some Boards will designate members to stay in the community (barring a mandatory evacuation order) and serve as “first responders.” They can, once the storm is over, take a first look at the property, make sure doors and gates are open and offer immediate assistance while waiting for staff and others to arrive.
How can you make sure that your property management staff are properly trained on what to do as a storm approaches and after?
It’s important to work with your county emergency management teams, Lugo said. They will know if your community is in a mandatory evacuation zone, what your risk for flooding is and other hyper-local information. Conduct mock drills with your staff before hurricane season starts. Practice sandbagging, if that’s a recommendation of your emergency management office. Look at your county emergency management lists of recommended supplies and make sure that your community is stocked accordingly. Lugo also suggests collaborating with neighboring community Boards to share best practices and knowledge. Your training and planning need to be specific and property-driven. What works on Miami Beach might not be appropriate in Orlando. A professional property management company will have the experience and resources to help make sure your community has a plan in place and that staff is properly trained.
Hurricanes can be devastating, but proper preparation is the key to getting through them with the least damage possible. For more information about how a professional property management company can help your community prepare for natural disasters and other emergency situations, contact FirstService Residential
, North America’s leading property management company.