As high-rises and community associations in Florida just discovered, you can take all the right precautions and make all the right preparations before a hurricane and still suffer devastating effects of that storm.

The damage from Hurricane Irma varied widely by location. The Florida Keys were hit harder than the rest of the state, but damage was widespread. Citgroup estimated the damages were about $50 billion, far below initial expectations, but still quite a blow to economies from the Florida Keys all the way to Jacksonville. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that as many of 25 percent of homes in the Florida Keys were destroyed by the storm, with about 65 percent suffering some damage. Power outages affected almost five million homes and businesses statewide. Many communities will continue to deal with environmental threats ranging from contaminated air and drinking water to excessive mold for weeks and months to come.
If you are on the board of a community association in any of the affected areas, you know you have a huge, complex job to do. Your neighbors are counting on you to get your community functioning normally again. But now that the storm has passed and the flood waters have receded, where do you even begin?
Prioritizing the work ahead is crucial to the recovery of your community. Rebuilding may very well take a long time, and it can all seem overwhelming.
Whether you are self-managed or work with a management company, your management team needs to have the resources and the best practices in place to assess the damage, file insurance claims, help your association board obtain needed financing and make repairs to common areas. By streamlining the recovery process, your management team will have residents back to a normal way of life as quickly as possible. Below are several helpful steps to consider as you begin to work with your management company to pull together resources and address the most important aspects of the cleanup.

1. Open communication to residents.

Disorganization and confusion are common after a catastrophic event, especially if residents have been displaced. Needed services like electricity and water may be functioning sporadically, or they may still be completely down. Having a communication plan in place can make a huge difference at this difficult time. Your management team should be communicating with the board regularly to keep you informed; they should also be providing residents with regular updates and important information such as the status of power to the community or high-rise, flooding in the area and access to local streets post-storm.

Hopefully, your community has a resident alert system that you were able to use during the storm. If not, plan to get such a system in place soon. It will enable the board or your community manager to quickly send out alerts to all residents in your community association by automated phone calls or texts. Use the system in the aftermath of a storm to continue to keep residents informed. Texting is the best means of communication if cell service is not at its best or charging capability is limited; texts use less power and bandwith, so they are more likely to be received than a call or email.

Post notices throughout your building or community as well to keep residents in the loop, especially if the power is out. Include warnings (for example, if drinking water needs to be boiled), describe the immediate actions that your board and the management company are taking and provide any other instructions residents should be following. For example, are they permitted to help remove downed trees from their streets or forbidden by local laws and must wait on the city or county to do it? Once electricity, internet and other services are up and running, take advantage of digital communications – email updates, website notifications and online newsletters, among others – to get information out quickly.

2. Fix urgent problems right away.

Your community or your management company should already have good relationships with contractors who can remove debris, pump water and repair immediate hazards. It is critical these issues need to be addressed as quickly and as efficiently as possible to avoid further damage. Tarping a roof or boarding clubhouse windows will help prevent further water damage, for example. As soon as it is safe, have your maintenance team assess the damage. Then ask vendors you trust for estimates for the most critical work. It is important that someone from the board or management team be available to oversee the work as it begins.

3. Reach out to your insurer; get work started.

You should have the insurance coverage you need to pay for storm-related repairs; it’s one of your primary fiduciary responsibilities to your community. If you have damages not covered by insurance or want to get started on repairs before your insurance has a chance to pay out, your community management company should be able to connect you with short-term emergency financing to begin repairs. FEMA and Small Business Administration loans are also available to homeowners associations and condominiums, so investigate those opportunities as well.
Having a great relationship with your insurance company can go a long way toward getting your community prioritized, especially since adjustors will have a massive number of claims in your area. Assist your community manager by taking photos and documenting damage information as you see it. This will make the adjustment process more accurate and efficient. The faster the information is collected, the more quickly your community manager can get claims filed, working  with the adjuster to ensure that your association gets the most favorable settlement possible.
Florida law, as well as local rules and ordinances, and the association’s governing documents, dictate the process that must be followed when undertaking any repair/remediation activities to your property. To be safe, before beginning any work or repairs, review your association’s governing documents and discuss the process with your community association manager.

4. Ask for assistance.

Storm clean up and restoration is a gargantuan task: managing onsite workers, making phone calls to providers, locating and securing needed financing, establishing schedules and photographing damage are just some of the pieces of that. Understandably, it can be too much for just a few board members to handle. Don’t take on all the work yourselves. “Many hands make light work.”
Lean on your management company, which should have a depth of resources to make sure the right contractors are hired. Larger management companies with regional and national reach can provide added benefits such as offering additional support services to the local management team – remember that they may also have been affected by the storm. Simply helping to maintain business as usual can make all the difference for your association.

Your board members want the best for your community. If more help is needed, ask them to pitch in to answer resident questions, help with communication and address smaller community needs, if appropriate. Having everyone pitching in will go a long way in helping your community feel whole again.

5. Follow up.

After the work is completed, document everything with “after” photos. Work with your management team to make sure that your community has received all the insurance payments you are entitled to and that all contractors and vendors have been paid in full. 

6. Celebrate!

Once the community has been fully restored, let the community know. Send a final storm update with photos. Consider an amenity reopening party or simply a “post storm” party to give everyone a chance to celebrate together and get excited about the renovations.
Florida communities will come back from this storm stronger than ever. Because we recognize that those impacted by Hurricane Irma have suffered devastating losses, we have donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross to help with the relief efforts and have set up a donation-matching program. At FirstService Residential, we are dedicated to doing everything we can to help the communities we manage, our Florida colleagues and everyone else affected by this storm.

Friday September 22, 2017