Whether you live in a high-rise condominium in Buckhead, a gated community in Alpharetta or an active adult community near Lake Lanier, emergencies happen. In previous articles, we’ve talked about what you need to consider for tornadoes and hurricanes. Does your onsite staff know what to do to protect residents and the community’s property in the event of high-rise flooding, a fire or rising water? What about an active shooter?
The strongest emergency preparedness plan won’t be very effective if your staff isn’t properly trained or if the chain of command isn’t perfectly clear before something happens.
Your property also could incur more damage than it would otherwise, which could hurt the community’s financial wellbeing and impact property values. Additionally, insurance claims could be denied or your premiums could go up if untrained staff didn’t take appropriate steps, such as making sure fire extinguishers are charged and smoke detectors work.
What kinds of things do your staff members need to be trained on?
There are some basics in common to preparing for all emergencies. Communication, to the board, to residents and to emergency responders, is always the immediate priority. A mass communication system, such as the one included in FirstService Residential Connect, allows your staff to communicate to everyone quickly, but they need to know how to use it. Keeping printed copies of emergency numbers, insurance information, updated resident lists and other important information, in the case of a power loss, is standard. An emergency kit with flashlights, batteries, bottled water, non-perishable food, backup cell phone chargers and radios is essential.
But some emergencies have their own needs that your staff should be trained for.
1. High-rise fires.
Fires are potentially deadly anywhere, but they present a special challenge to high-rise buildings. Your staff should have an evacuation plan for the building, know who in the building will need assistance evacuating and be able to check units if needed. They should make sure that the evacuation plans and procedures for residents are regularly distributed and reinforced.
2. Interior flooding.
Pipes can burst and water can be left running anywhere. Although we tend to think of this as a high-rise problem (upstairs neighbors have a leak), it can happen in mid-rise buildings and within common areas such as a clubhouse as well. Regardless, your onsite staff should know how to shut the water off, what restoration company to call and what they need to do before the company arrives.
3. Exterior flooding.
Nashville experienced the power of the overflowing Cumberland River in 2010. That flood caused millions of dollars of damage, including to buildings that didn’t have flood insurance because they weren’t in a flood zone. Do you know if your community is? Your staff should know to pay close attention to communication from local emergency management professionals in times of heavy rain, how to sandbag if needed and how to protect the association’s common property. High-rises can be especially vulnerable to flooding because a lot of their critical systems are underground. Does your team know how to activate the generator that will keep your sump pump going if the basement takes on water and you lose power?
4. Active shooters.
Sadly, we are seeing active shooter scenarios all too frequently. Local police departments and the Department of Homeland Security can provide valuable resources for staff training to handle active shooters. Does your staff know their surroundings? Do they know where to go, when and how to hide from a shooter? How to lock down your common areas? And most importantly, do they know how to alert residents quickly?
How can you make sure your staff is trained?
If you are partnered with a professional management company, they should handle that for you.
“Training is the most important thing we do,” according to Joe Padron, regional director for FirstService Residential. “Humans default to our training. There is a neurological effect that causes people to tend to zone out in the face of an emergency, to disconnect. Good training overrides that.”
Padron says that his teams – community association managers, front desk staff, janitorial staff and maintenance staff – meet monthly to go over emergency procedures. Staff are walked through procedures like shutting off a water valve in a unit and the domestic pump in the basement of a building.
When FirstService Residential wanted to train its teams on how to respond to an active shooter scenario, they turned to the Atlanta Police Department for its expertise. “The police came out and did a training at one of our manager’s meetings,” Padron explains. “Staff has to train constantly so that the response becomes muscle memory: where do you go in X situation? What do you do? That’s why we reinforce emergency training every month.”
It’s important that training evolve with circumstances. “When Irma came through, because I had lived and worked in property management in Florida, I knew about non-essential versus essential associates and when to send each group home. We were able to clearly communicate that to the employees and the boards. That Florida training was a big part of how we responded. We knew how to communicate to residents about how to prepare for the storm, what to bring in from outside, etc.,” Padron says. “Regional directors communicated to managers, then managers communicated to their teams. We worked as a team. I checked on properties that weren’t even ‘mine’ because I was closer to the property than the assigned director. We were much better prepared than other Atlanta management companies.”
As for the future, Padron said that hurricanes are now part of the conversation. “We didn’t do hurricane training before Irma, but we are going to talk about it more this year. We had talked about it some but no one had gone through it,” he explains. “Now that we have, it’s going to be a topic. It’s the same with ice and snow – we don’t get it often, but we’re better prepared every time because we have trained for it.”
Padron asserts that the size of his FirstService Residential network of properly trained professionals has come in handy in more than one emergency. “One of our high-rises had a flood, and we all jumped in to help. I wasn’t the regional director for the building, but I went to the community and brought another manager with me,” he recalls. “The property manager for the building dictated who did what and it didn’t matter what your title was. He had someone calling residents, someone checking units, someone else managing the restoration company. Self-managed communities don’t have that network to tap into in an emergency.”
Bad things happen. Having the right management and staff, trained properly, is essential to getting your community through them as well as you can. A property management company with a depth of resources and network of professionals can deliver that.
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