Storm Season Is Tough, But So Are Non-Weather Related Emergencies – Are You Prepared?
As a board member of a New York City condominium or cooperative, you understand that emergencies happen. Blackouts, burst pipes, gas leaks and fires aren’t things we like to think about, but they are part of life. The good news is that by partnering with an experienced and knowledgeable property management company, your building can be thoroughly prepared while minimizing the risk of potential damages from these non-weather related emergencies. In such instances, remember that your property manager is a valuable asset to your community when the going gets tough.
A truly thorough emergency preparedness approach will take into account all aspects of your New York City property – structural, financial, digital and more. To help you and your property achieve the best property management service before, during and after your non-weather related emergency, here are some helpful tips.
1. Create an effective plan.
Planning is the first step in successfully managing any emergency. It is essential to create your emergency preparedness plan in conjunction with your property management company. Consider all members of your community – those seasonal residents who do not live in your building year-round, as well as the elderly, young children and those who have special needs or require additional assistance.
All staff and residents should also understand their roles when it comes to securing their private property, and/or their jobs as volunteers when aiding the community during an emergency situation, as well as the chain of command they are part of. It should be clear, for example, that building staff need to follow the plan as outlined by their property manager and not be distracted by board member directives that may conflict. Volunteers need to be identified, and they need to know who they “report to” and exactly what they need to do and when. Clarity in these matters will be invaluable during the chaos of an emergency.
2. Communicate your plan, early and often.
You must ensure that all components of your emergency plan are communicated frequently and articulately to all board members, building staff and residents. Share critical information such as disaster relief information, New York City shelter locations, evacuation zones and routes, emergency response phone numbers, information on shut downs of major building systems and those residents with special needs. Don’t wait to communicate your emergency plans until something happens. Make sure that new residents get a comprehensive plan when they move in and send regular reminders and any updates of the plan as needed to your entire community.
In addition to traditional methods of communication, such as posted signs in common areas, it is critical that your building staff have access to a mass communication tool to reach all residents rapidly. FirstService Residential Connect, for example, allows building management to mass email residents quickly in any emergency. With an opt-in, residents can also choose to receive emergency communications via text message. During some emergencies, such as a blackout that goes beyond the building, text messages may be able to get through when other communications cannot, so it’s a good idea to encourage that opt-in if possible.
3. Empower your building staff.
Make sure each staff member understands and knows what to do before, during and after an event. Find out when your property management company offers training sessions for building staff and ensure their attendance at those sessions; a great company will offer a variety of training all year long. Train staff on every aspect of your emergency preparedness and communication plan, and clearly define their roles and responsibilities. That includes knowing where all vital materials and supplies are to ensure resident and building safety in the event any hazards arise. Be sure to give your staff the space to store personal emergency kits and space to stay overnight at the building if necessary.
If the board wishes for building personnel to assist residents in securing their units, make sure waivers of liability are in place to safeguard the association’s interests. Make sure that residents know that management will be entering their premises if units need to be drained or dried if a pipe bursts or the building is coming back online after a blackout, for example.
All staff members should have identification that confirms they are employed by your association to allow them to get past potential checkpoints set up by authorities following an emergency such as a gas main leak.
4. Think digitally.
Most of us tend to focus on physical structures as part of emergency preparation. But don’t forget your digital files – all of your association’s records and files should be backed up on a remote server, on a hard drive that’s kept in another location, or in a fireproof, waterproof safe, or, ideally, all of the above. Be sure to include building and facilities plans in case first responders, utilities or insurance representatives need to reference them. Suggest that residents back up personal paperwork to cloud storage services or another offsite method as well; in the event of a fire or flood, no one wants to have to think about grabbing paperwork while evacuating!
Speaking of thinking digitally, a great property management company will offer you the ability to pay expenses electronically, if needed. This is helpful if signatories are not available and emergency expenses need to be paid.
5. Take building inventory.
Knowing exactly what systems and areas are at risk of potential damage and where things are is critical. In the event of extensive damages, being able to identify where pieces of equipment are, and the state they were in, is valuable documentation that can be essential during the recovery process. Videotape your community, its assets (equipment, artwork, furnishings, etc.) and common areas while everything is in working order. Make sure the footage is time- and date-stamped. Another option is to hire a professional engineer to conduct a formal life expectancy analysis of all equipment and systems. This information will be invaluable during the insurance claims process.
6. Inventory your community as well.
Does your building have a significant number of elderly residents who will need assistance evacuating during a blackout or fire? What about families with infants? Pregnant women? Do you need to create your emergency communications in multiple languages? Knowing who is living in your building will make it easier to keep everyone safe and get them out of the building if needed.
If your building allows pets, make sure that pet owners understand that they need to think about emergency preparations for their furry friends as well as any humans in their units. They need to be ready to transport pets from the building, in an appropriate carrier if necessary, along with any important medications, paperwork, food, etc. that their pet may need in an extended emergency situation.
7. Maintain vendor relationships.
A crisis is the wrong time to engage in first contact with your insurance company and vendors. If an emergency situation is citywide or affects multiple buildings in your area, having great relationships with electricians, plumbers and other service businesses can help your building get served more quickly when it counts.
8. Perform maintenance regularly.
Do the emergency lights in your stairwells work? Are exits and evacuation routes clearly marked? Do you have sandbags on hand? Is your emergency generator fueled up and in good working order? Do you have glow sticks and batteries on hand? Don’t wait until something goes wrong to check on all of these mundane, but critical, matters.
9. Secure the building to minimize damage.
Prioritize your efforts in minimizing damage to common areas of the property that are frequently used by residents. These areas can become a place of refuge for staff or a designated safe area if residents must evacuate their apartments for their own safety. Take measures to barricade entrances with sandbags (in a flood situation) and have flashlights available in these spaces. Speak to your property management company for further measures to ensure safe refuge. Securing these areas with proper supplies and equipment can minimize damage to the overall property.
While you can’t control many emergencies, you do have power over their impact by ensuring that your building and residents are prepared. When you partner with a good property management company, all of these steps happen seamlessly.