HOA emergency planning preparedness for summer weather

Can Your Community Association Weather a Severe Storm?

Summer is a great time for your community association to plan outdoor activities like pool parties and barbeques. It’s also a time when you need to be prepared for the severe weather that comes in the warmer months. Along the eastern seaboard, that can include dangerous thunderstorms, hail, tropical storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and Nor’easters. (Yes, Nor’easters can also happen during the summer.)
 
So what can your board do to prepare your community for summer weather emergencies? Emergency preparedness planning is important. Although you can’t always predict what’s coming, the following recommendations will help you be as ready as possible to weather a major storm.  
 
  1. Establish roles.
    Having a clear chain of command and clearly defined roles will minimize confusion during a weather emergency. If you have onsite staff, make sure that they know how to respond appropriately in an emergency situation. Maintenance staff should check your building or property regularly to identify potential weather hazards and to verify that safety systems and equipment are working correctly. If your property doesn’t have onsite staff, your management team should walk the property and hire proper vendors or contractors to check your equipment.

    Remember that your manager or onsite staff can’t be responsible for individual residents when a weather emergency occurs because they have to focus on issues that impact the community as a whole. According to Edwin Lugo, vice president at FirstService Residential, “They need to be safeguarding common areas, including bringing in objects that can become projectiles and putting up shutters on common areas.” Identifying homeowners who would be willing to step up – for example, by helping neighbors evacuate or by going door to door to check on residents after a storm – will help ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing. 
     
  2. Communicate with residents before and during a storm.
    A great emergency preparedness plan has little value if members of your community are unaware of it. Along with emergency contacts, print out guides for residents, staff and your management team with information like evacuation routes and what to do in various types of weather emergencies. Use emails and newsletters to get the message out, too, and attach links to videos that demonstrate emergency procedures. You can further reinforce the information in the guide by posting flyers near mailboxes, on your clubhouse bulletin board or in other high-traffic areas. 

    Eric Love, senior association manager at FirstService Residential, says that the community he manages sends out regular information in addition to printing a dedicated guide for the emergency preparedness plan and response. “A weekly reminder is easier for people to handle than a 40-page binder, which can seem daunting,” he explains. “We created a community awareness committee to help with the constant communication and education that is required.”

    It’s especially critical to be able to communicate during an actual weather event. Does your property management company have a system like FirstService Residential Connect's mass communication tool, to alert residents if an actual emergency occurs? 
     
  3. Review your insurance policies.
    You should go over your insurance policies yearly to make sure your coverage continues to address your community’s needs. Work with a broker you trust and who is familiar with the unique needs of community associations to make sure you’re covered for the kind of weather-related events that are most likely to occur in your area. What else do you need to know about insurance and weather damage?

    Sean Kent, senior vice president of insurance distribution at FirstService Financial, says that “some of the things you should look at are coverage limits for wind, hail, flood and earthquake. Those are the four big ones.” He adds that insurance usually has something called “named-storm” coverage for hurricanes and tropical storms.  “Most disaster conditions are included in a policy unless they are specifally excluded,” Kent notes. “But remember that as soon as it’s safe, you must also take steps to mitigate further damage – place tarps on roofs, boards over windows, etc. – or your insurance company may not pay all of the claim.”

    Another thing to look at are your policy limits and deductible structure. “The larger the deductible you have, the more you’re going to save on premiums, but in the event of a disaster, associations need to make sure that they budgeted appropriately for the deductible.”
    One issue that associations often face is needing to make urgent repairs as a result of a major storm but not yet receiving money from their insurance claims. This is why FirstService Residential established its $10 million short-term loan , according to Chuck Fallon, FirstService Residential’s CEO. “In the face of such devastation, many homeowners and residents may be in shock at the overwhelming road to recovery ahead. They need to know that all is not lost and there is a way back.”
     
  4. Keep an updated list of emergency contacts.
    Provide residents and staff with printed lists of emergency contacts, including your property manager, security staff and your community management company’s customer service number. Additional information such as phone numbers for for local hospitals and utility companies, pertinent websites and radio stations is also useful.
     
  5. Determine what safety equipment you need – and make sure you have it.
    Having the right supplies on hand is a critical part of implementing an emergency preparedness plan. Since severe weather can knock out electricity and impact the availability of drinking water, your community or building should maintain a supply of flashlights, LED lanterns, glow sticks, batteries and bottled water. Two-way radios are also a good idea for staff and security in case cell service goes down. Test all emergency generators regularly, and store needed fuel according to safety regulations. Emergency response equipment, first aid supplies, fire protection and fire suppression equipment should also be on hand and readily available.
     
  6. Go over evacuation protocols. 
    Residents should be prepared to shelter in place or evacuate as needed. If you live in a mid- or high-rise building, make sure they know the fastest escape routes and the safest places to go in various scenarios. For example, stairwells are the safest place during a tornado. 
     
  7. Invest in back-up systems.
    Backup generators – especially in a building – can increase safety during severe weather. Also consider installing emergency lighting and photo luminescent strips in stairwells and hallways.
     
  8. Find out about emergency training.
    The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program is a federal initiative designed to train people to be prepared for the types of disasters that can affect their area. Anyone can enroll at no cost. It’s also a good idea to encourage members of your community to get trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Your management company may also offer training in emergency preparedness.
 
Having a good emergency preparedness plan will give you and your residents peace of mind, no matter what Mother Nature has in store. To learn how a professional property management company can help your condo association or HOA prepare for emergencies, contact FirstService Residential today.