As a board member of a South Carolina condominium, you understand how the coastal Myrtle Beach area can be impacted by large storms. The good news is that by partnering with an experienced and knowledgeable property management company, your community can be thoroughly prepared while minimizing the risk of potential damages during hurricane season. Your property manager shouldn’t be your fair weather friend. Rather, they should be a valuable asset to your community as it relates to hurricane preparedness (as well as recovery)! 
Complete tropical storm/hurricane preparedness goes beyond your typical checklists related to securing physical structures before a storm’s landfall. A truly thorough plan will take into account all aspects of your property – structural, financial, digital, and more. 
To help you and your property achieve the best community management service before, during and even after hurricane season, here are some helpful tips. 
1. Develop an effective plan.
It is essential to develop your severe weather preparedness plan along with your management company. Remember to consider all members of your community – those who may not live in your building full-time, vacation renters, the elderly, young children, and those who have special needs or require additional assistance. All 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. It is a good idea to provide instructions for vendors to secure their equipment before and after a storm.
2. Empower your staff.
Make sure each staff member understands and knows what to do before, during and after a severe storm. Educate them on every aspect of your preparedness plan, and clearly define their roles and responsibilities. That includes knowing where all essential materials and supplies are to ensure resident and community safety in the event any dangers arise. Be sure to give your staff the space to store personal emergency kits as well as personal space to stay overnight at the community if necessary. Certain emergency situations may call for all available staff to stay on premise and require them to have essentials for their safety too. 
If the board wishes for personnel to assist residents in securing their units, make sure waivers of liability are in place to safeguard the association’s interests. You’ll also want to let residents know that management will be entering their premises if units need to be drained or dried.
Ensure each staff member knows their supervisor’s phone numbers and when they should report back to work following a storm. 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 a storm.
3. Communicate your plan.
Communication during any hazard situation is essential. Ensure all facets of your association’s plan are communicated frequently and accurately to all board members, building staff and residents. Share critical information such as pre-storm plans, storm procedures, disaster relief information, shelter locations, evacuation zones and routes, and emergency response phone numbers. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division publishes a hurricane guide that illustrates evacuation zones and their routes. It is essential residents know their evacuation zone so they will be properly informed if a storm is imminent. Information on shut downs of major building systems and those residents with special needs should also be shared as well as tips on how residents should prepare their units for the storm. It would helpful to provide information that will help them navigate the insurance process afterwards, such as saving all receipts for expenses paid in the aftermath of the storm. 
4. Test and maintain.
The best time to perform maintenance on major building systems and equipment is before hurricane season starts. Preparing early can prevent stress in the time leading up to a major storm. Test generators, if you have them, and ensure you have an adequate supply of fuel available. Tree trimming and debris removal should be completed before hurricane season so you’re not rushing to complete them when a storm is on its way. Remember, it’s essential any necessary maintenance work is completed before a named storm is forecast. 
5. Think digitally.
Most people focus on physical structures as part of severe storm preparation. But don’t forget your digital files – all of your association’s records and files should be backed up in a fireproof, waterproof safe, on a hard drive that’s kept in another location, or, even better, on a remote server. Don’t forget about hard copies of your personal documents, too. Be sure to include building and facilities plans in case first responders, utilities or insurance representatives need to reference them.
6. Take inventory.
It is critical to know exactly what systems and areas are at risk of potential damage and where they are located. 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. Make a video of 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.
7. Go electronic with finances.
Your community management company should offer you the ability to pay expenses electronically. This is helpful if signatories are displaced after the hurricane and service providers need to be paid for emergency services.
8. Secure the community to minimize damage.
Prioritize your efforts in minimizing damage to common areas of the property that are frequently used by residents. This is key to preparing for a tropical storm or hurricane. These areas can become a place of refuge for staff or a designated safe area if residents must evacuate their units for their own safety. Take measures to properly cover glass windows, barricade entrances with sandbags, and have flashlights available in these spaces. Speak to your management company for further measures to ensure safe refuge. Securing these areas with proper supplies and equipment can minimize damage to the overall property.
9. Establish your relationships. 
A storm crisis is the wrong time to first engage with a remediation company or public adjuster. A remediation company can help with securing the property post-storm, so it’s wise to arrange for this possibility now rather than during the post-hurricane confusion. Establish a relationship with a public adjuster that is reputable and qualified. The South Carolina Department of Insurance website lists public adjusters who are licensed to work in the state. Non-qualified operations prey on desperate clients after storms. Engaging with a good adjuster now will save you headaches – and most likely money – later.
10. Prepare your facilities.
Make sure any landscaping debris is removed, all building materials and equipment are properly secured, dumpsters are emptied and generators are in working order once a storm is on its way. Store or secure outdoor furniture and prepare your pool and spa. Shutting down major building systems such as HVAC systems and elevators is recommended for the duration of serious wind events.
While you can’t control hurricane season, you can minimize its impact on you and your community by ensuring that your association and property are prepared. When you partner with a good management company, all of these steps happen seamlessly. To feel confident that your property and your community is well prepared this season, contact FirstService Residential, South Carolina’s leading property management company.
Wednesday July 27, 2016