Emergency Preparedness: What You Need to Know, and How Your Property Management Company Can Help
Mother Nature has quite the surprises for us! Fortunately, Tennessee doesn’t get blizzards or hurricanes, and hail is rare. But lightning can strike at any time and we all recall the devastating floods of 2010. Tremors that can be felt are rare, but Tennessee also sits in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, so earthquakes are a possibility.
Michael Hagewood, manager of The Rhythm at Music Row in Nashville, said that the biggest concern in the area is tornado activity. “We had one come through downtown in 1998, and that is always a fear during the spring. From February through May, I send regular reminders letting residents know what they need to do and where they need to shelter in the building if a tornado comes through.” Tornado activity is included in most basic insurance policies, and happily, one hasn’t hit Nashville since The Rhythm at Music Row was built in 2007.
In May, 2010, the Cumberland River, which flows through Nashville, crested at almost 52 feet, 12 feet above flood level after two days of record-breaking rainfall. The flooding caused the deaths of 26 people in Tennessee and Kentucky and resulted in more than $2 billion in private property damage and $120 million in public infrastructure damage in Nashville.
Emergencies are a fact of life. Having a comprehensive emergency plan in place can mean the difference between an emergency situation that escalates into a crisis and one that is resolved efficiently and effectively.
Make sure that your building is prepared.Although you can’t predict emergencies, you can prepare for them. The most important thing that both board members and management can do to ready themselves for the unexpected is to create a customized emergency preparedness plan. A quality community association management company will have the experience, resources and knowledge to help you develop a plan that fits your specific situation.
What should you keep in mind when creating an emergency preparedness plan? Start with the following:
- Onsite staff – Management should establish a clear chain of command and clearly defined roles for staff to minimize confusion during the chaos that usually accompanies an emergency. Look at your staffing and make sure that you have people on staff who are able to respond appropriately to an emergency at any time. Do both management and the board’s leadership team have printed lists of emergency contacts (for both residents and staff) and vendors? Property management and staff should know to regularly walk the building and grounds, looking for hazards and examining the building’s safety systems and equipment.
- Safety equipment – Emergency response equipment, first aid supplies, fire protection and fire suppression equipment should be on hand and readily available for staff and residents responding to an emergency. Establish storage areas on designated floors to house emergency supplies, including a stockpile of bottled water, flashlights, LED lanterns, glow sticks and batteries. Two-way radios are also a good idea for building staff and security, in case cell service goes down. Your community association management company can help you keep an updated checklist of emergency items on hand. Test all emergency generators regularly, and keep fuel for them on hand, stored according to safety protocols.
- Evacuation plans – Are your residents prepared to shelter in place or evacuate as needed? Do they know where to go if they are required to leave the building quickly? Where are the safest areas in the building? Hagewood reiterates to his residents, on a regular basis around tornado season, that the stairwells of the building are the safest place to shelter if a tornado hits, not their units. What happens if they cannot re-enter or stay in their residences immediately following an emergency? All of these questions need to be answered in your emergency plan.
- Back-up Systems – Consider how you can improve building safety, such as installing backup power or generators. Emergency lighting and photo luminescent strips in stairwells and hallways can help reduce confusion and panic in an emergency by directing high-rise residents to safety.
Communicate the plan to everyone in the community.The best emergency plan in the world is useless if no one knows how to follow it. Share the plan with all residents, building staff, management and board members. Distribute a printed guidebook with evacuation routes, contact information and responses for any kind of emergency. Reinforce the guide through email or newsletters. Including links to demonstration videos can help residents visualize and better understand the procedures. Post conspicuous reminders in high-traffic areas like the mailroom or valet stand.
Consider creating a building emergency team comprised of board members, staff, building security personnel and resident volunteers. The role of this team is to lead communication and plan deployment before, during and after an emergency, as well as to spearhead continued communication efforts to residents throughout the year. The team can conduct regular safety drills if appropriate, and host periodic meetings to share the building’s emergency plan or update residents on any changes to emergency procedures.
Some high-rise buildings work with their local offices of emergency management and fire departments to bring in presentations of important safety information. This not only provides residents with useful information, but also helps them feel more secure.
No matter how prepared you are, it can be easy for communication to break down during an emergency. Prevent that from happening by maintaining a master emergency contact list, including a list of residents with special needs, in both digital and hard copy formats. Pair that list with a reliable resident alert system that sends automated email, phone and text messages in an emergency. It is also very important to make note of apartments with elderly residents or those who may not be able to receive text messages. Appoint floor monitors to assist during all emergencies also. Having that clear chain of command will help keep communication flowing smoothly during an emergency as well.
Have the right insurance coverage before an emergency happens.It’s important to make sure that you have the right insurance coverage for all emergency possibilities, including flooding, fire, earthquake, tornadoes and other disasters. For example, The Rhythm at Music Row sits more than a mile from the Cumberland River and was not affected by the flooding in 2010. Because it is not in a flood zone, it is not required to carry flood insurance. However, some buildings in Nashville do have that coverage even when not required, including one Hagewood worked at previously. “The storm water system here in Nashville can get overloaded pretty quickly,” he said. “If the storm sewers can’t handle flooding and back up, causing damage, the flood insurance covers it, so it’s the responsible thing to do.”
Hagewood said that many communities and high-rise buildings in the area also carry earthquake insurance coverage because of that location on the New Madrid fault line. “It’s one of the largest in the country, and even though we haven’t even had a tremor in several years, earthquakes can happen at any time,” he said. “The coverage doesn’t add much to the cost of a policy and if something happens, it’s just better to have it.”
Making sure that the community is properly insured extends to homeowners. It’s a good idea to encourage high-rise homeowners to have HO-6 policies which cover the contents of their units. Condo owners don’t always understand that they need their own policies. Property insured under a master association policy includes the common areas and property owned by the condominium corporation. Boards should routinely remind unit owners to purchase their own unit coverage and suggest that all homeowners to include loss assessment coverage on their policies. That coverage will provide funds to offset the association’s master policy deductible and cost far less to each homeowner than a special assessment.
Hagewood said that the building he lived in during the 2010 floods was damaged. “My unit was on the second floor, so it wasn’t damaged, but the entire first floor was. All owners had to pay a special assessment because of that and the association is still paying off a Small Business Administration loan from that time,” he explained. “I tell people my story about the flooding when I encourage them to get that HO-6 policy with the assessment coverage, and it makes a difference. I don’t think enough people know about that insurance or how important it can be. They are definitely more likely to buy it after hearing my experience.”
To get more information about protecting the financial and physical health of your community association’s assets, contact FirstService Residential, Tennessee’s leading community association management company.