Is Your Community Prepared? <br/>Communication during Crisis
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Create a Communication Strategy That Supports Your HOA’s Emergency Plan
If your homeowners association (HOA) is located in Texas, the effects of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath on parts of the state have probably given you a new appreciation for emergency preparedness. Hopefully, it demonstrated the importance of having an emergency preparedness plan, and you’ve put one in place (if you didn’t already have one).
But has your board given enough thought to communicating before, during and after an emergency? Do residents even know that the community has an emergency preparedness plan, and are they sufficiently familiar with it? Have you communicated with your vendors to determine their availability to your community in the event of an emergency?
According to Pete Willding, director of onsite management for FirstService Residential in Texas, “Without good communications, the best-laid plan won’t do what it was intended to do: prevent chaos, improve safety and reduce costly damage.” Make sure that you have a solid communication strategy to accompany your emergency preparedness plan by following the recommendations below.
Communicate your plan year-round.
It isn’t enough to simply create a written plan and distribute it once to residents. “Residents may easily forget where they filed it or overlook a single email,” says Willding. “Plus, new residents may be left completely out of the loop if they move into the community at a later time.”
Instead, make a point of regularly raising awareness about your emergency plan throughout the year using a variety of channels. For example, talk about the plan at your annual meeting and at one or more community events. Feature different parts of the plan in your newsletter at regular intervals, and include information about how to obtain a copy of the full plan. Send out periodic emails with a link to the plan. If your area gets seasonal weather events, use the month before the season starts to remind residents of your community’s plan and to update contact lists and anything else that needs revision.
Establish a reliable communication method to use during an emergency.
You’ll need to have a way to keep residents informed throughout an emergency situation. Having a mass communication tool like Resident Alert, which is available to communities managed by FirstService Residential, can be especially valuable. “It enables us to alert everyone in a community about a critical event or next steps to take,” Willding explains.
Sometimes you have no choice but to go back to the basics, especially if an emergency leaves you without power or cell service. “You may need to knock on doors and hand out flyers if that’s the case,” Willding points out.
Update and distribute contact lists.
Residents need a list of important contacts so they can get important information during an emergency event. This list should include the name and phone number of your community manager, as well as phone numbers, websites and radio stations where they can get up-to-the-minute instructions for the local area. In addition, make sure that your board or your communications committee has a list of residents who have special needs, are elderly or live alone so that these people are not overlooked during an emergency. Check both lists several times a year to make sure they are current.
Establish a committee.
If you don’t have a community management company to distribute and update pertinent information, or if your management company doesn’t have the resources to handle these tasks, form a communications or emergency committee to take responsibility for them. This will take the burden off of your board and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. However, a member of your board should also be on the committee.
Talk to your vendors.
Your board needs to understand what you can realistically expect from your vendors before, during and after an emergency. Discuss your expectations with them, and make sure they have both the capability and resources to come through. Periodically meet with them to make sure nothing has changed, especially right before any storm season.
Yes, it’s crucial for HOAs to have an emergency preparedness plan, but no plan will be effective unless it’s accompanied by a good communication strategy. Apply the recommendations we’ve offered here and you’ll be able to face any emergency knowing that you’ve really covered all the bases.