Community Association Emergency Preparedness

April 9, 2019 Kevin McGrath

We all hope that our home, community, coworkers, and friends never need to implement an emergency action plan. However, it makes more sense to be completely prepared for the possibility rather than try to figure out what to do in the middle of confusion and fear. Unfortunately, most communities do not have any plan in place for its residents. We invite every community association to take the time to plan and create a unique emergency management plan to help keep their communities and residents safe when disaster strikes.

What Is an emergency?

First, let's define an emergency. It can be something relatively common such as household fire, flooding, or even some broken pipes. A crisis can also be intermittent weather conditions or events such as wildfires, earthquakes, flash flooding, drought, tornados, or hurricanes. Lastly, emergencies can be a result of outside threats such as military, nuclear, biohazards, or toxic chemicals and gasses.

Association Responsibilities

Don’t wait until a disaster strikes. Take the time to consider the following responsibilities your association should take on before, during, and after an emergency happens.

  • Identify potential emergencies that could affect your community.
  • Create a plan for those potential threats.
  • Do all you can to prepare for those events.
  • Create a plan to reduce potential damage and disruption.
  • Calmly respond to emergency events that do occur.
  • Implement reconstruction and repair plans for your community after an emergency.
  • Communicate throughout the process.
  • Follow up.

Identify Your Community's Needs

Every community is unique, and your emergency plan should reflect that. Take some time as a board to discuss the following questions before you begin to craft your action plan.   

  • Where is your community located? (i.e., metropolitan, suburban, desert, mountains, beach, farmland, etc.)
  • What type of association is it? (i.e., high-rise, condominium, single-family, planned community, etc.)
  • What kind of buildings, landscaping, amenities, and mechanical equipment does your plan need to take into consideration?
  • What are the demographics of your community in terms of age, families, economic status?
  • What will be your media response plan when an emergency does occur?

Form a Committee & Approve a Budget

Establishing a planning committee will help immensely in creating your emergency action plan. In addition to creating the plan itself, your committee should also propose a budget the will help support it. After your plan has been created and your budget approved, the committee can then start to give specific assignments and duties to your management team, boards members, homeowners, and vendors.

Things to Include in Your Emergency Action Plan

Consider turning your plan into an actual book and make it accessible to those responding to any potential emergency. This book can be available in hard copy or a digital format. Keep in mind, if the power goes out, online or digital versions probably won't be accessible.

Your emergency action plan book should include the following information:

  • Emergency contact phone numbers
  • Area maps
  • Evacuation routes
  • Shut off locations for water, gas and electric.
  • Location of any emergency supplies

How to Reduce Damage & Disruption

Conduct a review of the community with an expert to make sure you have accurate information regarding potential failures of building and grounds components. Reduce your damages by insulating pipes, attics, crawlspaces as well as installing sump pumps and warning systems. Lastly, publish the safety and evacuation plans routinely and post them on websites, in newsletters, and in mail kiosks or other community spaces where your residents will see them.

Routinely Check Your Safety Equipment

Managers and boards should routinely inspect any item covered in the emergency plan. Any safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, smoke alarms or detectors, and interior sprinkler systems should be upgraded (per budget planning) and have preventative maintenance programs in place.

Practice for an Emergency

Develop and conduct with your owners a preparedness drill for fire, flood, chemical spills, airborne disease, and weather conditions. These drills are especially necessary where there are elevators, stacked homes with stairwells, or when the community is located near major highway evacuation routes.

What to do When a Disaster is Imminent

When a manager and or the board becomes aware of impending potentially disastrous events, they should contact insurance agents, contractors, and others participating in the emergency plan and make sure they are prepared to respond to the community’s needs. Optimally, the contractors have pledged to prioritize your community.

What to do When Disaster Strikes

Immediately following an emergency event, first and foremost, stay calm and refer to your action plan. As detailed by your plan, you should do the following:

  1. Secure all areas that have the potential for safety issues and property loss.
  2. Make every effort to ensure no loss to the association or the owners.
  3. Provide medical assistance until professional help can arrive.
  4. Follow directions from federal, state, and local authorities.

How to Respond to the Media

For media and other interested parties, have designated spokesperson for the association that can be the manager, a board member, or other media savvy person. Your association should be prepared when the media calls with a thorough media plan. Remember, once you start talking everything will be on the record.

How to Communicate with Your Residents

Work as a team and continually communicate with owners. Communication, or lack thereof, is the area in which most managers and boards receive the most criticism. Part of your plan should include how to communicate with those living on site and absentee owners. Create new ways to communicate outside of websites and posting notices. If the phones are working, use a telephone tree in which certain owners are assigned a list of other owners to call upon after receiving an initiating call from a board member or manager. Consider investing in a community app like TownSq to improve your communication reach. These apps can also help provide real-time news and updates for your residents and could be instrumental in giving residents access to evacuation and emergency plan information.

How to Rebuild After a Disaster

After a disaster or emergency occurs, assess the damage as soon as it is safe to do so. Then secure and protect the remaining property. Contact your insurance agent as quickly as possible. Work with disaster assistance agencies, insurance adjusters, architects, engineers, and contractors to develop new construction plans and repairs to existing constriction. Have an arrangement for displaced residents. Don't skimp on construction supervision or insurance claim consultants. Again, continually communicate with owners and renters throughout the reconstruction process.

Continue to Review & Evaluate Your Response

Review pre and post-event preparedness, response times, actions taken and team effectiveness. Review contractors and other professionals’ performances. Always ask for owner and board member input as well.

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