In the wake of America’s most recent natural disaster, Hurricane Matthew, which spent many days devastating the East Coast beaches from Southern Florida through the Carolinas, it is prudent to talk about disaster preparedness in the multifamily community.
The multifamily industry faces a unique set of challenges in preparing for natural disasters. The risks are higher for these communities as the investment is large. Couple that with the fact that managers are responsible for many lives inside their community (sometimes hundreds). This makes emergency preparation a dully important. Knowing how to handle urgent situations can prevent loss of life and property.
In preparing for any disaster situation you must realize that you may not have days of advanced notice. Often disasters such as tornadoes or earthquakes happen at a moment’s notice. For other such events like hurricanes, wild fires or winter storms you may have hours or even days to prepare. Use the time wise and have a plan for any disasters that are applicable to your geographic area.
We suggest that you visit the following resources to establish your procedures for disasters if you do not already have plans in place. If your community has well established plans, these should be reviewed at regular intervals and updated both on paper and amongst staff.
Before the storm take the following steps toward becoming prepared:
Disaster Preparedness Resources for Multifamily
Red Cross- Disaster Library
Make a Plan and Utilize it
Referencing your local association and national resources formulate a clear, easy to read, written plan. Share this with your staff and ensure that each and every member understands the steps that should be followed before, during and after a natural disaster.
A few things to include in your disaster preparedness plan include:
Preparation: Steps for Preparation leading up to the anticipated disaster.
Communication: Establish a communication chain that should be followed.
Evacuation: Record exact specifications for any necessary evacuations.
Restoration: Prepare steps for working toward restoration post disaster.
Share these plans with both staff and, at minimum, annually, with the residents to ensure that everyone is on the same page. When disasters strike, stress and fear can affect the mind’s ability to remember. Be sure to distribute your community’s emergency plan in written form. Also, if possible have the plan accessible on your company’s website, Facebook page or other digital resource to ensure that everyone is able to access it in the time of emergency.
Get Involved / Seek Training
Consider having a few members of your management team and residents become member of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). Seek out local chapters through FEMA’s website and get trained to enable your members to best handle disaster situations. https://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams
Prepare Emergency Kits
Encourage your residents to keep a 3 day Emergency Kit handy. Not everyone has the ability to keep an entire kit together at all times and that is okay! We have provided a list to keep handy to enable residents to quickly pack a kit when a disaster is near. Click on the photo to download your copy of Leonardo247’s Emergency Kit Checklist.
During the storm remain calm and communicate.
Utilize reliable sources of information
Although social media may be a popular source of news to the American public, as a manager it is your job to ensure that your community receives timely and accurate information. Stay updated on the disaster’s progress via NOAA or the Weather Channel. Being prepared can help you stay calm during the emergency in order to assist others in doing the same.
Go Digital with Preparedness (Apps & Notifications)
It was very apparent during Hurricane Matthew that social media has changed everything about how we communicate in daily life as well as during an emergency situation. A recent study by Pew Research recently found that 62% of Americans primarily receive their news from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Reddit. In light of the increase in usage of social media as a news outlet, embrace the trend. Download apps from RedCross, via Itunes App Store or Google Play to keep you updated with accurate information during a disaster. Be sure to announce all information pertinent to your community via ALL social media channels. Keep these updated in a timely manner alongside more traditional forms of contact like a phone tree, email or calling direct, to stay in touch with your residents.
After the storm systematically check, assess and assist.
Assess & Assist: People first!
The order of importance in any life threatening disaster is always on human life. Assess the situation for your community on site as soon as is safe to do so. First priority is always given to ensuring that every resident of your community is accounted for.
Attend to any injured / Account for the missing
Circumstances will vary, but whenever it is physically safe to do so, canvas your entire community with a small team. Assist with any injured residents and call / signal for help from the authorities using the established chain of contact in your emergency plan. Administer any first aid possible immediate, on site. Although we hope that there will never be loss of life, if there is, follow your written emergency plan for documenting these lives and report to the authorities as soon as possible.
Assess the community for imminent danger
While canvasing the community to look for injured residents be sure to also take note of any dangerous situations involving power lines, gas lines, structural damage or flooding. If necessary, help residents to evacuate the unsafe areas. Contact any necessary contractors or utilities and allow them to handle any dangerous situations or restoration processes.
Follow up with residents
Any residents who chose to evacuate, and are not on site, should be contacted quickly after the disaster to ensure their safety. Being able to account for the safety of all residents, whether they remained in the community or not, is a very important function of a property manager.
Document the damage and contact the proper channels (insurance)
Have a camera handy to document the storm’s effects and contact insurance as soon as possible after the event to begin the restoration process. Depending upon your disaster plan, you may not be the person in charge of contacting the insurance. Be sure to know who should be making contact and be sure to communicate your community’s damage and needs as soon as possible.
Begin the restoration process
In the days, weeks and months post disaster your community will need you more than ever before. A property manager will be expected to organize maintenance and contractors to help with clean-up, debris and maintenance fixes. Residents will utilize you as a point of contact for news regarding restoration of the community and availability of their home to be re-inhabited. Additionally, the community will rely on you to begin to create a sense of safety in their homes again.
Check out this great article that was written on lessons learned from a developer who helped rebuild Joplin after the horrendous tornadoes there. There are many great take away points and much wisdom inside this article:
In short, times of disaster are when your managerial skills can shine brightest. Your staff will need you, your residents will need you. Preparation and organization are two of the best gifts you can give to your community during emergencies. During the most recent disaster, Hurricane Matthew, Leonardo247 was there to help our clients deal with the storms and its aftermath with a special emergency alert that was added to our clients’ software during the emergency.
Be sure to check out Leonardo247 and find out how it can help you prepare for, and deal with, disaster situations.