Planning for a rainy day is pretty easy. Have an extra umbrella handy or a waterproof coat, and you’re probably fine. Planning for the rainiest day ever, on the other hand, is significantly more daunting. Especially if during that day there’s also a fire, an earthquake, or a tornado. It may sound like exaggeration, but every association or co-op board must face the possibility of a real-life worst-case scenario in order to ensure that their residents are adequately prepared to weather any storm – literal or figurative. Protecting lives – and property value – to the best of its ability is the duty of every board, and as such, every multifamily community should have a plan ready in the event of an emergency.
Volunteer board members are most likely not experts in evacuating a large property or community – nor are they expected to be. Fortunately, volunteer board members can lean on management and other outside crisis experts for guidance to ensure that they’re prepared to handle an unexpected and dangerous situation.
“As the experts in the industry, I feel that managers should be extremely involved in working with boards to put together a routine and plan in case of emergency,” says Nicole Martone, the community association manager for Riviera Towers in West New York, New Jersey. “Managers should be versed on possible emergency scenarios, and formulate a proposal to guide the board to their final adopted emergency plan. The plan should consider residents who may need electricity for life-assisting medical devices, access, or who have other physical or medical limitations. A list of residents with known medical needs should be maintained. And when emergency services are involved, the manager should remain on site as a resource for that personnel as long as is necessary—but not in a way that inhibits the emergency response.”
“Emergencies by definition strike quickly and without warning,” says Nicholas J. Harris, Jr., Vice President of Operations with Realty Performance Group in Rochester, New York. “Knowing what to do ahead of time is both your responsibility and your best protection, so it’s important that management be involved from the outset, working directly with a board to create, implement and update a plan. This plan should also be formulated in cooperation with police and fire department officials, disaster recovery contractors, outside service contractors, community service agencies and the management company’s staff. And, aside from natural disasters, [board-management teams] must consider arson, crime, assault, theft, bomb threats, power outages, medical crises, and other spontaneous problems that may arise.”
According to both property management and emergency management pros, associations that go it alone in emergency planning are likely to miss something. Even the most thorough board is likely to overlook a contingency, if only due to limited experience. “I’ve worked with associations that have developed plans on their own, as well as those that have worked with an independent consultant,” says Christopher R. Lanni, Founder and President of Secure Residential Services in Concord, Massachusetts. “Some of the associations that do things themselves have success pulling their resources together and utilizing what’s available. But those that utilize an independent consultant – someone neutral with a fresh set of eyes – tend to end up with a more robust plan, with richer detail. And it’s mostly a one-time expense; typically I’ll tell boards to allocate a few dollars in the budget every few years, just to go in and do some refreshing after examining what’s changed in regard to property alterations or demographic changes.”