Emergency Prepardness 101 On the Front Lines of Dealing with Disasters

 While the basics of preventing—and surviving—common disasters like fires or severe weather events should be well known to  anybody living in a community association or planned development, the reality  is that each building community is equipped with different equipment,  constructed with different materials, and served by unique escape routes for  emergencies.

 In some worst-case scenarios, a building or association can become practically  its own island—so it’s important for board members and management to devise customized emergency  plans for their community. That way if the unthinkable happens, everyone can  escape quickly and safely.  

 Have a Plan

 Perhaps surprisingly, given South Florida's vulnerability to hurricanes and  other major weather events, “There is no statutory requirement for a community to have a hurricane plan or  preparedness guidelines or standard operating procedures,” says Bill Worrall, corporate vice president of The Continental Group (TCG) in  Hollywood.  

 But just because it's not legally mandated is no excuse not to have a solid plan  in place for when the inevitable storm arrives. A condo association's  management could be held liable if there's no plan in place and tragedy results  during an emergency. In short, preparedness is not an option; it's part of a  board/management team’s fiduciary responsibility. Boards should work with their management  professionals to formulate the most sensible, effective plan for their  particular community. “We do hurricane planning proactively as a community manager,” Worrall says. “For us it’s service delivery, it’s a minimum expectation and obligation to assist our clients in the protection  of their assets and their properties. The board makes the final decisions and  we respect that, but it’s our job to bring best practices and communication tools to our clients, and  then to implement them.”  

 “In a large condo or co-op, the association’s responsibility includes all the common areas and amenities, the guardhouse,  and entryway—and because they’re typically large buildings, high-density communities have physical-plant  equipment such as climate control, emergency generators, elevators, fire-alarm  systems, emergency lighting, and other life-safety systems, that require  additional protection and maintenance. A hurricane plan tells everybody what to  do with each piece of equipment.”  

 Everybody includes vendors who provide elevator repairs, pool maintenance,  security, and other services to the association on a contract basis. “Include in the contracts their policy in the scenario of a hurricane or other  natural disaster,” Worrall advises. “When the staff is on site, when the staff is mandated to leave the property, and  when the staff is expected to return—all this needs to be outlined and detailed in the scope of work with all of the  contractors on the property.”  

 Resources Abound

 While more common crises such as power outages or flooding in low-lying areas  are likelier for many residential buildings, the elements of readiness are the  same for any emergency. Boards and managers can create and implement customized  emergency plans for their buildings, but they must know where to look to find  the right information and with whom to work to make the plan. Many management  companies in the region offer conferences and information sessions specifically  to help boards and owners be ready for hurricane season.  

 Governmental agencies are a great place to go for pre-planning tips and  information, and emergency response professionals will come to your HOA to  educate, advise and prepare long before you need to execute an evacuation. For  example, the American Red Cross is an organization known for helping those  affected by disasters, but the group also works to educate people how to be  ready for them before they happen. Basic emergency-planning advice is available  online from the American Red Cross at and also found at The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is another  such resource, and can be found online at and  

 Most large municipalities have their own emergency web pages as well—the City of Fort Lauderdale's can be found at  

 The page links to a PowerPoint template that the board of individual condos and  associations can download, fill in with specific details of interest to first  responders, and return to the city’s emergency-management coordinator.  

 The Community Advocacy Network (CAN), a political action committee established  by the community association law firm of Katzman Garfinkel & Berger (KGB), which lobbies in Tallahassee for positive community association  legislation, publishes a Hurricane Preparedness Guide for community associations that boards and managers can use as a checklist to  compile their own properties’ hurricane plans. To access it online, visit, or call  954-315-0372 for a bound copy. Palm Beach County also has its own published guide found at  /hurricane/.  

 Along with managers, boards, and governmental agencies, individual condo owners  and association members bear certain responsibilities when it comes to handling  emergency scenarios of whatever type. KGB’s Donna DiMaggio Berger notes that CAN has been seeking legislation to require  all residential communities to write such plans and conduct drills so everyone—board members, managers, staff, and residents—will know what to do when a storm threatens.  

 “Boards need to have an emergency plan and revisit it at least twice a year to  see what needs to be upgraded,” Berger says. “We have 50,000 owners’ associations in the state, of which half are homeowners’ associations not regulated by the state, where more of the preparations fall on  the individual homeowners.”  

 In the case of a storm, Worrall emphasizes that each individual owner, whether  in a freestanding home or a co-op or condo unit, has a responsibility to secure  his or her property. “The association’s responsibility is to secure the common areas, which in a community of  single-family homes is mostly landscaping, roadways, the clubhouse, and  common-area recreational facilities and amenities such as pools and tennis  courts,” he says.  

 According to the American Red Cross, unit owners should also have an emergency  kit or “go bag” containing prescriptions, some food and water, money, clothes and a few other  necessities. Regardless of a building’s evacuation plan, residents also may need to make their own contingency plans  based on their family's specific needs. For example, what if a disaster happens  during the day, when mom is at home, and dad’s at work and the kids are at school? Each member of the family should know  where they will meet if the building is evacuated or they are separated due to  an emergency. Residents also need to recognize the necessity of having a plan  for their pets.  

 Putting Plans into Action

 When a condo building or homeowners association calls upon the Red Cross to come  assess and fortify their emergency planning protocols, a representative from  the organization will meet with residents and community administrators and  educate them on how to prepare by having the right supplies, by being ready to  enact the community's plan, and by informing themselves before, during, and  after the emergency.  

 “We have corporate preparedness programs and will go in and do a full facility  audit,” says Lynn Duddy, a training specialist for the American Red Cross. “We then generate a report that includes recommendations.” The auditing process includes evaluating the association’s emergency action plan, and creating one or selecting a better template for one  if the current plan is less than optimal.  

 According to Duddy, “A full assessment of emergency preparedness plans requires knowing what type of  equipment the building has, obtaining evacuation routes, and assessing  individual residents’ special needs in an emergency.” It’s about being what the organization calls “Red Cross Ready”—meaning having supplies on hand such as food, water, and medicine for use in an  emergency situation. Multifamily buildings and condos should have supplies such  as flashlights, extra fuel (if necessary for a generator), and other  necessities ready to be mobilized when called upon. A designated person in the  building such as a superintendent or other staff member should be responsible  for replacing those building supplies and ensuring that they are usable.  

 Preparedness also amounts to having a plan for residents to shelter in place—i.e., for them to stay put in the building for a while, if needed. A proper  shelter in place plan should account for the building community’s needs for at least a period of three days. That means having adequate drinking  water, food, batteries, flashlights, first aid supplies and even extra clothing  for residents, in case it is needed.  

 Reducing Risk

 For Vernon Rupert Grant, owner of Crisisology Group International, an emergency  management and planning company, another start to preparing for an emergency  involves reducing the possibility of a crisis. Working to prevent a fire should  be the objective of any building manager, and a manager can begin to accomplish  this by eliminating building violations such as inoperable emergency exits,  maintenance problems that could pose fire hazards, and the like. “The superintendent is the first line of defense in a building emergency,” Grant says, adding that every building should have a Mitigation Plan, to lessen  the possibility of an emergency.  

 Property managers and superintendents/chief engineers should regularly walk  around their buildings and grounds and assess the potential hazards. Such  problems as a faulty fire alarm system, inoperable doors, windows that cannot  be opened or fully closed, and bad wiring or plumbing that could create a  hazard all must be noted when the super and manager investigate the building as  part of their mitigation plan. After noting areas in need of attention, either  building staff or outside contractors should be brought in to make the  necessary repair or correct the unsafe condition.  

 Expecting Contingencies

 As with just about every aspect of day-to-day residential management,  communication is key to managing crises and minimizing their impact. Whether  you're faced with a fire, a storm with power outages, or flooding, boards and  management can begin to plan for emergencies affecting their properties by  simply getting the dialog started.  

 “The superintendent should begin a dialogue around the neighborhood, and the  property manager should be talking with other property managers, people in the  neighborhood, and city officials about crisis and emergency planning,” Grant says.  

 One way to consolidate and standardize an association's emergency response plan  is to establish an emergency team, comprised of the co-op board members, the  facilities manager, building security personnel, and the building’s engineer, along with some competent, capable resident volunteers. The people  in charge of the group, and in charge during an emergency, should be trained in  both CPR and first aid. The property manager should be the team leader during a  crisis situation.  

 During an emergency, the management team should know who is in the building and  who is not. That understanding will be informed by crucial data the team  compiles long before a crisis. Through a survey of the building, the team  should know how many people live in the building, which of them have special  needs or lack mobility and will need help evacuating, who has small children,  who has pets, and who works from home. This evacuation list should include  names, phone numbers, and apartment numbers of all residents, and should be  backed up remotely, not simply stored on-site. That way, if anything happens to  the property manager’s computer in the building, the info can be sent directly to another laptop or  device during an emergency.  

 Specific considerations may need to be made for a building’s “special-needs” residents, such as the elderly, ill or disabled individuals, or households with  young children who might not be able to follow the same evacuation/emergency  protocols as more able-bodied residents. To help such people, members of the  emergency team must be designated to assist these folks in a crisis.  

 Any residential building also should have rally points to go to in an emergency.  Rally points are places away from the apartment building, but close to it,  where residents will gather in an emergency to relax, deal with what happened,  and plan a course of action. And just as having a small radio in your go bag is  important to stay informed, rally points also are places where building  management can distribute information to residents.  

 Living Safer

 Needless to say, nobody likes to contemplate the tragedy that can result from an  emergency or crisis situation—loss of life, loss of property, and just the general upheaval of life itself.  But in order to prevent these things, it's vital that boards, managers, and  concerned residents be willing to do just that, and really examine whether or  not their community is ready for the worst, should the worst happen. If not,  then it's time to call in the pros, make a new plan, and get the entire  community on board—not only for their physical safety, but for their peace of mind.      

 Hannah Fons is an associate editor at The South Florida Cooperator.


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