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 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.
“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 association 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.
“Management can assist an HOA in getting a committee of owners together to assess for emergency preparedness needed for their community,” says Jeanne Tarantino, a Nevada Certified Supervising Community Manager and Senior Vice President of Associa Sierra North in Reno. “[That could be] a neighborhood watch, evacuation plans, fire prevention actions, etc. It could also include helping them connect with law enforcement, fire department personnel or experts in various crisis management fields. Given that our disasters seem to come frequently these days, it’s just a good idea for everyone to be more proactive—management and homeowners alike.”