Crime, natural disasters, and medical emergencies are usually not top of mind–until they happen. Your homeowners association management company plays a role in the planning and recovery of emergencies–not during the emergency itself. In moments of crisis, such as fire, flood, earthquake, break-ins, accidents or other emergencies, your first priority should be to protect yourself and your family. Always follow the instructions of all trained emergency personnel, and defer to their guidance during the event itself.
From an organizational perspective, proper preparation for emergency situations and a plan to address their aftermath can help your HOA navigate difficult times by relieving the administrative burden that comes with managing the fallout. Here are some effective strategies your HOA can employ to become better prepared if disaster strikes.
Prepare on paper
Create a current Disaster and Emergency Response Plan document for your HOA. A comprehensive document will address the “what-if” scenarios that inevitably arise after an emergency and streamline your HOA’s ability to respond quickly in the aftermath. Much of your HOA’s Emergency Response Plan will address the rules and procedures that regulate disaster-related board responsibilities, especially those pertaining to unforeseen expenses. Just because your community is recovering from an emergency does not mean you should neglect to follow the guidelines set forth in your governing documents.
Your Disaster and Emergency Response Plan should cover short- and long-term issues, such as expenditure guidelines for HOA funds in the event of an emergency, handling of emergency special assessments, reserve fund borrowing, and fiduciary, financial and approval processes.
Thorough preparation requires that your board members should have a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the board, management company, and membership.
- What does the HOA membership expect from the board during and after a disaster?
- What are the roles of board members during a disaster?
- What role does the community association manager play?
- What resources are available to help communities recover from disaster?
- Which standing rules and processes will impact disaster response and recovery?
Your community manager can add emergency preparedness planning to the schedule of an upcoming board meeting to provide time for your board to draft a plan that addresses these questions.
Develop a disaster plan
Your HOA should develop a “boots-on-the-ground” plan that outlines roles and responsibilities of residents and the HOA during the disaster itself. FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) provides programs that deliver education about disaster preparedness and training for volunteers on the topics of basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, and team organization. Your property manager can help your HOA find a CERT program near you.
Your property manager can also coordinate expert-led community meetings and training sessions to provide CPR, fire safety, and pool safety training, as well as neighborhood watch programs and evacuation plan development. These crucial programs can save time and lives in the event of an emergency.
Make sure your insurance is current
Be sure that your association has the appropriate amount–and type–of coverage to protect against natural disasters that are common in your area, and even those that are rare. Your property manager can coordinate a review by your insurance company to make sure that your coverage limits are up to date and whether or not it’s a smart idea to supplement with additional coverage for earthquakes, floods or other natural disasters.
Always alert emergency personnel first
Your homeowners association management company is not a substitute for an emergency response team. Police, fire departments, and EMTs are trained to respond to emergencies and natural disasters. Your community manager is not. While we never condone frivolous calls to first responders, a good rule of thumb during emergencies is: if you think you should call 9-1-1—do it. If you are at risk for loss of life or property, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
After an emergency
If a major emergency or natural disaster strikes your area, it will likely take time for your community to recover. Your HOA management company can help. The management company can oversee the administrative paperwork trail involved in securing insurance disbursements. They will also coordinate the appropriate vendors for cleanup related to flood, fire or other property damage. These services usually fall outside the standard scope of work for a management company, so make sure that your HOA’s operating budget has an adequate emergency fund to cover additional expenses that can arise from an emergency.
Your management company is there to assist you in planning for and recovery from disasters and emergency situations. Speak with your property manager about the emergency planning services they provide and their experience handling disasters in your area. Their priority should not be to simply reassure you but to make sure that you are adequately prepared and well organized in the event of an emergency. Thorough preparation is the best reassurance of all.