Can your staff handle a severe weather event?

Are you confident that your current management company can provide resources and support for your staff in the event of an emergency? Contact us today to see how FirstService Residential can help you be better prepared.

The start of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season is just a few months away, and we are already getting the first extended-range forecast for the season to come. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes may occur in any month and at any hour of the day, but they occur with the greatest frequency during the late spring and early summer months, between April and June. With April 25th making seven straight weeks where there were strong to severe storms in across Texas, the coming weeks will bring potentially dangerous severe weather and tornado outbreaks for the South and Southeast parts of the country. 

Texas is no stranger to extreme weather, but when a disaster is on its way to our Great State, it’s important to be proactive and prepare for the severe weather season well ahead of time, no matter how nice the weather may appear to be in that moment. Preparation includes making sure that your onsite property management staff know policies and procedures and their individual roles when a storm is on the horizon.
Edwin Lugo, vice president of the South Florida High-Rise Division of FirstService Residential, says that he and his team begin working with boards as early as possible to make sure that everyone understands emergency plans for storm season, well before it starts. It’s important to share the plan at board meetings and then with the resident community, ensuring everyone knows what to do and what everyone else is doing at each stage of a tropical event.
As a member of the board, it is part of your duty to make sure all residents are safe in the event of a disaster, but what are property management staff responsible for during a tornado and severe thunderstorm watch or warning? Remember that your manager or onsite staff can’t be accountable for each resident when a weather emergency occurs because they must focus on issues impacting the entire community. Lugo says it’s important for residents to know that property management staff are not able to help secure individual homes. 
“Staff need to focus on high-level issues like making sure that drains in the street and parking areas are clear. Is there debris that can block drains and cause flooding? Are gutters clear?” he says. “They need to be safeguarding common areas, including bringing in objects that can become projectiles, putting up shutters, and using sandbags. Many of our doors and gates have motors, magnetic strips or electronic locks, and unfortunately, they sometimes get forgotten in storm preparation. If the power fails, they have to be secured, so they don’t fly open or get held in the closed position.”
If a storm or tornado watch is announced, property management staff will communicate this information immediately and send notifications to all residents, reminding them of the community’s emergency plan and what they should do at each stage. That communication should include shelter locations, evacuation protocols and information about what the association is doing to protect the community as a whole.
The management company must implement effective communication before and after the storm. Additionally, your association must work to educate residents, sign up for local alerts, and remain vigilant at all times. An effective mass communication system before the storm and after will enable you and your management team to send email, text messages or phone calls en masse with important information and warnings. The system will also be invaluable post-storm because some forms of communication can be received and delivered when others cannot be due to storm damage. If you can’t communicate through electronic devices, post paper notices in as many places as possible throughout the community or building. 
Additionally, don’t forget to include seasonal residents in all digital communications so that they are aware of any inclement weather. These residents will also need to have the opportunity to prepare a contingency plan in order to recover quickly from the disruption of a storm. 

Information should be provided to all residents, including:

  • Critical warnings, e.g., if drinking water needs to be boiled or if the elevator is out of service 
  • Frequent updates about what the board and management company are doing to clean up, repair and rebuild
  • Other helpful resources, i.e., waste management contact information and location information for operational gas stations and grocery stores
  • Once electricity, phones and internet service are restored, use digital communications – email, community website, social media, online newsletters, and resident alert system – to deliver immediate, urgent information to your community
  • Rely on your property management company’s 24/7 customer service center to report and resolve any issues or emergencies.
A great management company will update the board at least daily on the progress of cleanup and repair work and any important updates within the community. Communities should be provided with information about what happened the day of the storm, what was anticipated for the following day, and the community’s status. Additionally, your management company should have the resources available to support your community's recovery. Watch the video below to see how FirstService Residential has helped support our communities before, during and after emergency events.

What is proper staffing in the event of a storm?

“Our teams know they are the last to leave when a storm is scheduled to hit and the first to return once conditions are safe,” Lugo explains. “But that doesn’t mean everyone needs to be on the property at once.”
The board and staff should work together to ensure that the right people are handling the correct jobs to get everything accomplished as quickly and safely as possible, so the staff has time to get home. Having a clear chain of command and clearly defined roles will minimize confusion during a weather emergency, so contradictory orders aren’t given. Be sure to cross-train team members in the event personnel are stuck after the storm and unable to get to the property. If the situation allows, a staff point person can remain onsite through the weather event. Some boards will designate members to stay in the community (barring a mandatory evacuation order) and serve as “first responders.” Once the storm is over, they can take a first look at the property, make sure doors and gates are open, and offer immediate assistance while waiting for staff and others to arrive. 

How can you ensure that your property management staff are properly trained on what to do when a storm approaches and after?

“It’s important to work with your county emergency management teams,” Lugo says. “They will know if your community is in a mandatory evacuation zone, your risk for flooding and other hyper-local information.” 
Conduct mock drills with your staff before hurricane season starts. Practice sandbagging if that’s a recommendation of your emergency management office. Look at your county emergency management lists of recommended supplies and stock up with first-aid kits. Lugo also suggests collaborating with neighboring community boards to share best practices and knowledge. 
As with other disasters, your association must communicate with local authorities and follow their instructions. After the storm, make sure to wait for the “all-clear” signal before allowing residents to return home. Professional contractors should inspect buildings and assess their damage. The same goes for damaged power and utility lines. You will also need to contact your insurance provider and vendors, if necessary, to coordinate the removal of debris.
Keep in mind that your training and planning need to be specific and property-driven. What works in a high-rise in Houston might not be appropriate in a townhome community in Frisco. A professional property management company will have the experience and resources to help ensure your community has the right contingency plan in place and that your staff is properly trained to execute it.
Hurricanes and Tornadoes can be devastating, but preparation is the key to getting through them with the least amount of damage possible. Having a good emergency preparedness plan will give you and your residents peace of mind, no matter what Mother Nature has in store. To learn how a professional property management company can help your condo association or HOA prepare for emergencies, contact FirstService Residential Texas today.
Friday April 22, 2022