Prepare Before the Crisis | National Apartment Association

Prepare Before the Crisis

I woke up at 1 a.m. last week to the strobe light and alarm going off over my bed. After getting dressed and running down the stairs, I found the rest of the hotel guests gathered outside.

As I continued to wake up, the fire marshal’s response vehicle arrived. In the distance I could see the flashing lights of two other fire trucks. The fire department looked ready to go as they leapt off of their trucks and quickly walked into the hotel to assess the situation.

It’s at this point that the difference in the level of preparedness between the fire department and hotel management became apparent. The Shreveport Fire department was swift and confident as the firefighters spread out throughout the building to find the source of the alarm. The fire marshal went directly to the desk to speak with the hotel’s night manager, who was completely flustered.

The fire marshal was asking questions, and I could see the hotel employee throwing around paperwork. It seemed that he had no ready area for the information that was requested. He didn’t know where the valves were for the sprinkler system, when the last time the alarms were tested, whom he should call to reset the system or even where the main panel was physically located in the building. I saw him frantically trying to call seemingly anyone on his staff who would know that information. The entire time the alarms continued to sound.

Eventually the hotel employee was able to contact someone from a fire alarm company (it didn’t seem like the company called was the one with whom the hotel had a contract) to reset the system from this false alarm. We were finally able to return to our rooms around 2 a.m.

How prepared are our own employees in the event of an apartment community emergency? As an emergency is generally a sudden event, our response should be discussed and even practiced; just like the response of the fire department before a crisis occurs.

Here are several ways to prepare for an emergency ahead of time:

1. Ensure that your staff has an idea of what would take priority in a given situation, as well as the appropriate reaction to different situations. As a group, discuss how to handle:

  • A fire on the property  (during both business hours and in an on-call situation)
  • Large flooding (due to weather or a water-main break)
  • A death on the community
  • Fire-alarm panel problems
  • Various police and law enforcement actions
  • Press and camera crews arriving at the community
  • Large destruction on the property, such as if someone drives through the fence, or runs into a building


2. Create an emergency notebook that contains relevant information and ensure it can always be found in the same location. Some information to include would be:

  • A site map with utility cut-offs marked (water valves, sewer clean-outs and electrical meters)
  • A current contact list of employees and upper management, include all phone numbers.
  • Contact information for reputable emergency response companies, such as water extraction, mechanical contractors, plumbers and electricians
  • Contract information for any contracted services that may be needed quickly (alarm monitoring company; both fire and intrusion)
  • Necessary management paperwork or reporting forms such as an incident report or property insurance information


With some preparation, our response to an emergency can reassure our residents, much like the fire department’s response reassured my fellow hotel guests. The same can’t be said for the night manager’s response.