Superstorm Sandy: What We Learned

My previous blog focused on what happened in New Jersey as a result of Superstorm Sandy.

The event was devastating, and served as a reminder to the entire industry about the importance of having an Emergency Preparedness plan in place in the event that such a disaster strikes your area.

Following are a few “lessons” we learned during this recovery process:

  • Make sure your communication network is well defined; and ensure that you have redundancy in that communication. Cell towers can go dark or have reduced signal just like any other technology. When that happens, mobile phones and email does not work very well. Texting seemed to, and it became my lifeblood for 10 days. Make sure you know your options.
  • There are people who will take advantage of you. Because for them, pardon the pun, disasters can bring windfall. So, pre-approve a disaster recovery contract with a nearby service provider so that you have one if you need it. Hopefully, you never will. But at least you’ll have one written in stone.
  • Be compassionate. Your employees and your residents are at wit’s end. You need to be the voice of reason and care.
  • It’s not about property management, it’s about human kind. If you manage that way, people will respond that way.
  • Don’t ever lose your sense of humanity. People count on you, understand their conundrum and show them how you and they can prevail--even if you don’t believe it yourself.
  • Realize the proverbial stuff happens. It isn’t going away, work it, think it and solve it.
  • Anticipate ancillary damage. Freezing pipes, compromised gas lines and lack of any vital resources. Be better than the captain of the obvious.
  • Use your friends in our NAA network. That is what association membership is there for. I had a very informative conversation with NAA-member industry professionals from New Orleans. Their wisdom guided me. Greater New Orleans AE Tammy Esponge and her group had developed emergency recovery “best practices” based on what happened to them during Hurricane Katrina. It was great. But even better--and most comforting--was to be able to hear from her the progression of events and how they sounded very similar. She has been through this. She was able to help me see the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.” And that can really help.
  • Understand the psychological impact that this will have on your staff members. They have been dealing with all of your residents’ problems and their own. You reach a breaking point. I know I did. I have to assume all your people did, too. Be prepared to counsel this. And again: be compassionate, no matter what the bottom line is.

In the end what I learned is that most of us are very vulnerable. Your title or signature does not draw lines. Collective thought prevails.

You have a lot of very good people on your staff who have learned in their worlds how to adapt and think. Realize how fortunate you are in your life to be part of that very special group of people. Hug your friends, your loves and your best work companions. They truly could be gone tomorrow.

We often watch what happens in the world as if it’s a video game. The next disaster that strikes could happen to you. And when it does, it will dramatically change how you view your responsibilities and your perspective.

Mike Beirne is Executive Vice President of The Kamson Corporation, based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Kamson operates approximately 90 communities and more than 15,000 units, throughout New Jersey and the Northeast.