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Managers Plan to Protect Communities

July 2020

Proactive measures you can take to ensure you are ready for emergencies when they happen.

Roaring winds, rising floodwaters and rapidly spreading fires all threaten apartment communities. Smart managers plan carefully to protect their buildings and residents.

“It is imperative to have an emergency preparedness and communication plan,” says Dan Wurtzel, New York President of FirstService Residential. “Executing a detailed emergency plan will minimize mistakes or oversights during a crisis.”

Communicate With Residents and Staff

A first step is to provide each new resident with a printed guide that shows how to deal with emergency situations, says Wurtzel. It should be updated every year and should contain the community’s plan to either evacuate, if necessary, or shelter in place, including guidance on how to maintain emergency supply kits. (Contact your local emergency manager for additional important information to communicate to residents.)

FirstService also keeps careful track of its residents — especially those with special needs who require extra attention in a crisis.

“Do you have tenants who are elderly, have compromised mobility or require electricity for life-supporting medical devices or frequent medical care?” says Wurtzel. “A record of this type of information must be maintained, updated regularly so that building staff can keep in touch with them and emergency personnel can be contacted if necessary.”

The community’s plan should also include what to do if vital staff can’t get to the community or are unable to leave. Once a storm is on the horizon, managers should stay in close contact with residents and staff. “When a natural disaster is approaching, during and afterwards, it’s important to communicate with residents on a regular basis via text or email with current and fresh information,” Wurtzel says.

Also conduct an employee-awareness campaign to educate staff on disaster safety. Address shelter locations, emergency communication plans and policies, when to evacuate, the need to seek high ground for flash flooding and the importance of avoiding flood waters. In addition, the campaign should consider what to do if vital staff can’t get to the community, or are unable to leave, because of a storm or other disturbance.

Reach Out to Your Community

Contact your local emergency management office to identify key personnel and resources in your area. They might include your local citizen corps council, hazard mitigation planning team, and local or tribal community emergency response team. 


Your apartment community could also potentially help the surrounding neighborhood in the days after a disaster. Consider becoming a distributor or storage warehouse for disaster relief kits created by FEMA  or other government agencies. Communities that have electricity following a disaster may consider providing a volunteer charging station. Set up a safe, secure place for emergency responders, volunteers and community members to charge their cell phones, power wheelchairs and battery-powered tools.

Prepare Your Properties

Smart managers also carefully prepare their properties to withstand storms and other disasters. FEMA recommends that small businesses assign a “business continuity team leader,” responsible for implementing a “continuity plan” for your business. For the professionals who operate apartment properties, that begins with the buildings and grounds.

Consult with specialists who can help you prepare for the disasters that could threaten your properties — from wildfires to mudslides to floods. The way your properties handled past events may point the way toward improvements. If your basements have flooded before, assume they will do so again.

Managers should also review their insurance policies. Check your deductibles coverage limits and coinsurance requirements. Meet with your insurance agent and maintain a current photo or video inventory of your premises, equipment, inventory, supplies and so forth.

A professional engineer can help make sure your buildings are designed as much as possible to withstand the stresses of a disaster. A professional landscaper can help make the grounds around your community more resilient.

“We add generators if they don’t have them and solar panels.… They need to have that backup power source,” says Patrick Sheridan, Executive Vice President for Housing for Volunteers of America, which operates several properties in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.