EdR’s Hyche on Keeping the Lines of Communication Open During a Crisis
Today’s apartment owners and operators have to worry about all sorts of threats. Some dangers are very clear and very present, such as the risk of fire or heavy storms. Others, like the recent panic over the Ebola virus, are more reminders to multifamily management staff that they need to always be on ready in case of an emergency.
One man who has been making sure his company’s properties are always in a state of ready is Danny Hyche, Director of Residence Life at Memphis-based EdR. Hyche has served the company and its various on- and off-campus apartment communities in a number of capacities for over eight years, including stints as a Residence Life Coordinator and Community Manager. In that time, he has been at the forefront of several emergency response efforts.
EdR dealt with a catastrophic loss of an apartment community to fire a few short years ago. The fire swept through EdR’s St. Louis property. He recalls staff support being crucial to the company’s ability to be there for its displaced residents. “St. Louis is not close to us here in Memphis,” he noted, “but we had executives from the minute they found out about the fire drop everything and drive there as fast as possible to offer support. Other managers who were within driving distance also came out and helped. We had to rebuild. So, we provided everyone – all residents - with refunds immediately. We had our staff here at the home office cut those checks, and we had someone drive them to the community. It was all about making sure the residents were taken care of at that point. We worked with them to make sure they had housing, to retrieve any belongings remaining, provided them with their money back and offered counseling opportunities.
More recently, EdR found its managed communities in San Marcos in harm’s way of the southern California Cocos wildfires this past summer. “They came really close to the university that we are affiliated with there, to the point where they evacuated the university and all of the housing. But again, it was the partnerships that made our response effort so successful. We have a great partnership with the university who was very involved in making sure the students evacuated properly and had a place to go. We bused students that didn’t have transportation to Red Cross shelters. Eventually, we provided them with hotel rooms, because they couldn’t get back into their apartments.”
He continued, “Luckily, the fire was contained. It never really ended up affecting our community directly. The smoke did, though, and there was a whole week period where the students were displaced. We worked with the university, fire officials and the Red Cross to make sure the students had everything they needed. We even made trips to grocery stores.”
The key, Hyche and his staff have found during crisis situations, is effective communications. In this regard, social media and other technologies have made a world of difference. “We get all of the contact information for students at the beginning [of the lease-up period],” Hyche explained. “In emergencies, we have the ability to send text messaging to all students. They can opt out if they want to. And we generally have good followings at our communities through social media. Even if one specific student is not following our Facebook page, a lot of his or her friends will be. So, it’s a good way to get information out as fast as possible. You’re not going to catch everybody through the social media modes, but we try and have a wide range of different platforms, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so forth.”
Also important is proper staff training to handle emergencies as they come up. Reviewing a company’s preparedness policy and making sure all staff members have read it and understand it only helps so much. “Most of our community staff are students,” Hyche noted. “They’re resident assistants or community assistants. I think what is the most helpful technique is role-playing - giving them scenarios and situations that may occur. For instance, we might give them a situation where there is a student who is suicidal and let them act out that scenario and how they think they should handle it, then give them critiques on things they could do differently or things that they should look out for if such a scenario plays out in real life. Every time I have done training and done these scenarios, the students always come back to me afterward saying, ‘That is what helped me handle this situation when it really happened. I was able to practice, and I already felt like I had been in that scenario.’”
He added, “In Residence Life, we call it ‘Behind Closed Doors’ where you act out scenarios like helping a depressed resident or dealing with a large party where there is alcohol or drugs. I’ve even facilitated training where we acted out an extreme scenario where there was an active shooter on campus. The campus police actually assisted, and we were able to be in that scenario and learn what was best for staff and residents.”
Looking ahead, Hyche is hopeful that technology will continue to evolve and make his job easier. “Text messaging has worked especially well,” he concluded. “I can see that aspect improving simply with more students connecting via social media or text message in the years to come. But with all of the apps and those types of technology platforms being developed, I can also see communities having their own app on their smartphones where students can get push notifications of an emergency occurring. That is definitely something to look forward to in the future that I think would be great. Of course, students have to opt into those types of things. We also expect to see a lot more parent followers, as well. Parents like to be informed just as much as their students – probably more so in many cases. And they are becoming more tech savvy. So, if the worst happens, we need to make sure they are connected as well through the different media platforms.”
By Teddy Durgin