Big or small, disasters often strike out of the blue. They catch us unaware, flatfooted and feeling helpless at their impact. This is especially true when these events hit us at home or within our shared communities. When fire, flood, hurricanes or even death occur, residents and neighbors can be left feeling frightened and adrift and look to the board and property management for guidance and help. That is why it is so important for communities and associations to have action plans in place and be prepared as best they can be for the unexpected.
It Happens to Everyone
For residential communities, “Unplanned situations from fires to flooding can happen anytime,” says Matthew Providente, director of operations and compliance for AKAM Living Services, based in New York. “There is always the off chance that a large natural disaster could occur, and we are called upon to manage the remediation from those kinds of events. Big mess situations can cause disruptions to utilities that may last for an extended period of time, as we experienced here in New York City in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. And we must be prepared to create quick fix solutions while strategizing a long-term, effective plan to resume normal operations.”
Other major disasters can be even smaller in scale but just as devastating. These involve the aftermaths of violent domestic incidents, and the accidental or unattended deaths of individuals without family or friends who may not be found for days afterward. While these situations may only involve one unit, their impact can be felt by neighboring units or throughout the whole building, says Michael Olsen, CMO for Aftermath Services, LLC of New York.
What to Do When Things Get Bad
When disaster strikes, the men and women in charge must prioritize and focus on what matters most: the well-being of their residents. “It is imperative for management to have an emergency protocol established and to provide that protocol to all staff members so they know what to do and whom to call in the event the manager is not immediately available,” says Providente. “No work should commence if the situation requires the authorities to investigate, i.e., in the case of a fire and a need for the FDNY to conclude its origin-and-cause investigation.”
If a loss of life is involved, it is important to act quickly but cautiously while remembering legal and other possible long-term issues. “Depending on the type of incident, call the police,” says Olsen. “Having said that, as a property owner/manager, first and foremost, you should have an exposure control plan that dictates how to handle a biohazard situation, just like you would have a plan for fire or tornado.”