Crisis Management: Preparing Your Buildings for Natural Disasters and Emergencies

Dominique Swanson

By Dominique Swanson

Jul 09, 2024

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According to FEMA’s national risk index, your property has a 1 in 20 chance of being impacted by a natural disaster. This risk can increase or decrease depending on where you are located, but no matter your risk rating, being prepared is essential for property managers. Emergency protocol will not only save the lives of your residents, but it can also help you safeguard your asset. Creating and implementing this protocol requires a comprehensive approach that includes preparation, communication, and response strategies. In this article, we outline five essential steps you can take to prepare for the unexpected.

1. Risk Assessment

The foundation of effective crisis management is understanding the specific risks that a property might face. This involves:

  • Identifying Potential Hazards: Depending on the location, this could include blizzards, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and other severe weather events. Each type of natural disaster requires a tailored emergency protocol that is accessible to staff members. You’ll also want to read your insurance policies closely to ensure that you have adequate coverage for your area.
  • Conducting Vulnerability Assessments: Periodically evaluate buildings to identify any areas of weakness that could be exacerbated in the event of a natural disaster. This could include structural integrity or even poor building design.
  • Developing an Emergency Plan: We cannot prevent natural disasters, but we can prevent unnecessary loss by assessing disaster risk and implementing an appropriate emergency response plan. This plan should detail evacuation routes, designated shelters, emergency contact numbers, and roles and responsibilities of staff members during a crisis.

2. Communication and Training

Clear and effective communication is a vital part of emergency preparedness. Property managers should:

  • Establish Communication Channels: You’ll need to have a warning system in place. Use multiple platforms such as emails, text messages, social media, and public announcement systems to provide information before, during, and after disaster strikes.
  • Create a Resident Guide: Distribute a comprehensive guide that outlines emergency procedures, contact information, evacuation plans, and safety tips. This is especially important if you are unable to contact residents during the crisis, especially in the event you lose power or the resources for your established communication channels.
  • Provide Training: Offer training sessions for staff on first aid, fire safety, and basic emergency response skills. It is essential that you and your staff remain calm and stick to the emergency plan in order to be effective during emergencies. Regular trainings with staff prepare them for the moment it matters most.

3. Structural Resilience

Improving the integrity of buildings can significantly mitigate the impact of natural disasters. Property improvements should be considered In your budget each year, but don’t forget about your potential tax deductions when reviewing what work needs to be done to prep your building for natural disasters. Some improvements fall under capital expenditures (like adding shutters for hurricane season), which may not be immediately tax deductible, while other improvements fall under repairs (fixing a leaky roof) and are generally tax deductible in the year they are incurred. Improvements to buildings structural resilience may include:

  • Structural Reinforcements: Strengthen buildings to withstand specific natural disasters. For example, reinforce foundations and frames to resist earthquakes, or install hurricane shutters and impact-resistant windows in hurricane-prone areas.
  • Backup Utilities: It is likely that in the event of a natural disaster, residents will lose critical utilities such as electricity, water, and heat. Ensure these utilities have emergency shut-off systems and backup sources. Install surge protectors and generators to prevent disruptions of essential services during power outages.
  • Regular Maintenance: Conduct routine inspections and maintenance of the property to identify and address potential hazards, such as loose roofing materials, or clogged drainage systems. Regular maintenance can be the difference between a building that withstands a natural disaster and a building that doesn’t.

4. Collaboration with Authorities and Agencies

Working with local authorities and emergency services can enhance natural disaster preparedness efforts. Property managers should:

  • Establish Relationships: Build strong rapport with local emergency service providers, government agencies, business owners, and community organizations. Understanding their response time, responsibilities, and crisis plan can help you build your own emergency protocols.
  • Stay Informed: Keep an eye on weather forecasts, and alerts. Knowing when a disaster might happen will help you take a proactive approach for your residents.

5. Post-Disaster Plan

Being prepared for the aftermath of a disaster is an equally important part of your emergency management efforts before or during the crisis. Your plan should support measures to help residents and restore normalcy. Key steps include:

  • Damage Assessment: Conduct a thorough inspection of the property to identify and document structural damage for insurance claims and repair planning. Take plenty of photos of any property damage.
  • Resident Support: Provide assistance to affected residents, including temporary housing solutions, counseling services, and information on available aid programs. Working with local authorities and programs can play a large role in how you support residents and staff post natural disasters.
  • Restoration and Repairs: Prioritize repairs and restoration work to ensure the safety and habitability of the property as quickly as possible. Contact information for approved vendors should be included in your disaster protocol.

The Bottom Line

Preparing residents, staff, and buildings for natural disasters is an ongoing process that requires diligent planning. Your emergency plan, crisis management strategies, and natural disaster protocols will help ensure your community is well-equipped to handle any crisis that arises and get back to normal operations as soon as possible.

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