Last week we were reminded how quickly a disaster can occur.  Hurricane Ian developed from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in only a few days.  Sure there were projected paths.  But even the projections kept changing.  And the hurricane was projected to decrease to a tropical storm as it crossed central Florida.

After the storm passed, a friend on the gulf coast said, “We didn’t think it would be this bad.”

Bridges were destroyed.  Sanibel Island is no longer accessible by car.  People on the island were stranded.  Lives were lost.

Many landlords have checked on their properties and tenants.  Some have a list of repairs to address.  Others may be more serious, like total destruction or missing persons.

Hurricanes are not the only disasters that we may incur.  They come in many forms.

Hurricanes.  Tornados.  Fires.  Floods.  Violence.

When I think of a disaster plan, it goes beyond a typical emergency preparedness and considers what to do after the disaster strikes.  In Florida, most people have heard about what items they should have on hand to be prepared for a hurricane.  And how to be prepared to evacuate.  

As a landlord or a property manager, what are you going to say to the media when they show up after a building burns?  Or after a murder occured in one of your rental units?  Can you see how a response can make the difference in how the public views the owner or property manager?  Can you turn it into a learning experience for other viewers or the general public?

So how do we create a disaster plan?

ONE.  The Disaster Plan needs to be written.

Consider who is going to be using it.  The property manager?  You?  Is everyone located in the same place?  If the property is located in another city then I would want to know what steps the property manager has taken and what is next on the checklist.

The document may be written and accessed online.  However, a hard copy needs to be available for the property manager to grab and possess through the emergency.

TWO.  Consider and list the disasters and emergencies that are to be included.

One notebook can be used for a number of different emergencies and/or disasters.  Some of the checklists will be similar.  But there will be differences.  For example, it is common to call 911 to report a fire, but you do not have to call 911 to report a hurricane.

THREE.  List Contact Information.

Identify everyone who may need to be contacted in the event of an emergency or disaster.  Include cell numbers and email addresses where appropriate.  

The list should include any employees and insurance agents.

Bank account information and how to access it should also be included.

FOUR.  List the Steps for Each Emergency.

It might seem intuitive to have a common list for all emergencies.  And some things are common to most, like calling 911.  However, thinking through specific emergencies can help us respond better.

The section for each emergency could have three parts:

  1. Preparation
  2. The Emergency
  3. What To Do Next

As an example, these are some of the items that might be included in the Fire Emergency Checklist:

  1. Preparation
    1. Confirm smoke detectors and alarms are placed and functioning correctly.
    2. Confirm emergency exits are marked and well lit.
    3. Confirm fire extinguishers are charged and placed appropriately.
    4. Have a copy of insurance policies in a safe place that is accessible to you in the event you have to leave the property.
    5. Confirm leases require residents to carry renters insurance and include the property management company as additional insured.
    6. Get a copy of the declarations page of each renters policy and confirm the property management company is listed as additional insured.  Store these in a safe place in case a claim needs to be filed and the resident’s unit is destroyed.
  2. The Emergency
    1. Extinguish the fire if safe to do so.  If not, then continue with the following steps.
    2. Activate the fire alarm.
    3. Call 911 if you are not able to put the fire out safely.
    4. Have someone at the property entrance to direct the fire department to the fire.
    5. Cooperate with the fire department to keep the area clear.
    6. Get names and contact information of any witnesses and residents present during the emergency.
    7. Determine whether or not any residents will be displaced from their units.
    8. Do NOT discuss the fire with news media without permission from the owner or asset manager.
  3. What To Do Next, After The Emergency
    1. Notify the asset manager of the fire, known damage, and any other pertinent information available.
    2. Document all known facts regarding the fire and response.  Include pictures.
    3. Depending on the extent of damage, notify the insurance company and file a claim.
    4. Get estimates from contractors to complete repairs.

A Hurricane Emergency Checklist may include having generators available and how to communicate with residents prior to and during an evacuation.

FIVE.  Review and Update The Plan

After an emergency has passed and the dust has settled is a great time to review and update the disaster plan.  This is when the lessons learned are fresh in our minds.  What worked well?  What could we have done better?  Are there hazards that should be removed?  How could we have communicated better with our residents or staff?

Then take those responses and update the written plan.

Disasters and emergencies happen more frequently than what we like to believe. There is often little time to react. By creating our own disaster plan tailored to our needs as landlords we can be better prepared when a disaster strikes.

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