If you’ve been following along on our blog, you know we’ve been talking a lot about what makes disaster plans less-than-helpful when you need them the most.
We’ve covered the 6 most common mistakes you (yes, you!) may be making with your disaster plan…and how to turn them into building blocks for a successful disaster implementation plan. (Missed any of this? Check out both posts by clicking the links above!)
But exactly what information SHOULD your plan include?
We believe there are 8 essential elements that every disaster plan should have. Today, we’re digging into the first set of essential elements every disaster implementation plan SHOULD include so your team has the information they need to respond quickly, accurately, and confidently. Check out next week’s blog post for the second set of essential elements.
# 1 - Utility Shut Offs
First and often most important are the utility shut off locations. Not knowing where these are located and how to properly turn the utilities off, is where your team can inadvertently make a bad situation worse – and more expensive. The sooner you can shut off the impacted utilities, the more damage you can prevent.
Consider documenting the location and instructions for your on-site utilities. Important utilities to document include:
…..and any others you may have.
Bonus points if you have photos to show what they look like!
SecureCore Pro Tip: When you are writing instruction on how to find these shut off valves/locations – write from the perspective of someone who has never been on site before. You want this written and documented in such a way that if someone were reading it who had no clue how the property was laid out – he or she would be able to find and turn off the utilities. After all, property disasters can happen any time day or night and it is possible that the only person on site may be your Leasing Agent, your brand-new Property Manager, or a maintenance tech from another property who is covering on call.
If this is written for an unfamiliar audience, anyone will be able to find and shut off the utility.
Case and point – a 1/8-inch pipe break can dump 250 gallons of water into your building. That’s 6 bathtubs worth of water pouring through your units.
Shutting the water off even just a few minutes earlier can save you thousands of dollars.
# 2 - Evacuation Plans
This seems like a given, right? Yet many people are confused and intimidated by what their evacuation plan should look like.
SecureCore Pro Tip: If you don’t have an evacuation plan already on hand, and aren’t sure where to start, reach out to your local fire department. Many of them can schedule the Fire Chief to walk your property with you to determine the best evacuation options. This is also a great opportunity to build a relationship with your local fire department – never a bad thing, since you never know when you will need to rely on them!
Here are a few other best practices and questions to consider:
- How many options do your residents or tenants have to evacuate the building? Naturally, this looks very different for a garden style apartment community vs. a downtown high rise. Ideally, you should specify two evacuation routes in case the primary route is not an option.
- Are your routes posted where they can easily be seen and followed? Consider posting them on the back of each unit door, next to each elevator, and/or next to each stairwell entry.
- How will you communicate evacuation instructions to your residents, tenants, and staff? Do you have a PA system that you can use?
- Did you know? The term “egress” is often used when describing and evaluating evacuation routes. Egress means an unobstructed way to get out of the building. For example, a fire escape is a means of egress during an emergency because it provides unobstructed access to the outside. Means of egress are written into every building code.
# 3 - Command Centers
During an evacuation, your #1 priority is to get people out of the building quickly and safely, right? But what do you do with all those people once they are out? Where do you plan to hold meetings with first responders and contractors, if some or all of the building is uninhabitable?
Unless you have experienced a major property disaster like a fire or severe flooding, you may not realize how important it is to designate command centers… in fact, you might not even realize what a command center is and meant to be. If the property is uninhabitable or being evaluated for reentry, you might find yourself looking at a sea of panicked people in front of you, wondering where to go and what to do next.
A command center is a designated area that you can gather and give instructions and provide resources for affected residents. It could also be an area where first responders and other key contractors can talk with residents and staff to give instructions on what to do next.
Ask yourself these questions to help plan for an appropriate command center location:
- What space do you have available onsite or nearby? Perhaps your property’s community center or a parking lot, or the municipal building across the street. We have seen churches and libraries used for this purpose in cases of a total loss.
- How much space do you need to hold everyone? Keep in mind you will want separate command centers, if possible, for your team, your residents or tenants, and emergency personnel.
- What kind of things will you need to communicate to each group? Resist the urge to put them all in the same spot. It may seem like the easiest option but consider this…you will likely need to communicate certain things to your team that you are not ready for your residents or tenants to hear. So how much physical space can you put between the command centers to allow for the necessary communication?
- Do you need to accommodate special needs? Consider your residents or tenants. Will there be a large number of children you’ll need to keep safe? Pets you don’t want to get loose? Senior citizens who can’t stand for long periods of time? Each of these groups require special planning.
Taking a few minutes now to think about what decisions will need to be made to keep everyone safe and informed after an evacuation will go a long way in helping to reduce the chaos of the situation.
# 4 - Relocations
Office Relocation: If your management office was affected in the fire or flood, where would your team go to work from temporarily until the space is restored?
Is there a sister property nearby? Do you have a model or vacant unit that can be used? Is company headquarters close enough that you can set up shop there? And if none of those are options, reach out to a local hotel. Get the contact information of their sales manager and decide to call him or her if space is needed in a pinch.
Lastly, consider putting a go-bag together with items you may need – an extra phone and laptop charger, a tablet of paper and pens, tape, markers, or a printed copy of your resident or tenant list if you don’t have that stored somewhere you can easily access electronically.
SecureCore Pro Tip: These go-bag items may seem trivial now, but you never know when you’ll need to make command center signs, Do Not Enter signs, when you might run out of cell phone battery (you’ll be making lots of calls and taking a ton of photos for your incident report or insurance claim), and you’ll definitely want to take notes on instructions and contact information, and of course – document damage, etc.
Resident Relocation: If your residents have units that are uninhabitable from the fire or flood, do you know where to direct them on relocation needs?
If your company has a policy on who and how to handle relocations, make sure that is listed in your disaster plan. You’ll need to get residents in touch with that person as soon as possible so they can start the relocation process.
If your company is not responsible for relocation of residents (for example, a condo unit managed by a condo association) – do you have notes on the language they can use when reaching out to their insurance agent for options? Are there local resources they can use in the short term, like a local Red Cross office?
Conclusion: If you have made it this far… thanks for reading! We hope you are feeling more prepared to start or enhance your disaster plan. Next week, we will pick up with the last 4 essential elements of a disaster plan (which include: Alarm Systems, Vendors, Call Lists and Community Resources).