By Ken Kmet, Condo Voice, Clearwater, FL
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, so we’ve put together a checklist for condominium associations and homeowner associations for hurricane season readiness. The first thing an association has to do is adopt a policy on how the association will function during the three phases of a severe weather event: before, during, and after a hurricane/severe weather event. They must also adopt a hurricane shutter specification, then make a checklist of actions and duties assigned to the association and to each homeowner in all three phases of the severe weather event. If you have all this, examine it carefully, and update if necessary. Of course, all of this should be done well before you see the television alerts showing you the radar of a hurricane off shore and heading right for you. The last thing you need in a crisis, where your life may be in danger, is confusion and wrong assumption of duties. Make sure your preparedness policy alerts individuals of what common area services, equipment, and facilities will be available, or NOT available (such as the elevator). How to create this policy deserves its own post, and we will do that at a later date at condovoice.com, but every policy should contain the following details.
Emergency Board Powers: With details on the “special powers” conferred by the state legislature on condominium boards to enable them to maneuver their association through the difficult post-disaster period;
1. Immediate Post-Storm Action: Including locating residents and employees, attending to the injured, securing the community, and documenting storm damage.
2. Reconstruction and Restoration: Dealing with association attorneys, insurance companies, and contractors in disaster recovery and putting a community back together again.
3. If you have hurricane shutters, decide whether the association has the ability and the responsibility to close them when needed, or not.
Note: Impact-resistant glass windows and doors have become the norm in recent years, and condominium units and HOA homes with these are now self-sufficient and hurricane ready. As a homeowner, and as a rule, you should never assume it is the association’s responsibility to close your shutters. During a crisis, there is never enough manpower available to handle everything the community needs, or for each homeowner that has not planned well.
4. Post a notice to your bulletin boards and website. It should contain an alert of severe weather approaching and clearly state the association’s hurricane policy. This policy will assign duties to the association and each homeowner before, during, and after the crisis, including evacuation procedures.
5. Install shutters and/or make the association’s common areas and facilities ready well in advance of the storm. The storm may not hit, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
6. If you have association records on site, gather the boxes that contain them and put them in your pre-designated secure location either higher up or off site.
7. Try to determine who is staying, who is leaving, and what group of people will serve as volunteers for the association during the crisis. For example, who will help fill sand bags, move furniture, etc.?
8. If you employ a maintenance person or staff, determine if they are available, and if so, when and for how many hours, before they have to head home and care for their own property and family. They may serve several properties and have to share their time with those, and at their own homes. Contact each of your service providers and have a plan for what they will do for your property before, during, and after the storm. Discuss charges, rates, and the amount of time they can dedicate to your property, so that expectations are clearly set. Some service contractors have hurricane retainer contracts, which can reserve a certain amount of man-hours for emergency service.
9. Move all equipment that can be moved to a higher place. This includes pool pumps, compressors, small generators, and the like. Most condominiums and HOAs have maintenance rooms, which are most often located on ground level. These contain tools, equipment, and supplies, which should be set up to be moved quickly in the event of rising water. This place should be higher and easy to access after the storm so these things can be used to clean up and do immediate repairs if necessary. Remember, your elevator will not work in a power loss. Generators operate life safety equipment, and an elevator is not life safety equipment.
10. Remove all furniture and items that can become projectiles in high winds from the exposed common areas. Check with your swimming pool professional, and, in an emergency, if your pool’s surface can handle it, throw your pool furniture in the swimming pool.
11. If the association owns a generator, test it, and make sure it is supplied with fuel and that it functions properly.
12. If you have time, purchase supplies needed at your local hardware store for possible repairs and cleanup after the storm, including water, batteries, and perishable items.
If you have a website for your community association, make sure you post the links to medical and emergency services, including evacuation routes and procedures, so that members can access this while there is still power. A community website can be a powerful tool and asset during a time of crisis. It can be a place to turn, created and designed for just that moment, when all else fails. Make sure your website is also mobile ready, so that if power does go out, your members can still use their mobile phone to access the website. If you can, manage the website by posting alerts, notices, and other information so that not only residents, but out-of-town owners can access it for updates as to the status of the property, damages, etc. A website can also serve as an off site records storage resource for occasions like this. Talk to your website manager about this option.
Each condominium and HOA community has their own particular needs to prepare for a hurricane. This list IS NOT complete. It is only intended to get you thinking about “what if” a hurricane were to approach your condo community, townhome, time share, or HOA. Make sure you have gone over everything ahead of time.
If you are a self-managed community, have the list of people you will turn to for help handy. If you are professionally managed, go over your hurricane policy with your property manager, and how management will help you during the three phases. Don’t assume! Make sure you are clear with how much, and with what specifics, management will help you in the crisis. Determine and agree on the additional charges, if any, so that there will be no hesitation on their part when you ask for help. Make sure crisis-related manpower and equipment is designated for your community. Also determine how many of their resources you will have available to you.
During a time of high anxiety, the last thing you need to do is to have your anxieties increased by the thought that you haven’t prepared well enough. Having a proper checklist, being fully stocked with hurricane supplies, and having a clearly defined hurricane policy for your community can give you the peace of mind to know you have done all you can to prepare.