Emergencies and natural disasters can happen at any time, which is why it is important for every HOA to come up with a plan addressing them. Creating an HOA emergency preparedness plan is not always easy, though, especially if you don’t know where to start.
In this article:
What to Include in Your HOA Emergency Preparedness Plan
It is imperative for every homeowners association to conduct emergency preparedness planning as a way to safeguard the community and its residents. When disaster strikes, people often get lost in the confusion and chaos.
A plan gives everyone the exact steps to follow, allowing you to take control of the situation and proceed. To achieve effective HOA community disaster preparedness, your plan must consist of the following parts:
1. Chain of Command
The situation can quickly get out of hand without a proper chain of command. Every community requires a leader in times of uncertainty. And, for the HOA, that’s usually the board president. Include a chain of command for communications in your HOA emergency preparedness plan. Typically, the president should act as the first point of contact, followed by the property manager, the vice president, and so on.
2. Important Contacts
It is hard to get in touch with essential personnel when you don’t have their contact information.
As such, your HOA emergency preparedness plan should list down all important contact information — from your property manager and attorney down to local authorities and your insurance provider. Don’t forget to include a list of owners with their contact information, as well.
The plan should also consist of alternative methods of communication should cell towers be down. List all pertinent details, such as landline phone numbers, mobile phone numbers, hand-held radios, etc. according to order of preference.
3. Designated Meeting Place
In times of crisis, it is usually better to stick together and gather for important updates. That’s why you must come up with a designated meeting place where residents can meet and stay informed. This could be any place in your community deemed safe enough for a gathering.
You can schedule regular meetings, typically daily ones for the first several days, without sacrificing the safety of your members. Work with local authorities to see whether it is safe to hold meetings.
4. Site Plan
A community site plan is critical to HOA emergency planning. The plan should be comprehensive and include highlighted areas such as construction debris staging areas, landscaping debris staging areas, lift stations, generators, and shut off valves.
You must know where shut off valves are located so that you can easily stop leaks and prevent significant damage. You must also make sure to service your lift stations regularly to avoid sewage overflow. This is typically done in the months of May and June or before an expected storm.
5. Evacuation Plan
The evacuation plan is another crucial component of an HOA emergency plan. This should include instructions for an organized evacuation as well as locations for shelters (even pet-friendly ones), grocery stores, and generator-powered gas stations. Include a map to key locations to make it easier for everyone to get there.
6. Copies of Insurance Policies
Emergencies rarely give you enough time to head back to the office and retrieve your insurance policies. As such, your HOA emergency preparedness plan must include copies of all your insurance policies.
Make sure to also include information on how to file claims. Doing so will allow you access to your policies, review your coverage, and file claims immediately.
7. Debris Management and Removal
Some disasters can cause significant damage, resulting in various debris scattered all over the neighborhood. To deal with this, make sure to include at least three debris management vendors, listed down in order of preference, along with their contact details. You must also designate a specific area for staging debris — one for construction debris and another for landscaping debris.
8. Response or Recovery Plan
After making sure everyone is safe, your community must now react to the emergency or disaster that just took place. There will likely be damages, so you will need to contact professional contractors to inspect various structures and evaluate how much damage has been done.
Make sure to coordinate with local authorities before allowing residents to return to their homes. There may be aftershocks or hidden perils (i.e. gas leaks) that require addressing first. Set residents’ expectations that a return to normal may not be immediate, and ask for their cooperation in the matter.
Tailor Your HOA Emergency Plan According to These Factors
While most emergency plans will generally consist of the same basic information, there will be differences when it comes to your community’s specific needs. When creating your HOA emergency preparedness plan, always make sure to consider the following factors:
- Association Type. The type of community association you have will determine key details in your emergency plan. For instance, associations in high-rise buildings will need a more extensive evacuation plan.
- Resident Demographics. Take a look at your resident population when crafting your emergency plan. If your community consists mostly of elderly residents, then you will need to make necessary adjustments. Elderly folks tend to move slower and will need more care.
- Special Features. Consider the different buildings, structures, and landscaping in your community when coming up with your HOA disaster management plan.
Budgeting and Insurance
Because you never know when emergencies and disasters may occur, it is essential to always have an emergency fund prepared. This will allow your HOA to repair or replace any structures or features in case of damage.
You may also need to provide homeowners with financial assistance. This emergency fund can come from regular assessments, special assessments, or your HOA can earn them through fundraising events.
Your HOA emergency fund should act as an extra layer of protection for your community, but your first line of defense should come from insurance policies. Make sure your HOA has sufficient coverage that includes a wide variety of disasters or emergencies, ranging from earthquakes to damages resulting from riots.
HOA Disaster Preparedness: Breaking Down the Types
Although you can probably determine which natural disasters are most likely to hit your community based on your geographical location, you must not exclude other possible scenarios. You never know what’s going to happen, so it is best to plan for every type of emergency. Educate residents on what they must do when faced with different disasters.
To prepare for an earthquake, tell residents to do the following:
- Assemble a supply kit consisting of a flashlight, a fire extinguisher, a whistle, and at least three days’ worth of food and water.
- Practice drop, cover, and hold on.
- Secure heavy structures and items in the house, such as appliances, televisions, bookcases, and items hanging from the walls.
Residents must do the following during an earthquake:
- Drop down on your hands and knees.
- Cover your head and neck using your arms. Crawl under a sturdy table to protect yourself, but only if it is nearby.
- Hold On until the shaking stops. Hold onto the leg of the table using one hand and follow along if the table moves.
- If you are outside, keep away from buildings and power lines.
- If you are inside, stay inside but away from doorways. Do not run outside.
Residents must do the following after an earthquake:
- Expect aftershocks.
- Check yourself and others for any injuries.
- If you are inside a damaged building, quickly but carefully move outside and away from the building.
- If you find yourself trapped, cover your eyes, nose, and mouth from dust. Call for help using your phone (or text), whistle, or make a sound to alert rescuers of your location.
The United States encompasses such a large area that it faces a diverse set of natural disasters every year.
However, severe thunderstorms were the most common natural disaster to hit the country in 2019. Thunderstorms often arrive with lightning and are followed by flash flooding. It can even come with tornadoes.
To prepare for thunderstorms, make sure to trim trees so that they don’t fall and damage structures or injure anyone. Tell residents to bring any outdoor furniture inside as well.
Residents must stay indoors when thunderstorms hit. It’s also best to unplug appliances and avoid using landlines or running water. Remember that electricity can travel through phone lines and plumbing systems.
Keep up with weather forecasts and coordinate with local authorities before heading out. This way, you can be sure it’s safe to go outside. You will also need to contact your vendors to deal with fallen trees and power lines.
Floods are also one of the most common disasters in the country. It is important to note that flooding can result from a number of causes, including thunderstorms, snowstorms, and even dam overflows.
When flooding happens, residents must find shelter immediately. Remind them not to drive or swim through floodwaters as they can quickly drown. Residents must also prepare supply kits consisting of a flashlight, a fire extinguisher, a whistle, and at least three days’ worth of food and water.
Your HOA must prepare an evacuation plan, consisting of safe routes and shelters as well as a response plan. Important documents should also be stored in waterproof containers.
As with other disasters, your HOA must communicate with local authorities and follow their instructions. Don’t return home if authorities have yet to deem it safe. Don’t walk through floodwater, even if it’s just a few inches deep, as it can be contaminated. Also, fallen power lines can charge water with electricity.
Fires can travel fast, and you can die even from toxic gases and smoke. As such, your HOA must advise residents to form an evacuation plan specific to each house. Then, create a community-wide evacuation plan so that residents remain safe even as fire spreads. Keep emergency supplies, such as N95 respirator masks and medication.
Encourage residents to install smoke alarms and detectors. They should also make sure all alarms and detectors work, regularly checking their functionality.
After the fire, cooperate with local authorities and don’t allow residents to return home unless deemed safe. There may be hot ash or live embers still on the ground that can either injure or restart fires. Your HOA may also need to document damages with photographs for insurance purposes.
Hurricane season depends on your geographical location. The Eastern Pacific area experiences hurricane season from May 15 to November 30, whereas the Central Pacific and Atlantic areas experience it from June 1 to November 30.
Stay vigilant of any weather forecasts and updates. Prior to a hurricane, tell residents to prepare supply kits and keep their cell phones charged. Prepare an evacuation plan, complete with routes and shelters, in case the situation calls for it.
Following a hurricane, make sure to wait for the go signal from local authorities before allowing residents to return home. Your HOA may also need to get in touch with your vendors for cleanup, debris removal, and electrical work.
As with other emergencies and disasters, you will likely need to contact your insurance provider to file claims. As such, supporting photographs will help.
Not all states experience severe snowstorms. If you do, it is equally important to be prepared. Snowstorms can last for indefinite periods, shut off power and heat, and cause both damage and injury. Residents must stay indoors and be ready to face power outages.
Prior to a snowstorm, residents must make sure their cell phones are fully charged. It is also best to stock up on necessary supplies in case the storm lasts for several days.
During the snowstorm, residents should not use generators inside the home. This is to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Heat may go out, so it is essential to stay warm. Check for signs of hypothermia or frostbite. Residents must not go outside until the storm subsides or completely comes to a halt.
Local weather reports will usually inform you if there is a potential for tornadoes, but it is also important to learn how to identify the signs.
Look for rotating clouds that form a funnel shape, typically accompanied by loud roars. Tornadoes can deal significant damage to structures, so your HOA must come up with an evacuation plan that will keep residents safe.
Shelters must have an additional cover where residents can shield their heads and necks. As always, a supply kit will come in handy.
After tornadoes, your HOA must cooperate with local authorities and wait for their instructions before letting residents return home. You will also need to contact your insurance provider and vendors to coordinate the removal of debris.
Professional contractors should inspect buildings and assess their damage. The same goes for damaged power and utility lines.
8. Active Shooter
Mass shootings are a real problem in the United States, which is why your community must prepare for them as well. Consider holding active shooter training for your residents.
Inform residents to always stay alert of their environment and report to authorities in case they notice a possible danger. Running away from the active shooter is imperative, so ask residents to flee in case the unthinkable happens, leaving even their belongings behind. It is also important to call 911 immediately, giving them all pertinent information such as the location.
If running away isn’t an option, residents should hide. Avoid hiding in groups. Lock (and block) the doors, close the blinds, and shut the lights off. Make as little noise as possible.
Make sure residents know not to move around until law enforcement deems it safe. In the aftermath, your HOA must tend to residents and make sure no one is hurt. Check for injuries and, if any are found, seek immediate medical assistance.
In the event of a riot in your HOA community, your top priority is safety. Educate residents on what they should do when faced with a riot or unruly protests. Residents should stay inside, lock their doors, and secure their windows.
If they’re driving, advise them to drive carefully and steer clear of blocked roads. For gated HOA communities, it is recommended to up the security and make sure the gates remain closed, opening only for residents of the community. That way, riots taking place outside of the community have no way of getting inside.
When a global pandemic hits, there are some things the HOA must do. In the case of COVID-19, the HOA must cancel community events, consider closing down common areas, and increase cleaning measures.
The HOA must also educate residents on what to do. Before a pandemic or at its cusp, residents must stock up on supplies, including food, water, and medication. Residents must also limit the spread of viruses and germs by avoiding close contact, frequently washing hands, and covering the mouth and nose area.
The HOA, on the other hand, must also do its part to help mitigate the spread of disease. This often involves hiring additional cleaning and disinfecting services, installing sanitizing stations in common areas, and encouraging residents to stay at home.
HOA board members must also move to a digital medium for meetings. Follow the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep a safe and healthy environment.
Plan for the Unexpected
Your HOA emergency preparedness plan acts as a shield for your community and its residents in times of crisis. Therefore, it must be as comprehensive as possible, taking every possibility into account. Aside from having a plan, though, your HOA must work to educate residents, sign up for local alerts, and remain vigilant at all times. When performed in combination, all these can help protect your HOA and its members.
Are you looking for an HOA management company to help handle the day-to-day tasks of your community? Contact Elite Management Services today at (855) 238-8488 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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