By: Angelique Madrigal, Director of Business Development & Client Relations

We are not exceptions but we can respond exceptionally!

Catastrophes are becoming more routine and complex, and the challenges continue to increase for all involved including rescue organizations as well as Association Managers. No community is immune from a potential disaster. For some regions, natural disasters are few and far between, however for others, it has become all too commonplace. Here in Southern California, natural disasters such as the threat of Fires and Earthquakes readily come to mind but there are others that come to mind such as the major gas leak that affected the entire Porter Ranch community for months on end. Preparation is the key.

 Many may fear the unknown, but not those who have a plan in place.

Successfully rebuilding a Community after a disaster depends on how well prepared a Community is in all aspects that are within their control. Without well-established policies or protocol to follow when members of the Community are most vulnerable, conflict may ensue. Visiting websites for FEMA, Red Cross, or NVOAID (National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters) can provide guidelines on how to prepare for a catastrophe at no cost. Aside from preparedness guidelines these and many other websites also have additional resources such as Shelter directories, and utility and public assistance programs. Taking measures to establish an Emergency Action Plan (“EAP”) for your Community is another step in the right direction. The plan may be as simple as distributing maps identifying exit points or as elaborate as having a full policy adopted and distributed, which would include phone numbers of local agencies, evacuation routes, designated assembly areas as well as an overview of individual Owner’s duties and responsibilities. Disasters may strike at any time, so the EAP will change if an emergency occurs at night when power may be lost and most members are home versus during the day when most members are at work separated from their children and pets. A strategic plan must be in place to effectively deal with any form of disaster at any given time.

Consideration must also be given to any members of the community who may require special assistance such as the elderly, disabled, sight or hearing impaired. Designating Floor Captains is a great way to train volunteer Members and get them involved. Each Captain should have written directions to follow in the event of an emergency, which will be specific to their community.

After a disaster, minimize panic and anxiety by immediately disseminating information to the members to keep them informed as to what action the community is taking to keep everyone safe. Safety, mental and physical well-being are a priority. The community will feel secure when they have leaders with a well thought out plan of action, which is implemented effectively.  Whenever possible, have relief workers address the community directly to answer all of their questions and address their concerns. Communication is critical and this will foster a sense of confidence in the community.

Embarking on a new start

Establishing committees and involving members of the community with professional expertise can be invaluable. One will be amazed at how resourceful the owners can be in virtually all aspects of a recovery. Get experts involved from the outset as damages that appear superficial may in fact be serious structural problems. Exploring financial options and anticipating contingences are also vitally important requiring strong leadership of someone with a financial background.  Leaders who make it a priority to create a space and time for all voices to be heard will ensure that Members feel they are participating meaningfully in the decisions being made regarding their lives and homes. Once the rehab project is underway momentum will increase and investing a sufficient amount of time into researching the costs and options associated with the identified damages is the key. Rushing to break ground to rebuild will only result in the members feeling the impact of poor planning, which will lead to change orders and cost overruns. Instead, taking calculated steps will ensure optimum efficiency and positive results.

It is well understood that natural disasters have long lasting impacts on Communities. Our industry focus should be on educating not only our Boards but also our personal families so that if and when the time comes, we know what first critical steps to take. With the first step always being to extend one’s self and treat one another in a respectful, compassionate and dignified manner.