Disaster Management for Community Associations

Hurricane Ida is a recent reminder of the havoc severe weather can wreak on a community. Ida took out houses, trees, and utility poles, and knocked out power for more than one million Louisiana residents and water for another 600,000 people. It then triggered one of the worst urban flood disasters in U.S. history in the Northeast, drowning nearly 50 people in their homes and cars. In Elizabeth, New Jersey, for example, rain and river flooding in an apartment complex killed four people and forced 600 from their homes.

These and other weather-related incidents are a wake-up call for residents, including those living in condos, co-ops, planned unit developments, and other communities, to ensure their disaster plan is up to date. Community associations should revisit their disaster/emergency plans if they haven’t done so already, as we are in the midst of active hurricane and wildfire seasons and may face severe storms during the winter months.

Community associations with a robust disaster plan will be better prepared for unpredictable events. Such plans should outline the steps the community must take in case of an emergency as well as how to respond following the incident. It includes standard procedures and a chain of command to follow.

The Role of the Community Association in Disaster Management

The following should be a part of an association’s disaster management plan:

  • Identify the types of threats the community might face. Hurricanes, for example, are a significant concern for communities in the Northeast and Southeast. Southwest and West Coast communities commonly experience wildfires and earthquakes.
  • Develop a community association emergency plan. After determining the potential threats to the community association, develop an emergency plan. Include a site plan of the entire property along with photos of the community’s buildings, common areas, and equipment; an org chart outlining the chain of command (who is in charge of what); evacuation routes and procedures (residents need to know how to evacuate the premises); response plans; and essential contacts (board members, property manager, insurance provider) and documents (insurance policies including how to report a claim in the event of a loss).
  • Conduct on-site inspections. The resulting damage from disasters or emergencies is a major concern for most associations. To minimize property damage, conduct regular inspections of the association’s assets. Make sure the property is in good condition so that it can withstand nature’s onslaught.
  • Practice for an emergency. Develop and conduct with individual property owners a preparedness drill for fire, flood, hurricanes, earthquakes, chemical spills, airborne disease, etc.

It’s also important to have a post-emergency (response) plan. Once everyone in the community is safe, evaluate the damages to the property with the help of professionals. Based on their reports and recommendations, contact the property’s insurance agent as quickly as possible. Work with disaster assistance agencies, insurance adjusters, architects, engineers, and contractors to develop new construction plans and repairs.

Some disasters may render a property uninhabitable. To make sure residents can return to their homes, talk with local authorities and safety professionals. Aftershocks, power outages, and resulting perils such as gas leaks may happen. During this time, the community association should ask for cooperation and understanding from residents, letting them know that they might not be able to immediately return to their homes due to safety concerns.

Equally as important as having a disaster plan is to continue to review pre- and post-event preparedness, response times, actions taken, and team effectiveness.

Distinguished Programs provides coverage for community associations – from a package policy (property and general liability) to umbrella insurance, directors and officers, crime, and workers’ compensation.