By Alissa Thompson
HIGH-RISES are susceptible to natural disasters and other situations that can lead to injury or death and property damage. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires, chemical hazards, and structural failures all require that boards have a plan in place to ensure a rapid response, yet procedures to protect life and property in the face of a disaster are often overlooked.
Disaster planning should be customized to fit an association's unique needs, but there are three steps every board should follow to help prepare a building in case of emergency situations both inside and outside the community.
Boards can be proactive to minimize damage and ensure a quick recovery in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Pinpoint areas around the property with potential for stormwater runoff and determine if improved drainage is necessary to prevent or reduce flooding. Remove or secure loose items like patio furniture, planters, and trash cans in the event of a hurricane or tornado.
Inside the building, insulate pipes to withstand freezing temperatures. Mitigate water intrusion or chemical leaks through doors, parking garages, storm drains, vent lines, and open windows. Install smoke and heat alarms and warning systems, and test them regularly. Inspect all emergency on-site equipment such as fire extinguishers and hoses, emergency exit doors, and backup generators or battery-powered lights.
Successful disaster planning anticipates financial impacts by conducting a review of insurance coverage and establishing a contingency fund for claims that are not covered. It's important that buildings have both the right type of insurance and proper coverage amount. Just because your building is not located in an area known for flooding doesn't mean you don't need flood insurance, and something as simple as a pipe bursting could result in thousands of dollars in damages.
Many policies contain numerous exclusions, conditions, and limitations. In fact, there was a recent finding that property damage from civil unrest, while sometimes covered, is actually often an exclusion in insurance policies or the coverage isn't anywhere near what is needed, resulting in thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. Speak with the association's insurance agent to determine which exclusions are the most cost-effective to add to the policy depending on your community's needs.
Knowing the building and its equipment will help avoid costs associated with major disasters. Associations should assign specific responsibilities to staff or volunteers in the event of a disaster, including procedures for reporting for duty, maintaining communication, and tasks that can help reduce property damage.
Ensure certain people are trained to shut off water lines, pool equipment, or HVAC systems in the event of an emergency and that others are familiar with coordinating evacuation of residents. If an association has volunteers who will assist with emergency response, boards should be certain that their directors and officers (D&O) insurance policy protects them from liability. Drills or practice procedures should be conducted to ensure everyone is prepared.
At the end of the day, preparing your building for a disaster will not only keep your staff and residents safe, but it also will save you time and money. By having standard operating procedures in place, you can be confident knowing that your building is ready for everything—from minor inconveniences to major disasters.
Alissa Thompson is the chief operating officer at Cornerstone Managing Partners, a full-service construction company with offices in San Diego and Los Angeles. www.cmpcorp.net.