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Natural Disaster Preparedness: Keeping Tenants and Buildings Safe

Hurricane season is in full swing. Just last week, Hurricane Laura ravaged the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and wreaking havoc on Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Florida. As we continue to brace for a busy hurricane season, how can property owners/managers prepare for these and other natural disasters, keeping their tenants and buildings safe?

Disaster Preparedness for Property Managers

In property management, it’s not a question of if an emergency occurs at one of your properties. It’s a question of when. Failure to prepare for natural disasters, medical emergencies, fires, and other crises could have disastrous consequences for both your tenants and your business.

Create a Safety and Emergency Plan

Local emergency resources like the police offices, fire stations, EMTs, Red Cross affiliates, or other disaster preparedness agencies likely have information to help you create an emergency plan. However, there are a few common threads that every property manager should incorporate into an emergency plan:

· Mark Exit Paths Clearly Every floor of your property should have a map leading tenants to fire escape routes, fire exits, tornado shelters, and other necessary locations. These should be posted throughout the property and given to tenants.

· Have Information for Local Emergency Agencies

Make sure all tenants have contact information for local fire departments, police, social services, Red Cross, and other disaster preparedness agencies. Encourage tenants to keep important documents in a secure location, where they can be easily accessed in case of an evacuation.

· Keep Track of Special Needs In case of emergency, will all of your tenants be able to escape quickly? Are there tenants with special needs, who will not be able to get down a flight of stairs? Are there tenants with small children, who will need additional assistance in an emergency? Are there pets who will need rescuing when emergency personnel arrives? Keep this information on hand near your emergency plan. If disaster strikes, you can alert emergency responders to your tenants’ unique needs.

· Know How to Shut Off Utilities Do you and your management staff know where and how to turn off utilities if needed? Prepare for an emergency by locating essential utility shut-offs, like water or gas. Then, assign each member of your staff a specific function should you put your emergency plan into action.

Communicate Disaster Plan Clearly with Tenants

Even the best disaster preparedness plan is meaningless if not communicated to your tenants. Effective communication is perhaps the most critical piece of disaster preparedness. Your tenants should know where to find essential information in an emergency situation, where to go if there is an emergency, and how to contact help when disaster strikes. Typically, property managers provide the emergency plan in writing upon move-in, along with other important lease information. However, it’s wise to continually remind tenants about disaster preparedness plans, especially during high-risk seasons.

For example, before high tornado season, send reminders to tenants about safe rooms and other tornado procedures. Before hurricane season, provide tenants with relevant websites, phone numbers, and additional information, where they can stay updated on changing weather conditions. Furthermore, property managers should include their emergency plans on the property’s website or communication system. You might also want to have a list of emergency contact numbers, both for local authorities and after-hours numbers for the property management team in case of emergency.

Additional Considerations

In addition to having a safety plan for natural disasters and other emergencies, property managers must also consider the current pandemic. While establishing and updating your plans, continue to communicate the need to maintain social distance, wear face coverings, practice good hand hygiene, and other protection measures as outlined by the CDC and local authorities.

Renter’s Insurance

We all hope disaster won’t ever reach our properties, but if it does, the first step is to get everyone to safety as quickly as possible. The next step, however, is for tenants to rebuild their lives. This is why renter’s insurance is so critically important.

Many property management companies require tenants to have renter’s insurance. While the property owners will carry insurance on the building as a whole, this will not cover tenants’ personal property. For that reason, tenants must understand the need for their own insurance policy.

Is your property ready for an emergency?

The information provided herein does not constitute legal or other expert advice and is for general informational purposes only. This website contains links that are only provided for the convenience of the reader. All liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this site are hereby expressly disclaimed. No representations are made that this content is error-free. Please consult your attorney or appropriate professional to determine if the information contained herein is applicable to your situation.

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