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Handling emergencies effectively can be done smoothly and efficiently if you plan ahead. While you’ll never know exactly when the next community crisis will happen, or what it will be, you can mitigate the effects of the emergency by creating a proactive plan for disaster management.

As your board thinks through your HOA’s disaster management strategy, consider embracing a culture of safety as the cornerstone of your plan. HOAs typically thrive and weather fewer events when member safety and well-being is the HOA’s primary focus.

If your board already has a disaster management plan, it should be reviewed and updated as needed. If your association does not have a disaster management plan in place, we recommend creating one using the following steps:

  1. Assess any hazards that might affect your association. List any potential emergencies like:
  • fire risks
  • severe weather (in areas prone to tornadoes, earthquakes, or hurricanes)
  • medical emergencies
  • chemical powerplants
  • equipment failures
  • power outages

Having a list of potential sudden events that could happen is important because it will help you come up with a specific action plan for each event.

  1. Develop a set of procedures for each possible emergency event. These procedures should focus on:
    • Evacuation plans
    • In-house procedures

Evacuation plans will help in situations where you need to organize a large group of people quickly and move them to safety. In-house procedures will help in situations where you are more likely to have to deal with localized events that affect only one person or a small group of people (i.e., training your employees on how to use a defibrillator or how to make an area safe after an instance of equipment failure).

Once you have a plan in place, you’ll be able to use that plan to gather the necessary supplies.

  1. Buy the supplies necessary to execute on your plan. Items to consider keeping well-stocked include:
    • Fire extinguishers
    • Emergency preparedness kits
    • Long-term shelf-life food, water, and blankets (if you decide you want an amenity to serve as a shelter in the case of an extreme weather event)
    • Light for emergencies
    • Pamphlets that communicate emergency procedures to members and residents

What you need is going to depend entirely upon the plans you have created. If you are unsure what supplies to buy, it’s a good idea to speak to an insurance expert to first see what your liability and expectations are. Our friends at Blue Lime can help answer any questions you might have!

  1. Make sure you and your fellow board members are properly trained on the procedures and plans for every outlined contingency. Steps you should take to keep everyone up-to-date regarding safety procedures include:
    • Instructions on emergency procedures when the member first starts volunteering.
    • Regularly reviewing, updating, and communicating emergency preparedness plans.
    • Conducting regular drills of plans.
    • Creating documents that are easily accessible regarding the safety procedures’ best practices.

Unexpected events can be stressful. Waiting until something happens to train your HOA’s volunteers will increase the event’s stressfulness and may lead to the plan’s failure.

  1. Keep your data safe. Since so much of the world (including your HOA) runs on the basis of data security, keeping your data from becoming stolen or damaged during a disaster is critical to restoring your full administrative capacity quickly after an event occurs. We recommend these tips:
    • Manage data through a hosted, off-site service.
    • Run regular checks that your back-up system is working properly.

Taking a few minutes every few months to ensure that all data is being backed-up correctly will go a long way to getting your association back on its feet after a sudden event.

  1. Ensure HOA business runs as smoothly as possible during the emergency. This may not mean continuing with “business as usual,” but you should be sure that whatever legal and ethical obligations the HOA has during the crisis are met. To do so, make sure you:
    • Are aware of your state’s laws regarding HOA emergency powers in a time of crisis.
    • Keep abreast of the government’s and FEMA’s directions.
    • Have a way to communicate to your membership the decisions and advice being made by the relevant authorities.

Generally speaking, when a state of emergency is declared, an HOA’s powers are extended to ensure community safety and mitigate damage.

  1. Have a plan for utilizing all communication channels. In an emergency, centralizing and transmitting information is critical. To make sure your communication strategy is in order, make sure you:
    • Decide beforehand what channel (social media, eblast, texting) will be your primary source of transmitting information.
    • Make sure all parties have the necessary login information.

Keeping up to date information in the hands of the people who need it most, your membership, will reduce stress and may even save lives.

While every situation is going to be unique and need a certain set of procedures, the 7 tips above will help your association weather most disasters with as little stress as possible.