Developing a Disaster Management Plan
Question: Q: The board of my condominium association has decided to develop a disaster management plan and I’m chairing the committee responsible for drafting it. Can you suggest some of the major points we should address?
Answer: A: We can’t cover everything, but we can give you some general ideas to get you started. More or less in order of importance, your plan should:
• Designate one or more emergency coordinators for the community who will be responsible for overseeing the r response to a disaster. These are the people who will take the lead in a disaster, assuming responsibility for calling first responders (police, fire, and ambulance), providing information and instructions to residents, contacting vendors needed to deal with the emergency, reporting the loss to the insurance company, and coordinating the repairs.
• Include detailed evacuation instructions. The first priority in any disaster is to prevent injuries. You get people out safely first and then worry about the property. The instructions should specify where owners are to meet if they are forced to leave their units, and where they should gather if everyone must leave the site. Also identify any residents with special needs who would require special assistance if the buildings are evacuated. If elevators aren’t working, how will wheel-chair bound tenants living on upper floors get out?
• Describe in detail the immediate procedures to be followed in an emergency. The plan should cover minor emergencies (a broken pipe) as well as major ones – fires or destructive storms. A speedy and effective response can prevent a minor emergency from becoming a major one.
• Identify the location of fire extinguishers, circuit breakers, water shut-off valves, master keys, and other on-site resources and equipment that might be needed quickly in an emergency. You want to make sure more than one person has this list. If only one person knows where to find the water shut-off valve, you can bet that he or she will be in Tahiti at midnight on a Sunday when the water begins to gush.
• Establish and maintain a reliable vendor list. You don’t want to be starting with the ‘’A’s” in the phone book if the basement is flooding. You want to call contractors you know will respond quickly to your emergency, who have the equipment and the skills needed to handle it.
• Outline a communication plan. This plan should anticipate, among other contingencies, the possibility that phones, cell phones, and computers may not be working or may not be accessible for some period of time. You want to make sure that owners can contact the association’s communications coordinator and that the coordinator knows how to contact owners as well, to verify that everyone is safe and accounted for after an evacuation, for example, and to keep owners apprised of emergency repairs after-the-fact.
• Protect vital association records. This is an essential feature of your disaster recovery plan. You want to ensure that even if the worst occurs – however you define that – your community can continue to function. If your records are computerized, back them up and store discs (updated regularly) in an off-site location. If you have paper files, store copies off-site as well.
• Review your insurance coverage. You’ll want to do this long before you’re standing in front of a smoldering building, wondering if your policy will cover the damage.
• Review your disaster plan periodically and update it as needed. Also distribute the plan widely, to owners as well as board members. Post it on your association’s web site. You want to make sure owners know where to find it; it’s possible that some of them may actually review it.