Emergencies and disasters happen and in many instances, you cannot avoid them. Webster terms an emergency as "an unexpected situation that requires prompt action" and a disaster as "a grave occurrence having harmful results."
In the property management world, we see emergencies such as loss of heat, a gas leak, a water leak causing flooding in the property, etc. - basically, the emergencies are anything that endanger a tenant's well-being. A disaster would be a major flood, tornado, hurricane, tsunami, landslide, earthquake, or some other natural act of nature. This year, once again, many parts of the country have suffered devastating events that no one can stop, or even predict, such as fires, flooding, hurricanes, and tornados.
Since you cannot avoid many emergencies or disasters, the only choice in our business is to be prepared with emergency procedures for when they happen. There are three keys areas to plan - before, during, and after the event in question.
1. Before the event
- Plan emergency/disaster office procedures and train personnel.
- Prepare tenants, whenever possible, on what to do in the event of an emergency/disaster.
- Identify emergency services to call when the situation happens.
- Identify vendors who will service the necessary repairs/cleanup.
- Monitor reports when there are events predicted.
2. During the event
- Implement office emergency/disaster procedures.
- Monitor conditions closely as they are happening.
- Keep all incoming lines open when possible.
- Prioritize "emergencies" during any situation.
- Counsel tenants as needed.
- Initiate critical repairs.
- Evacuate properties if necessary.
- Close the office, if necessary, with recorded emergency instructions.
3. After the event
- Determine the extent of the damage and cost of repairs/cleanup.
- Notify owners as soon as practical.
- Issue notices to vacate if the situation warrants.
What can a property owner do during an emergency/disaster? The before, during, and after items listed previously outline what the property management company has to do when an emergency or disaster occur. The owner has some key roles as well.
- Owners should check yearly to ensure they have adequate insurance needed for emergency/disaster situations. It is important to make time to research different insurance companies for the best coverage.
- If advised of necessary preparations that would help the property or a pending situation, heed them.
- When an emergency/disaster occurs, it is crucial to understand that the property manager must handle the situation first, and notify owners when the situation allows.
- If it is a disaster situation, it is important to avoid repeated calls, tying up crucial telephone lines and demanding to know the situation. Unnecessary calls could interrupt important actions that may affect your property. You need to counsel family members as well regarding calls.
- Be patient during the aftermath of any major situation. It takes time to figure out the best solution, such as what vendor can do the work and how long the work will take. In some situations, it can be months to obtain the services of contractors and complete the jobs.
- Work with your insurance company to assist the property manager. Companies often only want to communicate with the owner of the property - so help us out.
- Extend support to our company when it is necessary to evacuate the tenant for their safety and to repair the property. This can also reduce liability to you.
- Do not take the situation personally - it is something no one can prevent and everyone needs to work together to work through the problems.
No one likes to think about an emergency or disaster, much less experience them. By preparing in advance wherever possible, using common sense, and taking each step at a time, these events pass and reach resolution.