Natural disasters come in many shapes and sizes. It could be a tornado, a flood, Superstorm Sandy, or a wildfire. Regardless of the type of disaster, the devastation and loss is often overwhelming. Nothing can fully prepare someone to handle the emotional impact of a natural disaster. However, with some thought and planning before a disaster, your association can be better prepared to address the needs of the association and its homeowners if a disaster strikes.
Planning before disaster occurs is much easier than responding afterward, with no prior planning. After a disaster, emotions run high and making decisions is much more difficult. For example, if many homes are in immediate need of a particular repair or service after a disaster, how do you decide what order the homes are serviced? If the board has made these decisions before the disaster, the plan can simply be followed. However, if a decision has to be made after a disaster, the board members likely will be distracted by their own needs (rightfully), and decisions can be much more difficult and contentious.
The following are examples of some planning issues that associations should consider now, in order to facilitate disaster response later.
Identify Most Likely Scenarios: Discuss and research what types of disasters are most likely to impact the association. A Colorado association is not likely to be massively impacted by a hurricane. However, Colorado is subject to disasters such as floods, wildfires, tornados, and even earthquakes. Identify what disasters are most likely and the unique consequences and challenges of each.
Insurance: Once you know what you are planning for, you can more easily discuss the association’s insurance needs with providers. The association should consider the potential magnitude of the possible disaster, priorities of what should be covered, available insurance policies, reasonableness of the costs and deductibles, etc.
Financial Planning: Even if the association has appropriate insurance coverage, it is unlikely that the association will have immediate access to funds following a disaster. How will the association gain access to funds to address the immediate needs of the association, if insurance funds are not available yet?
Communication: Communication with the homeowners in your association, both before and after a disaster, could be the most important item to consider. How will you communicate the association’s plans to the homeowners before a disaster and how will the association communicate important information to homeowners after a disaster?
- Before a disaster: Homeowners should be made aware of some of the possible scenarios and how the association is preparing for them. Not only will homeowners want to know what the association is doing, this is also a good opportunity for the homeowners to make or review their own disaster planning. For example, if your association has an electronic newsletter, consider providing links to useful planning information for homeowners. Government organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and private organizations provide a large array of online planning tools for individuals.
- After a disaster: Open and consistent communication with homeowners after a disaster is vital, but can be challenging if normal methods of communication are unavailable because of the disaster. Having a plan in place for how information will be provided to homeowners if, for example, telephones are unavailable, will be invaluable to the association.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it will help your association get started with disaster planning.
By: Kiki N. Dillie