Every community association should have an HOA disaster management plan in place in case of emergencies. Planning for disasters, though, is often easier said than done. Luckily, there are some things you can do to make the process simpler.
Tips for HOA Disaster Management
HOA disaster management is one of the most difficult areas to plan for your community. Especially since there are many different elements that need to be considered. Depending on where your HOA is located, there will be different necessary requirements to plan for your HOA disaster management protocols and procedures.
With improper management, HOAs can be at risk of liability. One of your residents may file a lawsuit claiming the HOA was negligent in its planning and implementation of emergency protocols. Therefore, HOAs should always consider how they can clarify and improve their HOA disaster management strategies to better protect their community members.
If your board is set to establish or update the existing HOA disaster planning for your community, consider the important information below:
1. Realistic Assessment of Local Potential Geographic Disasters
It is always wise for your HOA to look realistically at where your community is located. If you are able to check off various threats to your region, it will be a framework for the emergency policies that you need to prepare your community for. For instance, if you live in an area with frequent wildfires, prepare a fire disaster plan. On the other hand, earthquake emergency planning may be required if you live in an earthquake zone. In addition to local potential geographic disasters, your community will need to have protocols in place for disease outbreaks and terrorism even if these events happen rarely.
2. Consider the Age Demographics of Your Community Members
Depending on where your HOA is located, it may appeal to residents of varying ages. How your HOA approaches disaster planning does need to consider what the average age of your residence is. For example, if your community mainly has elderly residents, then your planning has to cater to their specific needs and potentially limited mobility that will be greatly affected by an emergency situation. If your community has families with young children, your emergency planning will have to take into account the evacuation of smaller children in the event of an emergency.
3. Be Aware of the Languages Spoken in Your Community
There are many diverse communities in the United States. HOAs need to have an awareness of what is the cultural background of their residents. For example, if the community is located in a community that predominantly speaks Spanish, the HOA should have their emergency guidelines available in both English and Spanish.
The reason for this is that terminology related to emergency planning may be more complicated for a non-native English speaker to understand even if they are fluent in conversational English. Translate emergency protocols and notifications so that community members can understand them. By doing so, your members can stay prepared in the event of an emergency. Moreover, you can shield your HOA from potential lawsuits from residents in the future.
4. Creation of a Community Disaster Relief Plan
Once you take a realistic look at what potential local geographic dangers your community may be susceptible to, it will be possible to design plans for different disasters that may affect your community. Make sure to review these plans carefully and community members can understand and integrate them easily. A common pitfall that many HOAs face is a lack of clarity about their emergency protocols. This can lead to major causalities or lawsuits in the future.
It is equally important to define the roles and responsibilities of each board member in case disaster strikes. This way, everyone can follow a set of guidelines should the worst happen. Include what to do before, during, and after the disaster. It is also a good idea to prepare resources to help the community recover from the disaster. In case you require further assistance, consider getting in touch with emergency planning consultants.
The disaster management plan for HOA communities must also address key problems, such as:
- Your insurance company’s level of involvement
- Inhabitable units
- Whether homeowners can enter their properties to retrieve personal belongings
- Professional inspections to see if residents can return to their homes
5. Communication & Education of Community Disaster Relief Plan to Residents
A disaster emergency plan will not be useful to your community members unless they know about it and fully understand it. It is important to host meetings before the start of a dangerous season that poses a risk to your community. Residents may forget the rules over time or new residents may relocate to your community and will likely require a fresh training on what your protocols are. Having meetings at least twice per year is a great way to clarify resident questions. In turn, this can shield your HOA from liability should an accident occur resulting from a disaster that greatly impacted your community.
6. Have Your Plans Published on Your HOA Website
Now that many HOAs have websites, it can be useful to always have updated emergency plans available for residents to review. This way, should one of your residents have a question about the required protocols, they will be able to reference the guidelines set by your HOA with ease.
7. Include Information About Disaster Planning in Your HOA Newsletter
If your HOA has a monthly newsletter, it is an excellent opportunity to further educate your residents about disaster planning. Plan an article about disaster planning that is relevant to the month in which your HOA newsletter will be published. For example, if hurricane season is approaching, having an article to remind your residents about your HOAs disaster planning could be very valuable to your residents.
8. Mitigation of Legal Liability from Affected Residents
Natural disasters do happen. It is important to shield your HOA from any legal liabilities that it can be eligible for resulting from those natural disasters. The key is to eliminate any doubt from residents about the negligence of your HOA. When residents sue, it usually has to do with negligence and what the HOA “should” have been doing to prevent further injury to community members in the event of a natural disaster.
9. Coordination with the Office of Emergency Management
The Office of Emergency Management is available to communities located within the United States for information related to local natural disaster threats. Newer homes should collaborate with the Office of Emergency Management to figure out which natural disasters need to be planned for in their emergency plan and procedures for their communities. If HOAs are able to match their plans to connect with local law enforcement procedures, it will create a safer protocol for their residents to follow and increase resident satisfaction with the efforts of their HOA to put the proper and relevant emergency protocols into place.
10. Adherence to Fire Protocols
Depending on where your HOA is located, it may have strict fire protocols. Make sure that your HOA is prepared with the required emergency protocols for wildfires. In addition, it is important for your HOA to be proactive in preventative measures. This way, you can minimize the damages should a wildfire occur.
Another way to do this is to impose certain regulations. This includes trimming landscapes and removing unnecessary materials within the community. These things can encourage the fire to spread. By imposing these regulations, HOAs can safeguard their residents from wildfire damages.
11. Installation of Electronic Emergency Alert System
Many larger HOAs have been able to integrate electronic emergency alert systems. These systems have the ability to send text messages and emails about developments related to emergency disaster situations.
HOAs should absolutely consider integrating these systems into the benefits they offer to their members. Once they do so, they need to be sure they have the current phone number and email address of their residents to be sure the message gets to their residents promptly. HOAs are wise to have electronic emergency alert systems since they demonstrate an effort to protect their residents from harm in the event of a natural disaster, which could also be strong evidence utilized in a lawsuit that may arise after the natural disaster has occurred.
The Importance of Disaster Preparedness
Natural disasters happen every year. Some can be predicted to a certain degree, while others happen unexpectedly. The most important part is to stay prepared for anything. HOA disaster management is key to keeping a safe and secure community. So, if your association does not have one yet, start drafting your plan immediately.
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