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How To Make An HOA Emergency Plan For The Community

Every community must prepare a plan in the event of a disaster or emergency. But, what should an HOA emergency plan even include? And what types of emergencies can an HOA even expect?

 

The Purpose of an HOA Emergency Plan

While there are devices that can predict certain natural disasters, emergencies are generally erratic. Most communities don’t even see them coming. When they do happen, though, homeowners associations might find themselves in a panic and grasping for ideas on how to respond.

This is where an HOA emergency plan comes in. With an emergency or disaster plan, HOA communities can better prepare themselves for unpredictable events. Such plans outline what the community must do in case of an emergency as well as how to respond following the incident. It includes standard procedures and a chain of command to follow. To put it plainly, an HOA emergency plan serves as the community’s guide when disaster strikes.

Some of the most common natural disasters that affect the United States are hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, and tornadoes. The frequency of these events can depend on the location of your HOA. But, there are also other types of emergencies that can take place.

The COVID-19 health pandemic, for one, reached a global scale at a lightning-fast speed. It plunged the world into uncertainty, both affecting and taking millions of lives. Economies suffered, with many businesses closing down as a result of the crisis. For homeowners associations, the pandemic raised questions concerning amenity closures, event cancellations, and the suspension of dues collections.

Active shooters also remain a critical problem in the United States. In fact, the year 2019 alone saw more mass shootings than days in the year, with a total of 417 mass shootings. The country also sees regular instances of civil unrest, with riots and protests taking place — some more dangerous than others. Homeowners associations must know how to act in the face of such events.

 

The Role of the HOA in HOA Disaster Management

Homeowners associations must come up with an emergency plan ahead of time. It is downright irresponsible to wait until the last minute to create a community disaster preparedness plan, just when an emergency is on the brink of happening. But, what steps should an HOA make exactly?

  • Determine Potential Emergencies. Your HOA must identify the possible threats the community might face. For instance, if you live in the Southeast, hurricanes are a common point of concern. Southwestern states, on the other hand, may experience more wildfires and earthquakes. But, that does not mean your HOA should skip planning for threats that aren’t as common in your area.
  • Create an HOA Emergency Plan. After listing down all of the potential threats to the HOA, it is time to formulate an emergency plan. This plan should include evacuation procedures, response plans, and essential documents.
  • Conduct Inspections. The resulting damage from disasters or emergencies is a major concern for most associations. To minimize damages, it is imperative for your HOA to conduct regular inspections of your assets and components. Make sure they are in good condition so that they can withstand more harm or injury.
  • Plan for Possible Repairs. If there are damages to your community’s assets, you will need to plan for their repair or reconstruction.

Even though an HOA functions mostly as a government, in no way does it have the same emergency powers. Some state laws and governing documents may grant the association expanded authority in the event of an emergency. But, not all HOA communities have such language within their state statutes or bylaws. If the HOA board is given additional emergency authority, it must still uphold its fiduciary duties and act in the community’s best interest.

 

Factors That Can Affect an HOA Preparedness Plan

hoa disaster managementEvery community has different needs and compositions. An HOA emergency plan that works for one association may not necessarily work for another. It takes careful planning, usually by the HOA board or an emergency response committee, to create a system that works specifically for your community.

When coming up with your own HOA emergency plan, make sure to keep the following factors in mind:

  • Location. Certain types of emergencies are more common in certain parts of the United States. California, for one, typically experiences earthquakes, floods, and fires. Florida usually goes through severe storms and hurricanes. In New York, floods, severe storms, and snow are the most common culprits. You can learn more about the types of disasters in your state by visiting FEMA’s website.
  • Association Type. The type of association you live in can also dictate parts of your emergency plan. For example, high-rise communities will usually need a more detailed evacuation plan than single-family home communities.
  • Demographics. Make sure to factor in the age of your population as well. If your association has a lot of elderly residents, then you need to adjust some of your plans to accommodate them. Remember that senior citizens have more problems related to movement, vision, and hearing.
  • Features. If your community has any special structures, buildings, and landscaping, don’t forget to account for them in your HOA emergency plan, too.

 

What to Include in an HOA Emergency Preparedness Plan

What should be included in an emergency plan? A well-crafted HOA emergency plan consists of the following items:

 

1. Chain of Command

Every plan requires a chain of command — an organizational structure that tells you who is in charge of what. This chart should obviously have a leader, which is a role usually fulfilled by the board president. The president must serve as the first point of contact, with the HOA manager closely following in second place. Someone should also be in charge of communications. Of course, every association is different, so this may not necessarily be the structure your HOA follows.

 

2. Site Plan

A good emergency plan should also consist of a site plan for the whole community. This site plan must highlight and label important areas of the neighborhood, including but not limited to shut-off valves, lift stations, debris staging areas, and generators. Shut-off valves, in particular, must be a priority when an emergency occurs. Getting to these valves will allow you to prevent leaks and reduce the potential for damage.

 

3. Evacuation Plan

One of the most critical items in an HOA emergency plan is the evacuation plan. As you might be able to tell by the name, the evacuation plan must consist of guidelines and a map for evacuation. Using this plan, residents will know the proper way to evacuate the premises and where they must head in case of an emergency.

Sometimes, disasters will force homeowners out of their homes for days on end. As such, your evacuation plan should also include a map consisting of nearby shelters, generator-powered gas stations, grocery stores, and drugstores. It is also a good idea to tag which shelters are pet-friendly.

 

4. Standard Procedures

An HOA or condo emergency plan serves as a guide for everyone in the community during times of uncertainty. Thus, it should contain standard procedures for various circumstances. If the utilities shut off, what must residents do? What if some buildings and homes become condemned? Identify all possible disaster outcomes and outline the steps the HOA and its residents must take in the event of each one.

 

5. Insurance

Because emergencies can happen at any moment, you need to have all the essential documents with you in one place. Some of the most crucial documents you should have are copies of your insurance policies. Your association likely has insurance coverage for disasters or emergencies, so you should include them in your plan.

Make sure to also include instructions on how you can file claims as well as the contact information of your insurance provider. This way, you can get started on the filing process as soon as the situation allows.

 

6. Photos of the Community

Keeping photos of the community’s properties, equipment, and components will come in handy for insurance purposes and for when you need to restore them back to their original form. Make sure to take updated photos of the community, too. A camera with a date stamp is also recommended.

 

7. Designated Meeting Place

Confusion and panic are common feelings residents will experience during a crisis. To help mitigate such feelings, your plan should include a designated meeting place amidst the commotion. This is where residents of the community can proceed after an emergency occurs.

Assigning a meeting place will also allow you to have a standard area where you can give important community updates. You can schedule meetings at regular intervals. Usually, it is best to schedule these meetings on a daily basis for the first few days following a disaster.

 

8. Essential Contact Details

A list of all essential contact information should naturally make it into your emergency kit. This list should include the contact details of all board members, your HOA manager, your HOA attorney, and your insurance provider, as well as all vendors or contractors. It is also worth compiling a list of all residents, their contact information, and their addresses.

 

9. Debris Management and Removal

In case your community suffers a disaster that results in scattered debris, you must know how to handle them. Therefore, your HOA emergency plan should include instructions for debris management and removal.

This portion will usually consist of a list of vendors who can help you manage and remove debris. Make sure to include several vendors on your list, sorted in order of preference, as there is usually a high demand for them during times of crisis.

It is also likely that local dumps will be at capacity, so your plan must include a staging area for debris. This is where you will temporarily store debris until you can move them to the proper venues.

 

10. Response Plan

Apart from pre-emergency and mid-emergency plans, you must also come up with a post-emergency plan. This is typically referred to as an HOA or condo emergency response plan.

First, make sure everyone in your community is safe. Then, you must move on to the damages to your neighborhood. You will need the help of professionals to inspect and evaluate the level of damage. Based on their reports and recommendations, you can then start contacting vendors for repairs or reconstructions.

Some disasters will render homes uninhabitable. To make sure residents can return to their homes, you must talk to local authorities and safety professionals. Aftershocks and resulting perils such as gas leaks may happen. During this time, your HOA will need to ask for residents’ cooperation and understanding. Let them know that they might not be able to immediately return to their homes due to safety concerns.

 

Types of HOA Emergencies to Plan For

 

Thunderstorms

hoa emergencyPerhaps the most common natural disaster in the United States, thunderstorms are a veritable threat to homeowners associations nationwide. These storms bring lightning, flash flooding, and even tornadoes with them. To plan for thunderstorms, here are the things your HOA must do:

  • Trim trees in common areas to prevent breakage and damage or injury, and ask residents to do the same.
  • Advise residents to bring outdoor furniture inside their homes.
  • Advise residents to stay indoors at all times.
  • Unplug appliances and equipment, and ask residents to do the same.
  • Avoid using running water and landline phones as electricity can travel through them.
  • Stay updated on weather forecasts.

After the thunderstorm, make sure to wait for the go signal from local authorities before leaving the house. Your HOA will need to get in touch with vendors to address fallen power lines, trees, and other damages.

 

Floods

Flooding can happen as a result of thunderstorms and snowstorms. In some cases, it can even happen due to dam overflows. Here are the things to keep in mind before, during, and after floods:

  • Ask residents to look for shelter immediately.
  • Never drive, walk, or swim through floodwaters as they can be contaminated. There is also a risk of drowning or getting electrocuted due to fallen power lines.
  • Create an evacuation plan that includes safe routes and shelters.
  • Prepare a response plan for the aftermath.
  • Advise residents to prepare emergency supply kits that contain three days’ worth of food and water, a flashlight, a whistle, and a small fire extinguisher.
  • Store essential documents in waterproof containers.
  • Follow instructions from local authorities and wait for their signal before returning home.

 

Hurricanes

Most states experience hurricanes on a seasonal basis. Still, you should not discount them from your emergency plan. Every association needs an HOA hurricane preparedness plan. When crafting your HOA or condo association hurricane preparedness plan, make sure to include the following:

  • Stay updated on weather forecasts.
  • Create an evacuation plan that includes safe routes and shelters.
  • Prepare a response plan for the aftermath, including a debris management plan and a cleanup plan. You may also need to schedule electrical work in case power lines have been compromised.
  • Advise residents to prepare hurricane supply kits.
  • Advise residents to keep their cell phones charged.
  • Follow instructions from local authorities and wait for their signal before returning home.

 

Snowstorms

Snowstorms can continue for long periods of time and cause damages to structures. They can also result in a lack of electricity as well as harm or injury. As such, here are the things you should include in your snowstorm preparedness plan:

  • Advise residents to stay indoors at all times.
  • Warn residents of the possibility of power outages and ask them to be prepared. That means charging cell phones, preparing flashlights, and stocking up on supplies.
  • Make sure not to turn on generators inside homes as this could result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Educate residents on possible health issues that may occur such as frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Ask residents to prepare warm clothes and battery-powered heaters.
  • Create and implement a snow removal policy.

 

Earthquakes

There are three stages to consider when it comes to preparing for earthquakes — before, during, and after. Your HOA must educate residents on how to prepare for each of these stages.

Before an earthquake, advise residents to perform the following:

  • Put together an earthquake supply kit that includes three days’ worth of food and water, a whistle, a small fire extinguisher, and a flashlight.
  • Practice the “drop, cover, and hold on” technique.
  • Secure loose and heavy structures or items like televisions, appliances, and bookcases.

During an earthquake, advise residents to perform the following:

  • Do the “drop, cover, and hold on” technique.
    • Drop to your hands and knees.
    • Cover your neck and head with your arms. If there is a sturdy table nearby, crawl under it for safety.
    • Hold on until the earthquake stops.
  • For residents who are outside, stay away from power lines and buildings.
  • For residents who are inside, stay there. Position yourself away from doorways.

After an earthquake, advise residents to perform the following:

  • Remain vigilant as there could be aftershocks.
  • Check for any injuries you or other people may have.
  • For residents inside a damaged building, move outside and away from the building in a careful but swift manner.
  • For trapped residents, make sure to shield your eyes, mouth, and noise from dust. Call for help using a cell phone (if you have it) or blow on your whistle. If you have none of these, make loud noises to alert others to where you are.

 

Fires

hoa emergenciesFires can be very deadly as they can spread really fast. Other than burns, it is also possible to die of other fire-related hazards such as smoke or toxic gases. Here is what your HOA must do to plan for fires:

  • Construct an evacuation plan for the entire community consisting of safe routes and shelters.
  • Advise residents to create their own evacuation plans specific to the structure and map of their homes.
  • Put together emergency supplies, including medication and N95 respirator masks.
  • Advise residents to have smoke detectors and alarms installed within their homes.
  • Check that all smoke detectors and alarms are functioning properly.
  • Coordinate with local authorities after the fire to see whether residents can return to their homes.

 

Tornadoes

To plan for tornadoes, here are the things your HOA must do:

  • Learn to identify the signs of a tornado forming such as clouds rotating to form a spiral or funnel shape.
  • Stay updated on weather reports.
  • Create an evacuation plan for resident safety.
  • Tornado shelters must consist of additional covers so that residents can protect their heads and necks.
  • Advise residents to put together an emergency supply kit consisting of three days’ worth of food and water, a flashlight, and a whistle.
  • Prepare a response plan for the aftermath, including a debris management plan and a cleanup plan. You may also need to schedule electrical work in case power lines have been compromised.
  • Talk to local authorities and wait for their go signal before allowing residents to return to their homes.

 

Pandemics

Before the COVID-19 health crisis, the general public paid no attention to the possibility of a pandemic. Because most HOAs were not prepared for it, the coronavirus pandemic forced communities to adapt on the spot. Now, it is imperative for associations to come up with a plan of action in case of future pandemics. Here are the things to include in your emergency pandemic plan:

  • Deliberate on whether or not to close down common areas and amenities.
  • Cancel or delay community events.
  • Ramp up cleaning and disinfecting measures.
  • Consider installing hand sanitizer stations in common areas.
  • Educate residents on the proper ways to deal with the pandemic.
  • Recommend that residents be prepared with enough food, water, and medication.
  • Advise residents to maintain social distancing, practice frequent hand washing, and wear face masks.
  • Continue conducting HOA business with the help of digital resources.
  • Stay updated on the latest health news.
  • Adhere to CDC guidelines.

 

Active Shooters

If your HOA encounters an active shooter in the community, you must know what to do and how to respond. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Organize an active shooter training session for residents.
  • Advise residents to remain on alert and report any suspicious activities to local authorities.
  • Advise residents to run away as fast and far as possible in case of an active shooting before calling 911.
  • If residents can’t run away, advise them to split up and hide. Don’t hide in groups.
  • When hiding, block the entrances, shut off the blinds, close the lights, and don’t make a sound.
  • Ask residents to stay put until the police advise otherwise.
  • After an active shooting, check for any injuries and arrange for medical assistance.

 

Riots

Riots may happen in and around your community. When that happens, residents must know what to do. Your HOA must educate residents on the following:

  • Ask residents to stay inside and secure any entrances. That means locking their doors and shutting their windows.
  • Advise residents who are driving to drive away from blocked streets.
  • If you live in a gated HOA community, make sure to keep the gates closed and secure from rioters. Consider ramping up security.

 

HOA Emergency Budget and Insurance

In some cases, the government will provide financial assistance following a disaster or emergency. But, your association must still be monetarily prepared for a crisis. When budgeting for an emergency, there are some key questions you should ask first.

Will the HOA offer financial assistance to residents who have been greatly affected by the emergency? Will the HOA dues cover the cost of repair or replacement of common elements? What processes should the HOA follow when it comes to post-emergency repairs or replacements?

Make sure to be as specific as possible when it comes to budgeting for disasters, especially when it comes to the amounts. Contact vendors and contractors for ballpark figures. It is also best to be conservative with your projections.

Additionally, you should outline how your HOA intends to source the funds for the emergency budget. You can collect it from homeowners in the form of dues or special assessments. Alternatively, you can also earn the money through fundraising events.

Although your emergency fund should help you cover various costs, you must also have a comprehensive insurance policy for such instances. Revisit your policies and make sure your HOA has coverage for various disasters or emergencies.

 

Community Disaster Plan Education for Homeowners

hoa preparedness planComing up with an HOA emergency plan remains largely the board’s responsibility. But, that does not mean it should stop with the board altogether. After creating your plan, make sure every homeowner is aware of it. Communicate the plan with all members of the community. You can distribute it through various channels such as newsletters, your website, or via mail. It is also worth organizing a meeting or seminar to discuss the plan with everyone.

 

A Prepared Community Is a Safe Community

Disasters can happen at any time, some of them without warning. To make sure your community remains safe and secure, you must come up with a detailed HOA emergency plan. This plan acts as a guide for your HOA and members, letting you know what to do and how to proceed prior to, during, and after an emergency.

An HOA management company can also help you prepare for disasters. Look for the best one in your area today using our online directory.

 

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