Give Your Community the Gift of Emergency Preparedness

Creating a neighborhood disaster preparedness plan can safeguard your family, neighbors, and property, while strengthening and unifying your neighborhood.

Creating an emergency preparedness plan that helps your condo or homeowners association prepare for the worst could be the most valuable 40 hours you spend volunteering — if a disaster strikes your area. Learn how to combine your organizational and analytical skills with online resources to protect your neighbors during an emergency.

High-profile, destructive natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, California wildfires, and tornadoes across The Plains make it clear that, wherever you call home, your family and property are always at risk. In fact, according to the Insurance Information Institute, 2008 nationwide catastrophic losses from hurricanes totaled $15.2 billion, while losses from tornadoes calculated at $10.5 billion.

Getting ready for the worst is a worthwhile effort, says Gary Poliakoff, a partner with the law firm Becker and Poliakoff of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who speaks and writes extensively about disaster planning.

“You may spend 40 or 50 hours creating a disaster plan, but the payoff is enormous. It could help you safeguard lives, property, and a lifestyle you love,” Poliakoff says.

Start planning at social function

The idea of billion-dollar losses may make you want to hit the panic button and gather neighbors to start immediately laying out a disaster plan for your neighborhood or HOA. But, it may be best to make square one a neighborhood block party or potluck dinner, says Diana Rothe-Smith, executive director of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (National VOAD).

An informal gathering can help you figure out who really wants to get involved and assess your neighbors’ needs in an emergency. For instance, you may find out that Mr. Jones doesn’t drive and will need a ride during an evacuation or that Ms. Smith is a paramedic who’s taken a course in emergency preparedness.

Once you’ve identified other disaster-planning activists in the neighborhood, form a committee to create your community emergency plan. In a homeowners association, include board members and representatives from the property management company, if you use one. Also include anyone with skills that might prove useful both pre- and post-disaster, such as doctors, nurses, emergency first responders, and carpenters.

Two categories of disaster planning

A good community disaster plan covers two areas, according to the Community Associations Institute:

  • Business continuity: Ensuring an association can continue to provide services to the community.
  • Public safety: Protecting people and property and aiding in relief efforts post-disaster.

Business continuity planning should cover:

Protecting important association records. Both digital and hard-copy records—including governing documents, building plans, financial documents, contracts, bank accounts, insurance policies, and contact information—should be kept in a safe, separate location.

Keeping a list of vendors. Know who your important vendors are and how to reach them after an emergency.

Contracting with vendors ahead of time to ensure speedy, cost-effective services after a disaster strikes. Make sure vendors know how to contact your community after an emergency, says Kathryn Danella, general manager at the Boca Raton Community Association, Boca Raton, Fla.

Poliakoff says public safety planning should include:

Creating a disaster plan. Do a risk analysis of potential consequences of a storm and develop a complete disaster plan. Get help in creating a plan from Citizen Corps, the community preparedness division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA can also help you locate state emergency-services organizations, who in turn can refer you to local experts and disaster planning resources.

Designating evacuation routes. Establish clear building and community evacuation routes and provide copies of routes to all community members.

Checking emergency generators and supplies. Be sure emergency generators work and have adequate fuel supplies. Stock a community emergency storeroom with other supplies.

Keeping a list of owners, employees, and local relief personnel. Have a current, hard-copy reference list with the names and contact information for all property owners. Besides providing relief, local organizations can provide training for committee members. You can even do your training online by watching the American Red Cross’ disaster planning course.

Planning for post-disaster cleanup. Have a plan for speedy removal of debris, repair of vital structures, and remediation of water-soaked drywall and carpeting.