Property Managers Responsibility for Emergency Preparedness

Neighbors getting answers

Neighbors getting important safety answers.

How does your Property Management Company Stack Up When it Comes to Emergency Preparedness?

Do you live in an apartment complex, a mobilehome park, a condo complex, a retirement community, a gated community, or any kind of community with a Home Owners’ Association?

Does your community have a property manager hired by the owner or by the Association?

Or maybe you yourself are a property owner, doing your own managing?

No matter the exact ownership circumstances, it is important to

Include a property manager in your emergency preparedness planning!

Two important outcomes are possible.

  1. You could uncover that you have been making unfounded assumptions about the role and capabilities of the manager to protect residents in an emergency.
  2. Your investigation and follow-up discussions may allow you to improve emergency response for all your neighbors1

Emergency Plan Guide is not a professional property management company, of course, but we have owned rental property, lived under property managers and served on various boards and homeowners’ associations making decisions about most of the topics that follow.

And of course we do not know where you live as you are reading this, so we can’t know the regulations that apply in your state and city.

Still, we understand basic management responsibilities and can pose general questions that EVERY one should be able to answer!

Disaster survival questions for tenants, owners and managers.

Personal experiences give us a place to get started with questions. If you have ever lived in a property with a property manager, consider these:

  1. When you moved in, did you get a list of emergency procedures for the building or for the community? For example, did you receive a map showing the buildings and/or homes (including their addresses), location of fire extinguishers or hydrants, list of local emergency contacts including who to call after-hours, information about evacuation routes, etc.?
  2. Is there any specific info on disaster planning for people with disabilities? Older people with mobility challenges? How about planning for pets?
  3. Has that emergency information been updated regularly?
  4. Do you know where to find the most recent copy of emergency procedures?
  5. Has the community ever practiced an emergency drill or evacuation?
  6. Do you know the location of all the exits from the property? If they are habitually kept locked, do you know who would open them in an emergency?
  7. If you are on the second floor, or higher, do you have an emergency ladder? Are you allowed to practice evacuating?

Multi-story buildings have particular emergency preparedness issues. If you haven’t lived in a multi-story building, you surely know someone who does. Be sure they are asking questions like these . . .

  1. Have you been told/shown where all the stairs are? Do stairs lead up to the roof as well as down to the street? Are doors in stairwells locked?
  2. Do you know where fire alarms and fire extinguishers are located in or outside the building? (We assume you have a fire extinguisher inside your own dwelling.)
  3. Do you know what happens when the fire alarm goes off? For example, what does the elevator do? What happens to interior doors, if anything?
  4. Do you know what happens when power goes out? Again, what happens to elevators, doors, gates?
  5. Are all dwelling units on all floors protected with a sprinkler system?

The 22017 Grenfell Tower fire in London – in which 71 people died — raised the question of sprinklers. And more recently a fire in the Trump Tower in New York – in which 1 person died and 6 firefighters were injured – revealed that its upper floors (exclusive residential apartments) also did not have sprinklers. Moreover, the apartment where the one victim died did not have a working smoke alarm.

Every property manager should be able to answer these questions:

  1. Who makes the decision that there is an emergency? If the manager isn’t available, who makes it?
  2. How are residents alerted or notified about a weather emergency? Can they be notified if power is out?
  3. After a disaster, does the management company maintain a website where updates could be obtained?
  4. What procedures are in place for ongoing communications if the emergency lasts for hours or days? (For ex., a widespread health emergency requiring closure of the pool and clubhouse.)
  5. How would the community fare in a longer-term emergency? What about rent payments, trash collection, security? What about management personnel?
  6. Does the management company store any kind of emergency supplies? How are they rotated, inspected, etc.? Who has a key? How would supplies be distributed?

How to use these emergency preparedness questions.

  • As someone concerned with emergency planning, you can use this list to be sure you haven’t made any assumptions about your community that turn out to be incorrect. In some cases you may be able to come up with alternatives to what look like problems.
  • As a member of a community preparedness group, you can use this list to suggest improvements to your neighbors and to your management company.
  • As a member of an HOA Board, you can use this list to help your group identify and hire the best possible management company for your property!

Again, every community is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all management standard. But property managers play an important role in emergency planning and, in particular, in responding to an emergency. Whether they are prepared or not, people will turn to them for answers.

You may be able to reassure residents and management alike by making sure common questions get answered well before a disaster happens.

Follow through with your own property manager, and share with others who live in communities with managers. This is essential info.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Addendum: It seems that most property management contracts do NOT include requirements for protecting residents. (I conducted an informal survey online with a group of professionals and received a couple dozen responses.) Nevertheless, as more attention is paid to disaster prevention and emergency response planning, the concept of a “standard of care” needs to be considered. In this case, if most professional management companies in your area are incorporating emergency preparedness education and practices into their services – or at least adding in a budget line item for it — the few that ignore it will stand out as not being up to standard. This could have a legal impact. Certainly, it should have an impact on the company’s ability to win business.

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