Before Hurricane Sandy Struck the east coast of the United States, everyone thought that they would weather the storm with relative ease, just like they had in all previous "nor'easters". However, at the tail end of October 2012, the nation and the world watched as the innocuously-named Super storm Sandy made landfall across New York City. Lashing rain, hurricane-force winds, massive flooding, fire and power outages wreaked havoc on many communities.
Sandy was responsible for $70 billion in damages, making it the second costliest storm in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina sacked New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. Although over a year has passed since the storm pummeled New England, and although billions of dollars in aid has been promised to rebuild devastated areas, many affected residents have yet to replace what the flood waters swept away. Thousands of homeowners in New York are still fighting with insurance companies, slogging through red tape, waiting for government aid - and in many cases, just waiting to return home. Could we have done anything more to better prepare ourselves for such a disaster?
For areas like New England, not known for many natural disasters, our emergency plans are not prepared for the damage of Hurricane Sandy's magnitude. More than just the occasional first aid kit tucked away in a closet somewhere, abstract preparations are extremely necessary. Flood insurance, window barriers and knowing how shut off utilities are just a few of the strategies that must be considered far beforehand.
Community associations should plan now for contingencies, before a mechanical failure or weather condition compromises the integrity of your property and threatens the safety of its occupants. These preparations cannot be enacted last-minute as they take time, but are worth the effort and are essential to any manager. By creating a master contingency plan with a directory of relevant information, including build/installation dates, useful life cycles, control locations and operating characteristics, property use and security will be better utilized. in compiling and distributing the following relevant information among association trustees, property owners and managers, common knowledge of systems, locations and cautions become part of the defense in the event of an unanticipated emergency or disaster.
• Know the building layout. Identify the location and operation of primary water, electrical, fuel, and all electronic communications connections, HVAC and related control points and shutoffs of all buildings.
• Create a comprehensive vendor master list. Maintain, update and distribute a vendor master list for your property, including plumbing, electrical, energy supply, roofing and carpentry. A qualified public insurance adjuster should also be included.
• Publish emergency police and fire numbers for everyone to see.
• Provide contact information for the president and executive committee, including specific "In Case of Emergence" names and numbers. Also include telephone numbers and email addresses for the management office and on-site personnel such as the concierge and superintendent.
• Make sure all contact information for the occupants living in your association is up to date, especially their email addresses, and cell and home telephone numbers. It is a good idea to have a community webpage where information can be disseminated to everyone during and after disaster. This would greatly alleviate many of the questions and concerns homeowners would have. Spreading information is the most essential tool.
• Undertake a property survey at least once annually to identify vulnerable plumbing, freezing, or water penetration locations, new system installations or the progress of life cycles/replacement schedule (for roofs, boilers, pumps, security and other high-use/high-stress systems). This will improve the continuity of operations vital to the long-term, reliable occupancy of your property.
For property owners and managers, creating a contingency plan for any kind of emergency will ultimately save you time and money, all the while ensuring safety for the homeowners, employees, and tenants. Creating a comprehensive and customized plan will help you assess any contingency and duly establish restoration procedures, while ensuring your condominiums can endure any threat nature throws at you.
While condominium life in the United States, especially New England, particularly isn't known for extreme climates, the passage of time, the ravages of nature and human error all require continual oversight. Recognizing contingency planning as one of the most vital tasks of leadership and creating appropriate internal procedures in response to these unexpected disasters, even ones as uncommon and extreme as Sandy, is absolutely critical to sustaining the life and comfort of any community.