What Hurricane Sandy Can Teach Us
While our friends and communities in the Northeast deal with Hurricane Sandy and the rest of us are helpless to do anything but watch, we should spend a moment to reflect on our own emergency preparedness.
One of Grace Hill’s own faced a horrendous crisis in Memphis, Tennessee in 2003, when a massive wind storm took out power for a week and caused major damage at a mid-rise community in her portfolio. The eight-floor building was older and the demographic was primarily senior citizens. The community was managed by an experienced professional with a dedicated team who planned and practiced for emergencies. If it had been any other way, this story could have been tragic.
The loss of power meant no elevators and no air conditioning in 100-degree heat. With residents at the highest risk for dying of heat stroke, the crisis was nothing less than life-threatening. Thankfully, the Community Manager and our Grace Hill team member who served as the Regional Manager were both familiar with their crisis management plan, had experienced severe events before, and were ready for action as the storm rolled in. Within hours of the storm knocking out power, the team had coolers with bags of ice on each floor and Red Cross in the lobby making arrangements for sheltering elderly residents. All of the residents had been contacted and communication with needed vendors completed. For months following the storm, residents commented on how fortunate they were to live in such a well-managed building.
So, what can you learn from Sandy and other emergency events? How can you prepare your own teams? Here is our short list to get you started:
- There is no excuse for not being prepared. So PREPARE! Every community should have an emergency plan that addresses each type of emergency with specific instructions for every type of crisis. You know the most likely threats for your communities, so really pay attention to the details on those without ignoring the rare possibility events either. The emergency plan should be stored in multiple locations and known by all team members. Have your plan reviewed by local authorities to ensure its thoroughness.
- Your residents are counting on you. Your residents are 100% counting on you to know what is up, to be in the office during an emergency, and to have instructions for them to help ensure their safety. Do not expect to close the office and run home to care for your own family during an emergency. Make sure your team members understand this and have arrangements in place that will allow them to do their job on-site during an emergency.
- Update your communication plan for emergencies regularly. You will need a list of not only all the vendors you may need and emergency providers, but also the best communication method with back-up numbers for each and every resident. There is nothing more stressful than having an apartment fire and not being able to reach a resident to verify their whereabouts and safety. Pay special attention when listing numbers for utilities and organizations like Red Cross, often they will have special numbers dedicated for use in an actual emergency.
- Train your team to make decisions. One of the biggest mistakes made in a true crisis is slow decision-making due to lack of autonomy or failure to take action. Your team members may want to make “team decisions” during a crisis and get together for every action, but this is a mistake. If your team knows the plan and is empowered to make decisions, the crisis management will go much better. You don’t want a Maintenance Supervisor coming back to the office to talk to the Manager who then calls the Regional to ask if they should put up a barrier around a burnt out building. You want them to just do it. Let that be known.
- Have outside help plans in place prior to an emergency. When a crisis strikes, having outside help could be paramount to success. If a crisis is a city wide emergency, the vendors you normally call on may be pulled in too many directions and not able to help as you’d like. You need to plan for this and have contingency plans with arrangements for outside help. Examples include bringing in needed vendors and additional employees. Do not wait until a crisis happens to have these plans in order! It will cost precious time and ratchet up the stress for everyone involved.
- There is no substitute for preparedness. Run drills on your plans and give your team the confidence to handle any crisis before it occurs. If and when a crisis hits, a prepared team will have less stress, provide better service to residents, and may actually save lives with their preparation.
We hope everyone impacted by Sandy stays safe.