In Florida, hurricane season starts June 1st and runs through November 30th. If you are a community leader or property manager, preparing your community for the season is an important part of your duties.
GET WITH THE PLAN!
An important first step is contacting your local county Office of Emergency Management and requesting their Hurricane Preparedness Manual. In it you will find information on the location of local hurricane shelters for your residents, preparation recommendations, evacuation routes, and other important information to help protect your residents. You will also find information on the color coding system in place for your particular county that is used to notify emergency personnel of the status of the property. For example, some counties request that property managers mark their community’s sign with green, yellow or red tape, which means 'all clear,' 'residents remain,' and 'persons require transportation,' respectively.
PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE!
Secure necessary items such as chainsaws, generators, and plywood before the storm. Create a list of good handymen, contractors, roofers, and landscapers, and establish a relationship with them. Keep your law firm’s telephone number handy, and also the cell phone number of at least one of the attorneys at that firm, in case the law firm’s phones aren’t working after the storm. In addition, think about creating a website for the community so that post-storm updates can be posted for residents that are out of state or have been evacuated. Storm updates can also be sent via e-mail if an updated e-mail list of residents has been prepared in advance.
Keep trees and shrubbery on common areas trimmed during hurricane season. Cut weak branches and remove trees that could fall or snap during high winds. When trimming trees, try to create a channel through the foliage to the center of the tree to allow for air flow. However, do not trim trees and shrubs after a hurricane watch or warning has been announced, as trash pickup will be suspended and your trimmings can become a part of the dangerous airborne projectiles propelled by the hurricane’s high winds.
If your community is made up of townhomes or condominiums, designate willing owners as 'building captains,' who will receive special training in hurricane preparedness, and who can pass information on to the other owners in his/her building. These building captains should also be willing to help secure their designated building once a hurricane watch or warning is established.
To allow work to begin immediately after the storm has passed, consider setting up a reserve for emergency expenditures, such as debris removal, landscaping, engineering fees and insurance deductible payments. In the alternative, consider an amendment that would allow for emergency assessments for emergency expenditures.
If your documents require an 'insurance trustee,' consider amending your documents to allow the Board, a CPA or attorney to serve this role, as banks charge high fees for this service. Other amendments to consider include 1) mandating casualty insurance coverage on all personal property in an owner’s unit; 2) allowing an officer of the Association to sign a Notice of Commencement for necessary repairs; and 3) granting the Association emergency powers in certain instances.
CREATE AND DISSEMINATE YOUR OWN PLAN
Create and disseminate to residents a plan of action for your own particular community. This plan should include a copy of the Hurricane Preparedness Manual described above, along with a plan that is tailored for your particular community. Your plan should mandate that terraces, patios, and balconies be clear of all loose items such as patio furniture, plants, wall hangings, and barbecue grills. Your plan should also specify that the clubhouse and recreational amenities will be closed until the hurricane watch or warning is lifted. In addition, for condominium communities, it should be clearly stated that unit owners must provide the property manager or community leader with an updated key to their unit. Remember, Section 718.111(5) grants a condominium association the right to enter a unit, so start an enforcement action if a unit owner refuses to hand over a key. Include in your plan all building captains’ contact information, including home and cellular telephone numbers.
HELP RESIDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS PLAN FOR A STORM
Residents that are unable to respond independently to an emergency situation can register for assistance in evacuating their homes. Contact your local Office of Emergency Management to get information on their 'People with Special Needs' registry, and forward this information on to your residents.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AFTER THE STORM?
Put your plan into action. Convene a meeting of the Board of Directors as soon as possible to address damage, cleanup efforts, and other important matters. Many or all Board Members may need to attend by telephone. Remember that the notice provisions under 718.112(2)(c) and 720.303(c)(1) do not apply in emergency situations. Immediately communicate what you know so far to the residents through e-mail or a community website, and try to keep them updated as often as possible.
Begin calling the handymen, contractors, roofers, and other necessary trades on your list as soon as possible to get your community 'on the list.' Have the Association’s attorney review any contracts with contractors or public adjusters prior to signing.
Also, when creating assessments to pay for storm-related damages, be careful about how the assessment is worded. Some insurance companies will pay for assessments under a type of coverage called 'loss assessment coverage', but there are items of damage that are excluded from coverage. Careful wording of the assessment may help in triggering this coverage.
No amount of planning will completely insulate a community from the devastating effects of a hurricane. The reality is that every hurricane has the potential to kill and injure, destroy property, and bring a community to a grinding halt. However, with some proactive planning, you can keep your residents safe, decrease the amount of damage to the grounds and buildings, and get your community back up and running before you can say 'feeder bands!'