Homeowners Associations Should Create Emergency Manuals   Leave a comment

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As the Atlanta area recovers from the September 2009 flooding, it is a good idea to consider the “lessons learned” from the disaster.

Disasters like the Atlanta flood show just how good (or bad) we were at preparing for the unexpected. However, unexpected emergencies are not always on the scale of the Atlanta flood (or hurricanes or earthquakes or. . .) but may come in the form of a dam break in the community lake, a fire in a unit, or a medical emergency for a resident.

If your community prepares for emergencies, you will be able to deal with them more efficiently and, hopefully, with more successful results.

One way to do this is to create an emergency procedure manual for board members and staff to refer to in the case of the unexpected.

Such a manual may seem like an exercise that is not worth the time, but it can really help when the pressure is on. In stressful situations it can do the thinking for someone and lead them to the right path for reacting to to the emergency. It helps people to think more clearly and act more efficiently in the face of stress and danger. It helps people to find information easily in an emergency, which can mean that precious minutes (even seconds) that can mean a big difference in the impact of the emergency on the lives of the people living in the association, perhaps limiting property damage and personal injuries.

And of course, near and dear to my lawyer’s heart, it can reduce or limit liability for the association. If you can prove that the association took reasonable steps to avoid or limit the damage from the emergency it goes a long way to creating a good defense in a lawsuit.

What should such a manual contain?

  1. Emergency telephone numbers (not just the police, poison control, and local hospitals, but also utility companies, repair and restoration companies, and security guard services);
  2. Procedures for handling crime and violent behavior (from fights at the pool to dealing with intruders on common elements);
  3. Procedures for handling medical emergencies (locations of first aid kits and how to handle medical emergencies on Association property);
  4. Procedures for handling utility outages and equipment failures;
  5. Procedures for dealing with fires and explosions;
  6. Procedures for dealing with natural disasters;
  7. If you have employees, have a media policy, to give guidance on what employees can talk about with the media if they show up in response to a fire, explosion, or crime at the community; and
  8. Information on the Association’s insurance policies and how to make a claim.

The manual should be tailored to your community’s size and its amenities, where it is located, and who your members are.  Consider the specific demographics of your community to figure out both what your likely emergencies might be and how to respond to them.

Make sure the manual is easy to use in an emergency!  Will it be easy to pick out from all other binders or books?  Can you replace pages easily to keep it up to date?  How easy it is to read (keep in mind that the person reading it may be under a considerable amount of stress, the power may be out, etc.)?  Is it easy to find the necessary section — is there a clear table of contents, tabs, and other things that make it easy to find information with little thought necessary? 

If you have concerns, you may also want to ask your community manager, lawyer, insurance agent, or risk management consultant (or even all four) to participate in making up the community’s emergency manual.  Asking your local police and fire departmenrs for guidance and input would be helpful too. For more detailed information, check your local library or bookstore for titles like this one: Before Disaster Strikes.

Finally, once you put it together be sure to use it.   Make sure that key personnel and employees have copies and have read through it.  Review it annually to make sure it is up to date.

By: Amy H. Bray, a partner in our Commerical Real Estate Department.

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