Disaster Basics: Four Critical Steps Boards Must Take Before the Next Storm

Habitat Staff in Board Operations on December 11, 2012

New York City

Four Critical Disaster Preparedness Steps

Dec. 11, 2012 — If your co-op or condo board hasn't given it thought before, superstorm Sandy brought home the point with hurricane-force winds: Buildings need to have an emergency preparedness plan. It's not just about stocking up on flashlights or buying a generator — it's also about going over documents such as insurance policies so that you know what is and isn't covered, and taking steps to avoid not just physical disaster but financial disaster. Here are three overview steps that condo and co-op boards should consider above and beyond laying in supplies.

Marshal Insurance Facts

Barbara Strauss, an executive vice president at York International, an insurance broker, advises owners to "be concerned about mold from the water. Get in and clean it as quickly as possible." (If you have sheetrock walls, remove them.) Take a picture of the damage, then contact your insurance broker. He or she will get an adjuster on the scene and, if you are covered, you will be reimbursed. 

In situations such as the catastrophic storm in October, there will probably be delays in getting adjusters to your property. That could mean more delays in getting your claim settled – which is especially bad news if your building is uninhabitable. In those cases, Strauss points to a solution: "If somebody is really devastated and their loss is extremely severe, they can sometimes get an advance from their insurance company." 

There is another wrinkle of which you should be aware. Both Strauss and broker Michael Spain, president of Spain Agency, say that under some policies, the carrier is requiring a statement from the building's energy supplier confirming that the utility's relay station went down. With Con Ed, this condition can be met by citing information on its website, stating that your property was in a flood zone that lost power. 

Then, the co-op or condo will have to show how that caused a dollar loss to the property. "For example," Spain explains, "they have to show they were forced to rent portable generators, or that people stopped paying [maintenance], or that the commercial tenant stopped paying rent. They have to show there was direct out-of-pocket loss [to the property] because of the utility's failure to provide electricity. The insurance carrier is not just going to start writing checks without that."

The board should also remind residents to consult with their own insurance carriers.

Shine the Light

Stock up on glow sticks (below). These are inexpensive, waterproof light sources that are safe in any kind of catastrophic situation. Unlike flashlights, sticks don't need batteries, are individually foil-wrapped, can glow for 12 hours, and often have a three-year shelf life.

disaster basics - GLOsticks

Most management firms buy them in bulk; they are available from many outlets (see box, below). Prices vary, so call around. Also, it is important to buy them in bulk and stockpile them before a storm hits. If you use the sticks to light hallways, they need to be replaced every 12 hours — and you may not be able to get new ones during a crisis. After Sandy struck, supplier F&F sold out its entire stock of 55,000 sticks.

Don Wilson, president of Blue Woods Management Group, says light sticks are good but do not give off as much light as the battery-operated fluorescent Energizer LED Task Light, which he says is more reliable than typical emergency lighting. "Emergency lighting can have a limited life," he explains, noting that batteries run out of power even when they're not being used, so they may be dead when you need them in an emergency.

Who's Who? 

Staff should be assigned the task of checking up on the elderly and the infirm. How your manager goes about doing that depends on the size and make-up of the building, explains Don Levy, a vice president at Brown Harris Stevens. Management should have a list of locations for those who need the most help. Get a head start on planning potential evacuations. "If a flood knocks out the elevators, you have to plan for how you get people out," says Levy.

Most buildings should have emergency contact forms to get in touch with family members of the residents. Keep those updated.

(Real) Paper Trail

Your manager should keep communication channels open through e-mail, social media, cell phones — and good, old-fashioned paper. After the October storm, Blue Woods's Wilson delivered news by distributing paper memos under the doors, because he wasn't sure that his various electronic messages were getting through. The board/management should also have an updated paper contact list for all residents. 


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