When Disaster Strikes

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The duties of a property management company are usually associated with the operations of a building – making sure the snow is cleared from the parking lots, repairs are made to an air conditioner on the blink, the rent payments are collected and the utility bills are paid. However, one item that is critical but sometimes overlooked, or at least minimized, is disaster planning. Our world is considerably different today as compared to just a decade or two ago and unfortunately, disaster planning now has a much greater focus. This month, we are going to discuss several components that should be a part of any prudent plan.

About That Plan

While most buildings have a plan, many fall short in terms of their scope and comprehensiveness. When things go bad, they sometimes go really, really bad. Think about events such as Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 or Superstorm Sandy. Although these may have been once-in-a-lifetime occurrences, the fact that large scale disasters can and do happen underscores the importance of having a plan that considers what may initially seem extreme. Transportation, fuel and supplies may not be available for days or even weeks. Key members of the property management team may be injured or unavailable. Important physical components of the plan may be damaged or destroyed. The more comprehensive the plan is, the more effective it will be in managing any disaster, large or small.

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s one thing to have a plan, but quite another to actually execute it. Practicing various components should be an integral part of the ongoing preparation. These exercises are also opportunities to explore various “what ifs.” For example, practices can be a great time to cross-train the building and management staff to help promote continuity and ensure that critical plan elements are carried out. Also, be sure to include tenants in some of the practice exercises, as it’s important to integrate any disaster plans that these companies may have into the overall plan for the building.

Reaching Out

Vendors are often an important partner for the disaster plan. However, these vendors may also be affected by a widespread occurrence, so it’s critical to understand any potential limitations and develop solid alternatives. Building and management teams must be able to cast a wide net when it comes to finding resources during and after a disaster. The best time to lay this groundwork is before you actually need it.

Communication

A good plan isn’t just about knowing what to do, but also, how to communicate it. Technology has provided many alternatives to facilitate this, including automated mass outbound or “push” notifications via phone, text and/or email messages. There are also many inbound or “pull” forms of communication that can be utilized, such as toll-free numbers with pre-recorded messages, websites and social media. Speaking of technology, it is imperative to include items such as phone systems, computer servers and data storage systems in any prudent plan. Finally, be sure to consider alternative means of communication in the event of a system-wide failure.

Think Long-Term

Just like any other business plan or process, a disaster plan should be thought of as a continually evolving effort. Regular exercises that practice the various components of the plan will help focus on what works and what needs to be modified. Changes in technology can lead to better, more effective methods. For example, Twitter, which can be a great tool to aid communications, didn’t even exist 10 years ago and changes in the real estate industry itself can help to mold the plan in new ways. For example, the trend toward open-plan office environments have resulted in a higher density of workers, which is an important consideration for a disaster plan.

Put It In Writing

The best plans are the ones that are fully committed to writing. While it may seem redundant to have every little detail of the plan described, we need to consider a worstcase scenario. What if elements of the plan have to be carried out by people that are unfamiliar with the property or even unaffiliated with the property management company? Having the plan in writing will ensure that a complete roadmap has been created and ultimately increase the chances of the plan being successfully carried out.

Disaster Plans Are a Lot Like Insurance Policies

Alert Communications

We hope that there is never the need to use it, but are certainly thankful that we have it in the event the need arises. Just like a good insurance policy, you have to not only make sure to understand all of that fine print, but make sure it’s actually there. Ira Krumholz CPM

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