Best Practices for Community Associations on Hurricane Preparedness: Action Steps Before a Hurricane Hits Your Community
Is your community association prepared for the next hurricane? In Florida, hurricanes tend to come in waves, such as two or three within a one- or two-year period, and then several years without a major hurricane. Due to yearly changes on most community association boards, by the time the next hurricane hits, the board members, and maybe even the manager, of your community may not have any experience in hurricane preparedness. The result may be a community association that is woefully prepared for making it through the hurricane. Do not let your community association fall into this situation. This blog post provides best practices and a list of items to complete before the next hurricane hits your community.
Obtain Current Videos and Pictures of Association Property:
- For a successful insurance claim, the association should have recent pictures and videos of all association property. These pictures and videos should include a date stamp to support the accuracy of such records, and new videos and pictures of association property should be taken each year prior to hurricane season. Copies of the videos and photos should be maintained electronically by the board and the manager.
- The association should also make sure it has an accurate site plan that shows the locations of items such as circuit breakers, water shut-off valves, gas lines, generators, pool pumps, lift stations, HVAC equipment, etc. In an emergency situation after a hurricane hits, it will be important to have an accurate depiction of these items for easy location.
Review all Association Insurance Policies:
- Be sure to understand the association’s insurance coverage, deductibles, exclusions, and proof of loss requirements. The association’s board and manager should review the current policies with the association’s insurance agent.
- Condo owners should also be encouraged to obtain their own individual homeowners policies (HO-6 policies) to cover the items that owners are responsible for pursuant to Section 718.111(11), Florida Statutes. When it comes to repairs after an insurable event, condo owners are responsible for repairing the following: personal property; floor, wall and ceiling coverings; electrical fixtures; appliances; water heaters; water filters; built-in cabinets and countertops; window treatments, including curtains, drapes, and blinds. Condo owners without individual coverage for their units will have to pay out-of-pocket for these items. An association’s insurance policy does not cover the interior of the units.
Update all Contact Information:
Obtain up-to-date contact information (telephone numbers, email addresses, alternate physical addresses) for all members, directors, officers, employees, and managers.
- Create a vendor list for services that will likely be needed after a hurricane hits the community.
- Be sure to secure vendor services quickly after a hurricane for needed services such as debris removal, tree cutting, window replacement, dry-outs, roof repairs, and mold/fungus remediation.
- Consider any members with disabilities. A list of services in your area available to such members should be compiled and provided to these members well in advance of a storm.
- All association computer hard drives should be backed up and stored in a safe location as well.
Common Area Considerations:
- Association entrance gates and/or doors should be left unlocked when there is a pending hurricane threat so that residents can come in and out of the association property as needed. Entrance gate arms should be removed. After all residents are evacuated, any elevators should be disabled on a middle floor to avoid flooding from the ground floor or leaks from the roof.
- The association should encourage owners to install hurricane shutters on their units.
- The association should also consider installing hurricane shutters on the common area windows. If not, the association should have plans in place to have all common area windows boarded if a hurricane approaches.
- All fire extinguishers, fire alarms, smoke detectors, other emergency alarms / equipment should be regularly inspected and replace as needed.
- The association should have all emergency lighting regularly inspected with new bulbs and batteries where needed.
- Complete those lingering common area repair needs. If the existence of common area damage and leaks around the property are known, including items such as roofs, windows, and pipes, those issues should be repaired immediately. Currently damaged common area items will only get worse during a major storm, which will lead to increased repair costs and potential additional liability.
- Inspect all windows prior to a storm to identify and repair any issues with the window frames, seals, caulking or windows themselves.
- Have all dead trees removed and the limbs of healthy trees trimmed.
- Remove all debris from the association property that may cause damage during a high-wind storm.
Account for the Snow Birds in the Community:
- Inevitably, hurricane damage seems to always happen to units where the owners are residing up north for the summer. Associations should establish rules and regulations to address snow bird situations, such as the following:
- Create a rule that any unit owner or occupant who plans to be absent during any part of hurricane season must prepare the unit prior to leaving and designate a company or person to care for the unit should a hurricane threaten the unit. The owner must furnish the association with the name and contact information of this company or person.
- Condo and townhome associations should have keys to all units for emergency access. This is especially needed for owners who do not permanently reside on the association property and leave their units vacant during hurricane season. Requiring all condo and townhome owners to provide the association with a spare key should be a rule within the association’s formal rules and regulations.
- Unsecured objects on balconies, porches, patios and lanais should be removed prior to owners vacating their units for the summer.
Official Records Storage:
- Physical copies of all official records should be maintained in an area to prevent damage from hurricane winds and flood waters. The records should be placed in watertight storage containers.
- The Association’s records should also be preserved in an electronic format. Copies of the records should be saved in multiple areas such as the manager’s office, the association’s office and on the cloud.
- The association should also prepare as if the power will be out for several days or more. Contact lists, vender lists, insurance policies, emergency services information, evacuation plans, and other important documents should be printed and maintained by a designated board member or by the manager.
- The association should have an updated evacuation plan for all residents to know their evacuation zones and routes out of the area. This should be made available to all residents and included on the association’s website.
- The association should meet with its bank and/or financial institution to secure an emergency line of credit in the event it is needed after a hurricane.
Understand the Board’s Statutory Emergency Powers:
- In response to damage from a declared state of emergency where the association is located, an association’s board is able to exercise certain emergency powers contained in the Florida Statutes for condominiums and HOAs. These emergency powers include, but are not limited to
- Cancel and reschedule any association meetings and provide notice as is practicable;
- Relocate the association’s principal office;
- Enter into agreements with local counties and municipalities to assist with debris removal;
- Implement a disaster plan, which may include shutting down or off elevators, electricity, water, sewer, security systems or air conditioners;
- With help of emergency management officials, determine any portion of the association property unavailable for entry or occupancy;
- Levy special assessments without a vote of the owners.
Community associations should not procrastinate when it comes to hurricane preparedness. The time to prepare is now. It can save lives, protect association property, and help to avoid costly damage and repairs. Association professionals should contact their insurance agent, attorney, financial institution, maintenance vendors and other resources to prepare for the next hurricane season.