Hurricane Preparedness and Loss Mitigation for Community Associations

From Hurricane Andrew to Hurricane Irma, the State of Florida has endured numerous destructive storms that foreshadow greater potential for destruction in the future. As evidenced by the fact that many community associations are still recovering from Hurricane Irma, communities should seek help now to ensure proper planning for the next natural disaster.  

It is strongly recommended that all community associations implement and workshop a hurricane preparedness plan to help board members and managers prepare themselves, residents and their property. Associations should consult with professionals in their advance emergency planning and can workshop and adopt such plan at open committee or board meetings to encourage membership awareness and participation. This workshop process should help the board gain a better understanding of the extensive emergency powers at its disposal in the event a state of emergency is declared. 

Generally, Associations should take into account at least five general stages of hurricane planning, preparedness, continuity, and recovery: 

  1. Contractual Preparedness: This includes confirming appropriate contractual provisions and relationships to address emergency contingencies and planning, and establishing pertinent hurricane related contractual responsibilities between unit owners, employees, vendors and management. Community associations should also secure insurance policies that are sufficient to meet statutory and governing documents requirements.
  2. Advance Workshopping of Written Emergency Plan: Consult with professionals to create an emergency plan checklist and adopt it to your association’s needs. Workshopping your emergency plan with a professional transparently provides an opportunity to ensure the right policies, procedures and protections are in place. Both the Condominium Act and Homeowners’ Association Act contain extensive emergency powers, such as the right to adopt emergency special assessments without a member vote, to establish and implement evacuation policies, to have meetings, etc. However, some of these powers must be enabled through the advance adoption of related rules, policies, and procedures.

Planning can be broken down into: 

    • Pre-storm: Checklists, property protection, generators, data and record backups and arrangements, seasonal property condition surveys, checking insurance policy requirements and claim procedures, notifications to members, rules for evacuations, pets, shutters and unit access, accumulation of pertinent vendor information, securing advance lines of credit, just to provide a few limited examples.
    • During the storm: Implementing command center/chain of command communication and operational protocols, sharing tips on how to stay safe, communicating with applicable agencies, emergency management, and governmental authorities, etc.
    • Post-storm: Emergency power sources, documentation of conditions, restoring operational continuity, mitigation of damages, remediation, and timely insurance claims.
  1. Resident Safety, Personnel Needs, and Protection of Property Upon Declaration of a State of Emergency: Consider how a storm declaration can disrupt your property’s business operations by affecting employees’, vendors, directors’, and residents’ personal lives. When a storm is declared there should be a checklist, resolutions, and announcements in place to streamline preparedness efforts while minimizing operational stress and overlooked details. Most importantly, do not ignore safety based upon a misguided fear of “assuming liability.” Safety should always come first and foremost. 
  1. Hurricane Operational Continuity: Often the key focuses of a continuity plan are operations, communications, record keeping, and physical infrastructure.   
  1. Post-hurricane Recovery and Loss Mitigation: Make sure to document the property’s condition before and after a storm and pursue insurance claims diligently. Depending on the type of damage, claims may apply to multiple separate insurance policies. Safeguard insurance policies and information, review policy notice requirements, and comply. Recovery from a natural disaster is a tedious and gradual process. Knowing if assistance is available and how to access it makes the process of recovery and efforts to reduce loss of life and property simpler. Mitigate damages, and prepare to have vendors in place who might otherwise be unavailable without planning.

When it comes to hurricane season, keep in mind the old idiom, “a stitch in time saves nine.” Hurricane planning saves money, lessens stress, and could save lives. To learn more, contact me at jgoldstein@haber.law.