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What to Do When Disaster Strikes -A Quick Guide for Condominium and Cooperative Boards

Co-ops and Condos

The smoke wafting over the East Coast from the Canadian wildfires this week highlights the importance of Board preparedness for the unexpected. While there is little anyone can do to stop nature’s machinations, there are steps that condominium and co-op boards can take to make the storms of life much more weatherable for everyone involved.

What Responsibilities Does the Board have?

The board must act in the best interests of building residents. The meaning of that task manifests in variety of ways, but all boils down to protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the community. As such, in the face of natural disasters or phenomena, boards need to be ready to respond to the situation proactively and rapidly.

How to Prep for the Unexpected

Though condominium and co-op boards have a responsibility to their communities, it is important to remember that they are not governmental entities. Thus, they must defer to city and state regulations and ordinances, always bearing in mind their fiduciary duties to the community. With that said, special provisions that will go into place during an emergency need to exist in the bylaws or house rules. It will set expectations for everyone involved, promote transparency, and keep everyone safer overall. Here are some the things that should be in place long before disaster strikes:

  1. Proper Insurance: It is important to know your insurance policy through and through if your building is self-managed, and if not, check in with your managing agent to make sure all necessary insurance is in place. Insurance should be reviewed regularly to determine coverage limits and exclusions.

2. Notification Systems: Prior to an emergency, there should be a reliable system put into place to communicate all FEMA, or any other government agencies’, advice, precautions, and directives to residents.

3. Emergency Preparedness Plans: The community should have copies, digital or otherwise, of an emergency preparedness plan that is reviewed and updated at least on a yearly basis. This plan can and should detail several things, such as where to find emergency resources or a strategy for assisting residents with mobility issues to safely leave disaster zones when necessary.

4. Write It Down: Bylaws and house rules should clearly state how emergencies situations are going to be managed and the scope of the board’s power. If they do not, contact legal counsel to implement necessary amendments.

5. Staff Training: It is important to ensure that the building staff is fully familiar with Emergency Preparedness Plans.

6. Establish Strong Lines of Communication: Disorganization can make an already dangerous or tense situation much worse. Keeping the lines of communication open will not only instill trust throughout the community, but also help keep everyone safe, informed, and prepared.

7. Revisit Reserve Funds before Disaster Strikes: Consider establishing a reserve fund specifically designated for large irregular repairs or purchases in the event of disaster or emergency.

Preparedness and planning not only protects the building community, but it will also serve to limit legal exposure.

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