Emergency Preparedness Techniques Every Apartment & Condo Dweller Must Know

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What's most important to you: Being able to look out your window and take in a stunning view of the water or of the bright lights of the city? Having access to concierge service? Living somewhere that's pet-friendly?

Roles in an Emergency

Or having convenient parking, a park within walking distance, or a pool on the property? You'll also want to take the time to learn about things like homeowners' associations and their fees and benefits. What does a condo association do, and what sorts of rules do they have? You should also look into the insurance requirements for high-rise- or condo-dwellers and how they might differ from what you're used to. And of course, you'll need to think about the major differences between living in an apartment, owning a condo, and owning a traditional home before making your decision.

The main thing a property manager must do to begin the planning process is to recognize the property's risks, agrees Cris Allen, area vice-president of the Dallas, Texas-based Arthur J. You want to assess and evaluate your sprinkler system and fire alarm system, as well as check the elevators," Allen says. Also, you need to know what kind of fire escapes you have and how well they will function during an emergency such as a fire, adds Allen.


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In addition to fires, one of the other most common types of emergencies that might befall a condo or co-op community is flooding. A water problem on the 30th floor could wipe out hundreds of units. Or a loss of electricity could make life unbearable in some apartments, particularly in units in older buildings, which may have no emergency lights to rely on.

Emergency Preparedness – High-Rise Apartments

Some of these crises are more common than we think, such as steam pipe explosions—there was one within the past year in New York City. Boston had such an explosion recently too, Williams says. Part of planning is preparing—make sure emergency generators and other building systems are maintained. And make sure you have spare parts, like extra sprinkler heads, in case one breaks," he says. To prepare for a bio-terrorism threat, a building's management should know where the building's fresh air intakes are, and know how to close the intakes in an emergency situation, Morelli advises.

Management also should be aware of warning signs of terrorism material. High-profile buildings with famous or well-known residents might want to be a bit more careful in noticing suspicious-looking packages in the mailroom, for instance. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the upcoming threat of pandemic flu make it even more important for property managers to plan for a crisis, she says. Transportation concerns and communications about the pandemic to residents must also be considered. Do's and don'ts, such as determining what services to shut down and when, i.

During an emergency a person's adrenaline can get pumping, and people who might intend to help could unintentionally get in the way. Board members, as leaders of the community, may feel the need to take a hand in the response to the emergency, but they should not always do so. Most often, board members should allow the building staff and the management company officials to deal with the situation, Williams says. Implementation of the emergency plan is the managing agent's responsibility, Morelli says.


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There are four responses to an emergency situation, he says. Shelter in place is a response to a situation where residents are instructed to stay put in their units, while the building staff shuts off the fresh air intakes and closes and secures the building. In-building relocation is a response where residents are told to go to a designated safe room in the building, or when they are instructed to find a safe room in their apartments to stay in, such as in the case of a "dirty" nuclear bomb.

Full evacuation involves complete evacuation of the building. Partial evacuation is when an emergency only affects part of the building, and requires a partial evacuation of the structure.

Tips for Apartment Emergency Preparedness

It's important that those responsible for a community's emergency plan do not neglect considering the requirements of "special needs" residents in their community during a crisis. Accommodations for evacuation of such residents, who could have limited mobility due to illness or who might be too young to follow an emergency plan, should be delineated while devising the emergency plan. Because of laws governing the disclosure of personal information, emergency providers such as firefighters or police officers cannot have a list before an emergency that informs them as to which residents of a building are disabled, Allen says.

But in the event of an emergency in the building, it is the responsibility of the property manager to immediately provide that information to emergency responders. Your game plan should also include phone numbers of potential service providers and other professionals you might need in the event of a crisis.

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Someone posted in front directing those exiting and sharing information with responders will help. According to Cervelli, it is extremely important that you don't obsess about what you cannot control. Instead, focus your efforts on how to deal with the immediate needs of your residents. One necessary element of a good emergency management plan is making sure it provides for plenty of communication between those in charge and the residents.

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Nothing is scarier than… not knowing what's going on. A 'calling tree,' whereby community members call one another in the event of a problem, is one way. Another, more modern method is a phone notification service that dials multiple phone lines at once with crucial information. A growing trend in the property management arena, phone notification systems are a great way to keep residents apprised of what's going on—immediately. In an emergency, knowing what to do and how to react is more than half the battle.

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