Legal Fair Warning:
by Frank A. Flynn, ESQ.
In the past few years, New England has been hit with its fair share of calamitous weather. Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Super Storm Sandy in 2012 both caused considerable amounts of damage (Sandy causing as much as $50 billion), and Winter Storm Nemo in early 2013 left many without power, stuck in their homes for several days, and of course the record breaking snow fall during 2015. With the unpredictable New England weather, it is critical to have a disaster plan in place to protect yourself, your residents and your community association.
An ounce of prevention can go a long way, as it is nearly impossible to make decisions while in the middle of a disaster. Here are some tips to make sure your association is prepared if the worst should happen.
A chain of command among board members is crucial, as the moments right after disaster strikes can be hectic. One or two people should be delegated to make decisions, as there may not be time to contact and discuss the plan of action with all board members. It is important to check with your association attorney to make sure your documents allow for such decision making. Flash floods have been a major issue in New England the past few years, and the waters will not wait until all board members are contacted before destroying your property. Board members should meet several times a year and go over its emergency preparedness plan and make sure the chain of command is up-to-date and still agreed upon.
Regarding emergency plans, it is important that every association has one and its residents have a copy. Emergency exits, evacuation plans, numbers to call and recommendations to protect their properties and families should be included. Updated contact information for each resident should be on hand in the case of an emergency; however, in the case of a power outage, a door to door visit might
In addition to resident contact information, other important documents such as association bank statements, tax returns, insurance policies, etc. should be backed up in a secure location in case the hard copies are destroyed in a fire or flood. These documents can be downloaded onto CDs or hard drives and stored in a secure second, preferably offsite, location. All valuable equipment within the association should be documented in photos, such as office equipment, machinery, lobby furniture and vehicles owned by the property. These photos should also be uploaded to a CD or hard drive and stored in a secure location as they may be necessary for insurance purposes.
Portable generators in case of a power failure can help get limited light back for important areas such as hallways or areas were elderly people reside. It can also allow for some restored power to charge cell phones and other devices. It is recommended that the association staff keep extra provisions such as non- perishable food, bottled water, first aid kits, extra clothing and blankets on hand. All outdoor items that are not secure such as grills, lawn chairs, pool equipment and potted plants should be moved inside to prevent damage or loss. All trees should be kept maintained and any branches should be properly trimmed to ensure they will not break off and cause damage to vehicles or the property.
Make sure your association has a good insurance policy and provider. The board should discuss this issue with their insurance agent. The most common damage caused by hurricanes are wind and flooding, so make sure your insurance covers these. Make sure all of your policies are up-to-date and in compliance with state law. Many insurance company websites will have a page dedicated to community association insurance, and they have different packages from which to choose.
The weather in New England can be unpredictable, and the storms only seem to be increasing in strength as the years go on. Make sure your community association is not caught unprepared the next time a storm hits, and make the appropriate adjustments to your disaster plan as needed. Review it several times a year and make sure your residents are aware that a plan is in place and you will be more than happy to go over it with them. An ounce of prevention can help avoid major headaches later on