Sep 15, 2015

Protect Your Community with a Disaster Plan

Woody Goldstein
Sep 15, 2015  |  Real Estate

Protect the Innocent from the Uncontrollable

By: Woody Goldstein, CPA

As the summer has drawn to a close and the leaves have started to transition into their magnificent annual fall colors, our thoughts invariably turn to the completion of the hurricane season and the pending winter season.  We are also reminded on an almost daily basis of the lasting results of Hurricane Sandy, or as some would call it “Superstorm Sandy”.  Regardless of that storm’s title, the effects on property and human lives are ever present in the northeast, some 3 years later.

In late October 2012, Superstorm Sandy became the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history as it caused more than $22 billion in insured losses.  Therefore, whether you live in the suburbs or in one of the five boroughs of New York City, or whether you live in a high-rise, condominium, town home or single family home, you can protect many aspects of your association by preparing in advance.

Review All Insurance Coverag

You can’t buy insurance after a disaster takes place.  However, there are many steps that you can and should take in advance to be certain that you have the proper coverage:

The Board of the CIRA (i.e., Common Interest Realty Association – Co-op, Condo or HOA) should have a Member who is responsible for reviewing the CIRA’s insurance coverage.

Meet with the CIRA’s insurance broker/agent on an annual basis.

Understand what coverage you have (e.g. property, flood, wind, liability, directors and officers insurance, workers compensation, etc.).

Understand the coverage details, limitations and deductibles.

Be sure that all the CIRA’s insurable assets are covered.

Be sure that your coverage is in accordance with the CIRA’s governing documents (e.g. Offering Plan, Proprietary Lease, By-Laws, House Rules, etc.).

Review the values of the CIRA’s assets annually and compare them with the policy limitations.

Maintain detailed files to document additions to the CIRA’s property, including vendor invoices and photographs.

Provide all Board Members with a summary of the CIRA’s insurance coverage annually and include contact information in the event of a loss.

Review Your Physical Plant, Site Plan and Amenities

It is commonplace across the multi-family housing industry that a CIRA’s property is inspected periodically to identify conditions that need repairs and maintenance.  This inspection can be made by the CIRA’s property management company, CIRA employees or by a committee of Board Members and unit owners with professional experience (e.g. engineer), or by a combination of these persons.  Storm preparedness should be part of the periodic inspections.

However, it is imperative in the event of an imminent severe weather event that the CIRA inspect all of its facilities for conditions that could lead to potential increased property damage and risks to human life.  In this regard, the following are a few suggestions of preventative measures:

Secure loose objects (e.g. pool furniture, barbeques, recreational equipment, etc.).

Examine landscaping and trees for dangerous conditions.

Examine roofs for damage, leaks and dangerous conditions.

Examine leaders and gutters for blockages.

Examine storm drains and the CIRA’s water run-off system for proper functionality.

Ascertain if certain areas are prone to flooding.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is an idiom that has specific relevance to storm preparedness.  After completing the above pre-storm inspection procedures, CIRAs should take the necessary steps to alleviate all conditions that could lead to increased storm damage.

Review Entrances, Exits, Stairways and Gatehouses

Examine entrances, exits, stairways and gatehouses for dangerous conditions and take steps to alleviate them pre-storm.  Review these amenities for potential operational functionality both during and after the pending severe weather event.  For example:

Do you have back-up power and emergency lighting for the entrances/exits/stairways and gatehouses?

If there is a power outage, does your gate system default to the “open” position?

Do you have a back-up power supply and has it been inspected, as well as prepared for the severe weather event?

Other Planning Measures

 

Check on Fiduciary Bonds.  CIRAs who use payroll service providers to pay their employees should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place.  The bond could protect the CIRA in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

Create a Backup Set of Records Electronically. The Board and/or its managing agent should keep a set of backup records in a secure safe place at all times.  The backup should be stored away from the original set (i.e., off-site).  Records such as bank statements, tax returns and insurance policies are often stored electronically, but scanning and saving to a backup storage device is recommended.  The backup information should be updated at least semi-annually.

Have an Emergency Response Plan.  Form an emergency response committee consisting of Board Members and unit owners.  Establish specific roles for each committee member, including: (a) one or more persons to check on all residents, especially the elderly, (b) communication coordinator, (c) inspection of the CIRAs’ property, and (d) public relations during the disaster’s aftermath.  All committee members should be provided with multiple contact information, including contact information for the Association’s managing agent and those key vendors who will be responsible for restoration after the event has ended.

Life-Sustaining Equipment.  If your association has residents who rely on life-sustaining equipment, ask your utility company if such medical equipment qualifies you to be listed as a life-sustaining equipment customer or if you are eligible to register for a priority power restoration program.

Update Emergency Plans.  Emergency plans should be reviewed annually. When CIRAs hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, plans should be updated accordingly and employees should be informed of the changes.

This article is only meant to highlight some of the steps that a CIRA can take in order to prepare for a severe weather event or other natural disaster.  In addition there is also a significant amount of valuable preparedness information that can be obtained from the following organizations:

FEMA (800) 621-FEMA (3362) http://www.fema.gov/

Nassau County http://www.nassaucountyny.gov/

NYC Government http://www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/get_prepared/ready.shtml

NYS Government http://www.ny.gov/

Red Cross http://www.redcross.org/ny/new-york/

Suffolk County http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/

While you cannot control Mother Nature and prevent natural disasters, you can be proactive and take the necessary steps to protect your Association before, during and after an event.