Follow 6 Guidelines When Creating Site’s Disaster Preparedness Plan
Severe weather is in the forecast. Is your site prepared?
Increasingly frequent and severe weather events pose a growing threat to federally assisted housing and its residents. Extreme weather events can lead to flooding, power loss, property damage, transportation disruptions, interrupted access to critical resources, and even loss of life.
A recently published report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC) put a spotlight on the risks posed by natural hazards to federally assisted housing. The report, Natural Hazards and Federally Assisted Housing, analyzed federally assisted housing and census tracts at high risk for at least one of 18 natural hazards. It found that most federally assisted low-income housing sites are in census tracts of high risk for at least one natural hazard. According to the report, 25 percent of federally assisted rental homes are in census tracts with the greatest risk of losses from tornadoes; 23 percent are in census tracts with the greatest risk of losses from riverine flooding; and 21 percent are in census tracts with the greatest risk of earthquake-related losses.
As the threat of severe weather events grows, crafting a plan to deal with potential disasters at your site is an important element of providing a safe environment for your staff and residents. Federally assisted housing is especially vulnerable when disaster strikes, because low-income residents have less access to resources to help them recover. However, with a disaster preparedness manual in place, owners and residents can be better prepared to minimize the disruption that disasters cause. The benefits of a plan, beyond making it easier for all concerned to stay calm during an emergency, may include:
- Reduced insurance costs.
- Reduced impact of building, resident, and business damage when hazards occur.
- Increased quality of life for residents by increasing building and operational security and community connection.
- Maintained continuity of business operations under variety of risk conditions.
- Preserved investor confidence.
To help you create such a plan for your staff to follow, we’ll draw upon the Multifamily Disaster Preparedness Plan Template recently published by HUD to help owners produce site-specific plans to protect resident life and safety during a disaster. Here are six guidelines you can follow to create an effective disaster preparedness plan and make sure it’s used the right way.
Guideline #1: Research Site’s Risk Profile
You should include your procedures for handling natural disasters that may occur at your site because of its geographic location. To assess the threats that natural hazards pose to your site, you can use FEMA’s National Risk Index (NRI). The NRI is a dataset and online tool to help illustrate the U.S. communities most at risk for 18 natural hazards. It was designed and built by FEMA in close collaboration with various stakeholders and partners in academia; local, state, and federal government; and private industry. And it’s intended for planners and emergency managers at the local, regional, state, and federal levels, as well as other decision makers, and interested members of the general public.
The NRI map can be found at https://hazards.fema.gov/nri/map. To identify hazard risk by census tract for your buildings, first switch to “Census Tract” view in the upper left-hand corner and enter your property address in the search bar. Then identify hazards that are “relatively high” or “very high” according to FEMA’s NRI. However, be sure to apply potential hazard risk to your site on a case-by-case basis. It may be the case that an identified hazard through the NRI dataset isn’t likely to impact a specific site. For example, a site located on top of a hill may not face river flooding risk even if the census tract the site is located in shows a relatively high risk for flooding.
Guideline #2: Gather Critical Contact and Special Needs Information
During a disaster, residents’ safety is the main concern. When a disaster strikes, your staff will be communicating emergency information, including evacuation procedures and other safety information to all residents, and assisting residents with evacuation. To be effective, before a disaster strikes, you should identify residents most likely to need mobility help, such as residents who may need additional assistance in moving locations as a result of physical or mental impairments or medical equipment.
One way to gather the necessary information is through a resident survey. You can use our Model Form: Emergency Preparedness Resident Survey, below, to gather contact and special needs information and communication preferences. The survey is voluntary and to be used only for emergency preparedness.
Guideline #3: Include Emergency Evacuation Route
In your manual, you should include an emergency evacuation route that identifies evacuation locations throughout the site. You should also distribute flyers before emergencies to show the evacuation route for buildings with safe egress routes identified. These maps also can mark accessible exits, first-aid kits, automated external defibrillators (AEDs), or any other item that’s significant to the building. For guidance on how to create an evacuation route diagram for your site’s building, you can visit the U.S. Fire Administration website at www.usfa.fema.gov/blog/cb-052417.html.
Guideline #4: Plan for Building Shutdown and Re-Open
Every site must have a plan to shut down a site building under tight deadlines. To do this, you need an assessment of a building’s vulnerabilities and critical systems. For example, if your site has an emergency backup generator, say where it’s located and how it works, and what critical needs the generator will power such as a sump pump. Elevators may need to be shut down and recalled above flood level.
You may also have a plan to secure the site’s perimeter. All freestanding equipment and materials including patio furniture and loose tools may need to be tied down or anchored. Or the perimeter may need flood protection in the form of sandbags and flood gates.
This section of your plan can also include an inventory of critical building equipment. The inventory should be updated at least once a year when new equipment is installed or purchased. And in a disaster, you can use the inventory to quickly order or repair damaged equipment.
Guideline #5: Have Plan to Move Vital Records to a Secure Location
An important part of preparing for disasters is to limit disruptions and try to get back online as soon as possible. Your plan should have a list of your vital documents, customized to fit your site’s needs, and it should be updated at least once a year. Be sure to identify the documents’ location, whether physical or electronic. You may need the following documents for important financial and operational matters after a disaster:
- Building plans. You can assemble digital and hard copies of building plans. If these are not accessible or don’t exist, sketch layouts of floors and locations of all critical equipment such as utilities and connections;
- Equipment inventory. Include receipts of major equipment purchases made in the past five years;
- License and serial numbers list for IT/telecommunications equipment and software;
- List of passwords for computers, buildings security, and accounts. This list should be protected by password and made available to only one or two senior staff members;
- Current insurance policies;
- Property records such as permits and certificates of occupancy for each building;
- Employee contact information;
- Critical vendor contact information;
- Resident surveys and associated documents; and
- Legal documents related to open enforcement actions or active court cases.
Guideline #6: Make Manual Available to Staff
Keep a copy of your emergency response manual in a central location in your management office and your security office, if you have one. And make sure every on-site manager has a copy. You needn't provide all other employees with their own copies of the manual, but you should let them know where they can find one in case of an emergency.
Also keep at least one copy of your manual off-site. That way, if an emergency prevents you from getting to the manuals you keep at your site, you'll still have access to a copy. Also tell your staff members that the information in your emergency response manual is confidential. That way, they’ll keep private any sensitive information that you include—such as telephone numbers, security system information, and insurance information.
Safefy Information and Steps to Take After Disaster Events
> Stay Safe After a Flood
- Pay attention to the authorities for information and instructions. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
- Avoid driving except in emergencies.
- Wear heavy work gloves, protective clothing, and boots during cleanup and use appropriate face coverings or masks if cleaning mold or other debris.
- People with asthma and other lung conditions and/or immune suppression should not enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth that can be seen or smelled. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work.
- Be aware that snakes and other animals may be in your house.
- Be aware of the risk of electrocution. Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water. Turn off the electricity to prevent electric shock if it is safe to do so.
- Avoid wading in floodwater, which can be contaminated and contain dangerous debris. Underground or downed power lines can also electrically charge the water.
- Use a generator or other gasoline-powered machinery ONLY outdoors and away from windows.
> Stay Safe After a Hurricane
- Pay attention to local officials for information and special instructions.
- Document any property damage with photographs. Contact your insurance company for assistance.
- Be careful during cleanup. Wear protective clothing, and use appropriate face coverings or masks if cleaning mold or other debris. People with asthma and other lung conditions and/or immune suppression should not enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth that can be seen or smelled, even if these individuals are not allergic to mold. Children should not help with disaster cleanup work.
- Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water. If it is safe to do so, turn off electricity at the main breaker or fuse box to prevent electric shock.
- Do not wade in flood water, which can contain dangerous pathogens that cause illnesses. This water also can contain debris, chemicals, waste, and wildlife. Underground or downed power lines also can electrically charge the water.
- Save phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems often are down or busy after a disaster. Use text messages or social media to communicate with family and friends.
> Stay Safe After a Wildfire
- Do not return to the building until authorities say it is safe to do so.
- Avoid hot ash, charred trees, smoldering debris, and live embers. The ground may contain heat pockets that can burn you or spark another fire.
- When cleaning, wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves, and sturdy thick-soled shoes during clean-up efforts.
- Use a respirator to limit your exposure, and wet debris to minimize breathing dust particles. People with asthma, COPD, and/or other lung conditions should take precautions in areas with poor air quality, as it can worsen symptoms.
- Document property damage with photographs. Conduct an inventory and contact your insurance company for assistance.
- Send text messages or use social media to reach out to family and friends. Phone systems are often busy following a disaster. Make calls only in emergencies.
> Stay Safe After a Tornado
- Save your phone calls for emergencies and use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.
- Pay attention to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, and local authorities for updated information.
- Stay clear of fallen power lines or broken utility lines.
- Contact your healthcare provider if you are sick and need medical attention. Wait for further care instructions and continue to shelter in place.
- Wear appropriate gear during cleanup such as thick-soled shoes, long pants, and work gloves, use appropriate face coverings or masks if cleaning mold or other debris.
See The Model Tools For This Article
|Emergency Preparedness Resident Survey