Immense flooding occurred across Canada this summer. The Greater Toronto Area experienced heavy downpours, while cities in central and northern Alberta were evacuated due to flooding. These are just a few examples of the increasing severity of natural disasters.
Whether a result of global warming, urban expansion or inadequate city planning, one thing is clear: the potential for water-related disasters is real.
But it doesn’t take big storms to cause major problems for a residential condo tower. In fact, smaller scale events such as fires, burst pipes, or power outages can be extremely challenging for a number of reasons.
Perhaps most important is the leadership structure in residential towers. Condos typically don’t have the same type of central management as office buildings, nor are they guided by the same regulations. This can create a great deal of confusion when it comes to developing and maintaining emergency response processes.
So, how can these situations be handled in condo buildings? There are four basic steps that those responsible for a property need to take to help manage disasters effectively to get residents back into their units as soon as possible.
1. Establish leadership
Every good military and police operation has a strong central command, because it helps control the flow of information and the allocation of resources. Good disaster response is no different.
Defining jurisdiction will help prevent paralysis following a flood and improve the chances of effective management of the recovery process. When a condo building’s parking garage is flooded, who manages the disaster? Is it a property manager? The condo board? Or is there a separate committee that deals with these situations?
Before a condo is hit with an unexpected event, establish who is responsible for managing what. Then clearly communicate this to residents to streamline the response process. Also, make residents aware of where the building’s responsibility ends, and the unit owner’s responsibility begins.
2. Develop and test plans
Office buildings are mandated to develop emergency preparedness plans and conduct evacuation drills. But that’s not always the case for condo buildings. Condo buildings are required to test and maintain a working emergency alarm — nothing more.
A working bell is inadequate preparation in the event of a flood. Often, the elevators will be shut down, and residents — confused and panicked — will stampede down the stairwells. This is an extremely dangerous situation, especially if elderly or residents with accessibility needs are unable to make it down the stairwells unassisted. Keep an up-to-date list of residents detailing their requirements in the event of an evacuation.
Developing and testing an emergency preparedness plan is undoubtedly in the best interest of both the property manager and residents. With this prepared and tested, when a disaster hits, condo buildings should immediately put that plan into action. This includes issuing clear evacuation orders to residents and enabling the flow of people out of the building in a safe, controlled manner.
3. Communicate next steps
The first thing to break down during an emergency is communication. Having clear and strong leadership helps, but much more can still be done.
Residents should know what will happen after an evacuation order is issued and who to contact about next steps. The condo board, the property manager, or whoever is in charge, needs to distribute news via their website, newsletters, social media, or some other agreed upon vehicle so that residents are aware of the situation in their building. Also, pre-determine alternate meeting places so residents know where to get in contact with management.
4. Mobilize resources
After a disaster hits a condo building, specialized resources should be quickly mobilized to properly mitigate water damage such as mould and start a safe and healthy path to recovery. Depending on the size of flood, these resources could include professional technicians with water pumps, power generators, and dehumidifiers.
Management should have a professional restoration provider on speed dial who will arrive immediately, assess the situation and enact an emergency mitigation plan. The sooner this process begins, the sooner residents can begin returning home. The best scenario is having a partnership with a disaster restoration company already in place.
Failure to bring in specialists could result in individuals taking incorrect actions such as using electricity in a flooded unit, possibly endangering residents as well as lengthening the recovery timeline. Often, these professional service providers will be able to map out and track the progress of the damage, therefore speeding up the insurance claim process.
When it comes to disaster management in condo buildings, the mandated minimum is far from good enough. By establishing leadership, developing and testing plans, communicating next steps and mobilizing resources, condos will be far better equipped to respond to disaster and restore their properties.
Also: Share flood preparation tips with residents
Although flooding usually occurs in basements, it can also affect the individual units of a condo. Share these tips with residents to help mitigate flood damage in their unit:
- Raise large appliances onto wood or cement blocks. If possible, raise electrical panels, switches, sockets, wiring and heating systems — or otherwise protect them with a floodwall or shield.
- For extra precaution, install a water alarm for early warnings about the accumulation of water.
- Turn off the electricity in flood-prone areas of the unit if a flood is expected in the area.
- Create a bug-out bag. A change of clothes, bottled water, non-perishable food, first aid kit, and cash are a few things that residents should pack in case of an evacuation.
- Talk to condo owners about flood insurance to ensure they have adequate coverage. Standard insurance may or may not cover floods caused by water overflowing from lakes, rivers and other bodies of water (called overland flooding) but could be available separately.
- Stay informed. Follow the latest public weather alerts for the area at https://weather.gc.ca/warnings/index_e.html.
As with any disaster, preparation is key.
Margo Malowney is vice president of marketing and communications at FirstOnSite Restoration, a leading Canadian disaster restoration services provider, providing remediation, restoration and reconstruction services nationwide, and for the U.S. large loss and commercial market. With over 1,100 employees, 37+ locations and 20 affiliate partners, FirstOnSite serves the residential, commercial and industrial sectors.