preparing

Preparing for the Worst

What to do before every second counts
Thursday, November 10, 2016

No one likes to think about disasters, but the reality is they happen. Being prepared and aligning with the right partners can be the difference between a quick response or a long and costly recovery.

For more than 30 years, teams from FirstOnSite Restoration have been on the frontlines of disaster events across the country. For insights into how condo stakeholders can bounce back from future emergencies, we reached out to the experts at FirstOnSite.

What does it really mean to be prepared for a disaster?

Truly being prepared means having a team and a plan in place that you can quickly engage when needed. It also means securing help before you actually need it. If you wait to cold call an emergency restoration company during a catastrophe, the result will likely be a much different response than one you’d get from a pre-qualified and trusted restoration partner.

In a condo environment, you can also do a lot to educate your Board of Directors and/or owners on the best practices for mitigating a loss. Having multiple stakeholders (e.g. tenants, unit owners, board members, property managers, and property owners) also means that many different layers of planning and documentation are necessary.

What should be done during the first few hours of a disaster to ensure an effective response?

One of the first things you’re going to want to do is contain the people, pets, and instruments that may travel between affected and unaffected areas to avoid cross-contamination. You want to gather in a central area – possibly away from the media – and provide everyone information and set preliminary expectations at once.

In those first few hours, you also want to have access any community resources that are available to you and your residents during this difficult time, as well any necessary documentation (insurance, environmental, vendor contacts, warranty information, etc). Last but not least, you want to give restoration professionals the ability to fully assess the extent of the building damage.

What are the other elements of a successful response?

Managing a disaster successfully essentially comes down to having the right team following a pre-determined plan that is right for your condo. This doesn’t need to be a complex and daunting task. Partnering with a service provider like FirstOnSite before a disaster happens helps ensure that you have a response partner you can count on.

In addition, identify a partner who can also provide assistance to condo boards and property managers when building and maintaining a disaster plan.

FirstOnSite was one of the first on the scene during the Fort McMurray fires. How has this experience influenced your approach since?

The Fort McMurray fires reminded us how important our customer’s priorities are. Emergency restoration is our business, and we deal with disasters of all sorts, sizes, and severities. In Fort McMurray, we were reminded regularly that the damage we saw as relatively minor and easy to restore was catastrophic to our clients. It was an important reminder that we are a customer service industry first and foremost.

What makes a restoration following a natural disaster like a wildfire different?

For one, it’s vastly different in multi-family properties like a condo. We had several projects with an excess of 300 units affected over multiple structures, and this would almost never happen in any other circumstance. This situation also complicated restoration efforts since in a normal flood or fire there would typically be some undamaged units that could be used as temporary housing for residents, or some units which could be occupied immediately. This was not the case during the wildfire.

On one hand, the evacuation complicated restoration by making it very difficult to have staff enter the area and begin the mitigation early. On the other hand, the evacuation made things easier in some facilities because, once we did have access, it allowed us a free and clear environment to work in without having to modify and/or slow our work to respect the occupant’s schedules and priorities. This certainly sped up the restoration effort in some respects.

FirstOnSite Restoration is a leading Canadian disaster restoration company, providing remediation, restoration, and reconstruction services nationwide, as well as for the US large loss and commercial market. For more information, visit www.firstonsite.ca.

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