You are a resident in a high-rise (or multiple floor) building. You are working from home and are on a Virtual Meeting call.
You hear the fire alarm sound.
You shrug your shoulders in annoyance. “Ugh, it’s going off again.”
You mute yourself and tell your team members you will be back in a few minutes.
You call the concierge (or management company) to find out what is going on. No one answers. "Of course, they never pick up the phone when it matters..." you mumble to yourself.
You wait in your unit, for that annoying sound to stop.
The fire alarm is not stopping. Your heart starts beating faster. "Is this a real emergency?" you ask yourself.
You look out the window. No one is evacuating. You wait again. You hear a knock on the door. It’s your neighbor. “Come on, we have to evacuate.”
You look around. What do you do? What do you grab? You put your laptop and charger in your bag real quick
“Come on we have to go now.” Your neighbor pulls your hand, as you grab for your phone on the way out.
You are standing outside. You don’t know when you can go back in. All of your personal belongings are in your home. You call work and your partner to let them know the building has been evacuated.
Residents are starting to gather in a huddle across the street. Everyone looks confused and in a daze. One resident is in a bathrobe; another is in pajamas. Some residents aren’t wearing shoes.
You look around.
You see that the management team has set up a table and a tent. You walk over. There is a clip board with a sign in sheet for residents to check in. You ask what is going on.
“I’m sorry, but…..the building is being evacuated and it is not safe to enter. Please tell your family or friends meeting you to meet you here…” as the management representative points to a map with a near-by building circled and highlighted.
There are a multitude of reasons that you may be evacuated from your building.
- Power outage
- Water outage
- Air conditioning outage
- Heat outage
- Unsafe Structure
- Object hit building
- And many others…
Sometimes, an evacuation may be immediate, and you are lucky if you have time to grab your keys, shoes, and phone (like a fire). Other times, you may have more notice, and are able to pack a bag (like an extended power outage).
But the question remains the same in all instances: Do you have a plan?
- Do you know how to safely evacuate your building or community?
- Do you know where to go to check in with the management company (onsite and offsite assembly areas)?
- Do you have an emergency bag packed with essentials (go-bag)?
- Do you have a place to go if you are displaced overnight or for multiple days?
Where to begin: A Go Bag.
What’s in Your Go Bag?
For me and my family of 6, my go bag is a rolling tool kit. The top half is filled with emergency supplies for just about any disaster that ever occurred – first aid kit, masks, safety glasses, duct tape, tissues, safety vests, glow sticks, flashlights, am/fm radio, sunscreen, ponchos, emergency blankets, ear plugs, whistle, scissors, emergency food…and the bottom half has one set of clothes and slippers for the kids. Slippers are easy to put on, comfortable on the feet, and warm in the winter. They also stretch a little if the shoe size isn't exact.
And, my rolling kit sits next to the bedroom door ready to go in the case of an emergency. While my friends and family think I am crazy, after having a complete building loss affect many homeowners, I remain ready and prepared. (Those ponchos and emergency blankets, are also great for sporting events!)
I have a second emergency go kit packed in my car, but for my communities. While the bottom half doesn’t need to have clothes for my kids, it does have an extra set of clothes for myself (in case I get wet, or need to stay elongated hours at a community), signage, clipboards, duct tape, and the likes so that I can create an on-site assembly area (inside or outside) or have identification at an off-site assembly area.
Bonus: This “emergency” kit is handy for elections and community meetings too – the center tray is full of pens, pencils, etc. and enables for easy transport of ballots and the like.
For you, your “go bag” needs to be what you need for 2-3 days of survival. Hopefully, you never have to try that emergency food (it doesn’t actually taste all that great), but it is best to be prepared for the worst then be trapped and wishing you were prepared. A guideline is included by the Red Cross below:
What Do You Need In a Survival Kit | American Red Cross
And, know where you are going to go. Are we going through the woods and over the hills to Grandma’s house? A hotel? A friend’s house? Have a plan and know it. Depending on the type of disaster, you may want a local/nearby solution and one that is also further away.
What’s next: Evacuation Plan
How do you get out of your building or community???!!!???
Some cities require that your property manager has an evacuation plan on file, while others do not. Regardless, there should be a plan from your property manager/management company, that has been reviewed and approved by the Fire Marshal and/or Emergency Management Team. This plan should be overly communicated to residents, and as a resident, you should know this plan inside and out.
An evacuation plan should include:
- When to use or not use an elevator
- Where the fire tower is located (and where it exits – as it may not be the first floor)
- Where is the onsite assembly area (inside the building and outside on the grounds)
- Where is the offsite assembly area (if the entire property needs to be evacuated)
Management companies can also reach out to disaster recovery contractors (see the Community Association Institute [CAI] for a list of business partners in the local area). Many of these firms have apps and disaster recovery plans for different emergencies already built out and in-place to assist communities. Take advantage of these offerings now, before the disaster happens. A little planning goes a long way and can reduce panic and frustration in the middle of the emergency.
How Will Management Communicate the Plan?
Unfortunately, depending on the urgency of the evacuation, not all communication methods may work. Residents should be as patient as possible and be open to receiving multiple levels of communication. Meanwhile, the manager and management company should be prepared to provide patience in return, in addition to multiple levels of communication.
- Paper signs
- Hand delivered notices
- Notices on elevators and doors
- Update website/web portal
- Email blasts
- Social media posts
- Text message
- Phone blast
Unplanned, URGENT, Evacuation:
- The fire alarm is your first indication that you should evacuate. Pay attention to it. Always.
- Look for any visible signage on doors, concierge desk etc. that provide directions for assembly locations.
- Phone blast (when able)
- Text message blast (when able)
- Email blast (when able)
- Social media posts (when able)
- Website/Web Portal (when able)
REMEMBER: When the fire alarm is sounding, management and employees should not be answering the phone, as they are interacting with first responders. Please evacuate to the appropriate assembly area when you hear the fire alarm and wait for further directions.
What Happens at the Assembly Area?
Every emergency is different and requires different reactions. But every community should have:
On-site Assembly Area
Off-site Assembly Area
These assembly areas are important because Management, First Responders, and Emergency Management Professionals will want to check-in residents to ensure all residents are accounted for – including Homeowners, Residents, Tenants, and their pets.
This is also the place where in-person communication will be provided to those who are displaced, including how long the evacuation may occur, any updates on the emergency etc.
If needed, the assembly area is the place where family or friends will meet those affected by the emergency. Be sure to sign in before leaving the assembly area though, as we want to make sure all Homeowners, Residents, Tenants, and their pets are accounted for and are not missing inside of the building/community.
In an ideal world, management will erect a table (and a tent, if it is an outside assembly area), with clear signage posted. There will be a clip board and sign-in sheet. Management will already have a list of Homeowners, Residents, Tenants, and their Pets. A spokesperson will be present from management to meet with residents and their loved ones.
In a real emergency? Give management a chance to set up and get organized. Depending on the type and severity of the emergency, there are many moving parts that must be coordinated including making our way to the community (to support an on-site manager or if a manager isn’t sited).
Be sure to also be patient with First Responders. All of the Residents want answers and updates, and I promise, we want to provide them to you. But we do not want to provide inaccurate information. Communication will be limited until we have the correct information to provide.
Helpful Hint: Please remember to be nice to your management company when we perform annual or bi-annual requests for contact information (including your emergency contacts!). By providing us with your contact information, we will be able to communicate more clearly and efficiently in emergencies. We also only request your emergency contact information in the case of an emergency to help you!
Summary: Emergencies are scary for Homeowners, Residents, Tenants, and their pets. But, with a good plan in place and continued practice (fire drills, emergency preparedness drills), everyone can be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Work together now with your Property Manager and Property Management Company, by providing up-to-date important contact information, AND participating in fire drills and emergency preparedness drills so that we can be helpful to you in your time of need.
Bricck Property Management is a boutique property management firm serving Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. We provide best-in-class property management services to Condominiums, Homeowner’s Associations (HOA’s), Planned Communities, Active Adult Communities, and Lifestyle Communities. We are redefining the property management industry, placing big technology first. By automating simple systems, we can provide our time and attention where it matters most: the Residents.