6 Things You Can Do to Protect Properties and Residents During Hurricane Season
Protect your properties, your residents, and yourself from storm risks by taking action now.
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2017 was a painful reminder that hurricanes are the most devastating storms that occur on Earth — in terms of both loss of life and property. In fact, 2017 has earned the dubious distinction as the most expensive hurricane season in U.S history, causing more than $300 billion dollars in damage. Hurricane Harvey alone tore through $180 billion of those dollars, while Hurricane Irma’s intensity ignited talk about the creation of a “Category 6” for hurricanes (the current scale only goes to 5). Not to be outdone, 2018’s hurricane season started earlier than usual with Hurricane Alberto arriving May 28th, a week before the official start of hurricane season.
The point is that hurricanes are becoming more unpredictable and more deadly — and real estate owners and managers are key to the preservation of life and property. Innovative coastal solutions designed to promote resilience in the face of increasingly dire climate patterns have been either embraced or ignored by cities, states and the federal government. But no matter where you operate, if you’re in hurricane territory, you’ve got to contend with a situation that is likely only going to worsen for the foreseeable future.
Multifamily owners, managers, and student housing operators have an important responsibility to be as prepared as possible for the inevitable. More than 44% of the U.S. population lives in the hurricane landfall zones — and even inland regions aren’t completely insulated. Heavy rains and wind can bear down and flood properties no matter how landlocked an area is.
In this swath of the US (roughly covering the area from Maine to Texas and including the entire Eastern Seaboard), preparatory inspections are critical to minimize the risk to life and property even before storms appear on the map. To help you get started, here are 5 ways to use inspections to help keep residents and property safe when disaster strikes.
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Functioning drainage systems are critical for many properties because they reduce the risk of flooding. This is especially true in urban areas where asphalt roads and parking lots prevent excess water from soaking into the soil. Even in areas where flooding is uncommon, clogged drains can mean swamped basements and destroyed equipment if a building is on the low end of the block. In a hurricane, properly functioning drains can mean the difference between an inconvenience and massive damage.
Check for clumps of leaves, dirt, branches, and plastic bags both outside the grates and inside the drain themselves so that there are no blockages when the hurricane hits. The kinds of debris that managers are going to have to extract and storm drain codes might differ depending on location, and pen-and-paper inspections are often inadequate to account for variations between properties. Try using a digital inspection platform that allows for customization and granularity when inspectors are documenting drain conditions.
Clogs are often unreachable once a storm hits, so test the drain for unseen blockages to avoid unpleasant surprises. Furthermore, you’ll want to check the vicinity of the drain and flow path to the drain for debris that could cause issues once the rain hits. No amount of preparation will be useful if a pile of leaves on the curb washes into a drain.
Along with maintaining the function of your drains, implement rain gardens to provide another safeguard against flooding and moisture intrusion. Rain gardens are strategically located to intercept runoff from streets and roofs and filter water into the ground so you can avoid overwhelming your drainage system.
In the typical apartment living situation, residents have less storage space for emergency supplies of their own when compared with single-family homes. So managers would do well to maintain adequate backup supplies onsite. A digital inspection platform can help you ensure all properties are well-stocked with working emergency equipment as well as update each site, owner and manager with critical information for which items to have close at hand in the event of a major storm. The U.S government recommends storing one gallon of drinking water per person per day, and at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food per person as well. Remember that first responders may not be able to quickly reach your units due to flooding, downed wires, etc. Use an inspection platform that allows staff to compare what you require them to carry against what is currently in storage. Keep in mind that as the population of buildings changes either in number or age, your calculus might need to adapt.
Windows represent one of the most vulnerable elements of any structure, and multifamily structures usually feature quite a few. Properly preparing window glass for an oncoming hurricane can save no small amount of time and money. There are a couple of proven ways to keep windows protected, provided that proper information is gathered and maintained with your inspections. A supply of plywood precut to specification, for example, can cost as little as $1-$2 per square foot. Just keep your eye on the forecast to allow enough time for installation before a hurricane visits because the work needs to be done in advance. For year-round protection, hurricane film offers an alternative solution. Low profile and easy to peel-and-stick, this thin plastic layer has the added benefit of blocking some of the ultraviolet rays that can fade carpets and fabric. Hurricane film costs around $25 per linear foot. The film will keep windows from splintering into shards, but the downside is it won’t protect your window frames from blowing inward in one solid piece.
Such preventative practices are best supported by a digital inspection platform that can quickly collect data on each vulnerable property. Is the supply of plywood sufficient for each building? Does any wood need to be replaced? Has any of the hurricane film peeled off the windows? Pen-and-paper inspections often can’t relay this information to the head office quickly enough to save properties from damage.
Older adult residents might need special attention, especially those with chronic conditions and/or limited mobiity, as they tend to be the population with the highest casualty rate due to natural disasters. Work with the local fire, ambulance and public safety departments to create plans for evacuations and get a headcount of which residents require special care and extra assistance in an emergency. If evacuations aren’t mandatory, ask yourself what residents planning to weather the storm in place will need in terms of emergency supplies. Are they able to procure supplies on their own? Are they movement impaired?
Ensure your inspection process is able to maintain quality of life and well-being for all residents, no matter age or disability. Mobile inspections can help you personalize your operations — for instance, by prioritizing repair for electrical outages in units that include residents who depend on a power source for their medical equipment to function.
When water comes sweeping onto a property, outdoor furniture can be a serious issue when hurricanes hit — and it’s your job to keep track of your inventory and minimize hazards. Type of outdoor furniture, site location and status (secured or unsecured) is easy to track with a mobile inspection platform — playing a critical role in keeping residents safe during severe weather disasters.
Hurricanes are powerful and unpredictable, and it is the job of multifamily owners and managers to limit the risk to property and life as much as possible. That means consistently inspecting properties to keep track of anything that could pose a threat with a platform that allows the customization required to collect all relevant information. With this kind of responsible preparation, residents can be confident that they are in the best possible position for hurricanes and their aftermath.
Pen-and-paper inspection processes can present some obvious problems when your communities are threatened by a yearly hurricane season — namely, once paper files get wet, good luck recovering your critical data and the insurance money you were counting on. Electronic systems that aren’t cloud-based don’t offer any better protection in this regard. You need your documentation backed up in the cloud and instantly accessible from anywhere so you can move forward with insurance claims without delay.
Conventional pen-and-paper and excel-based inspections also don’t provide management with visibility into onsite operations, making it far more likely important weather emergency inspections aren’t completed consistently by property staff; and paper inspections, assuming they survive the weather, often return illegible handwriting and inconsistent information, making identifying hurricane hazards almost impossible. This lack of consistency and visibility make loss of life, limb and property more difficult to prevent and insurance claims much more difficult to support.