Severe weather can be destructive. Whether your region is exposed to tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards or other severe weather events, it’s important for apartment managers to properly prepare. And very often, those preparations begin far before the storm hits.
Want to protect your property and keep your residents safe? We’ll help you be ready for the worst with this disaster readiness guide for apartment managers.
Preparing Your Apartment Building for Hurricanes
In 2017, we saw devastating hurricanes in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico. A current estimate from Moody’s Analytics puts the total damage at $150 billion, on par with the cost of Hurricane Katrina.
While you can’t control Mother Nature, apartment managers do have some options when it comes to readying their buildings for a hurricane.
It all starts with building maintenance and preparing for the elements. Prepare for wind by boarding up the windows, relocating outdoor furniture and exterior signs and tying down anything that moves. Water can also do severe damage, so prepare for the rain by making sure drains, gutters and downspouts are clear. Also, add a perimeter of sandbags to keep water out.
To address the aftermath and subsequent cleanup, be sure that you have equipment on hand. A backup generator and a sump pump will be helpful to deal with power outages and flooded basements.
Additionally, you need to prepare the apartment building. Make sure that you keep off-site copies of critical documentation and data.
Preparing the building and your business is only the first part of hurricane preparedness. You must also prepare your residents. Start by reminding them to prepare their own hurricane survival kit, including a flashlight, water and a first aid kit. Periodically, update residents with safety messages, like when the elevator is no longer safe or if they need to move their cars from the parking lot.
Remember, when returning to the building, wait for authorities to say it’s safe before allowing anyone to enter.
Preparing Your Apartment Building for Tornadoes
There is very little notice before a tornado strikes. These severe weather events are not like a hurricane where there is time to board up the windows and batten down the hatches. The only thing there is time for is getting to safety.
But if you live in a tornado prone area, there are plenty of building maintenance tasks that you can tackle before there is even a tornado warning. Start by looking at the regulations. Ensure that building codes are followed, and assess your building against the FEMA storm shelter standards to determine risk level and identify safe rooms.
You can also add reinforcements to the building so that it can better withstand strong winds. Add galvanized steel roof clips for uplift protections between 300 and 1,500 pounds. Update exterior doors to withstand high-speed winds. And secure the building into the foundation by using Cable-Tite ties that have a tensile strength of 6,700 pounds.
Keep your tenants safe by distributing a tornado safety plan for your building. After a tornado strikes, be aware of any leaking gas pipes or flammables that pose a threat.
Preparing Your Apartment Building for Floods
In a flash flood, water can surge as high as 10-15 feet. Just two feet of rushing water can carry away a car, and even a few inches of water in your apartment building can cause thousands of dollars in damage.
In the past five years, all 50 states have had a flood or flash flood. If you manage a property in a high-risk flood area, be proactive about making building modifications to limit any damage.
Start by addressing the electrical systems in your apartment building. Raise switches, wall sockets and circuit breakers to above projected flood levels. Next, look at drainage. You may need to alter the grading of the property so that water flows away from the building.
Address your building’s air system by relocating HVAC equipment to an upper floor. To prevent sewage from coming into your building when waters are high, make sure that your plumbing system is equipped with a sewer backflow valve. And be sure that any fuel tanks are anchored properly so that they don’t move even if waters are high.
Immediately before a flood, make sure that drains, gutters and downspouts are clear of debris. Have a sump pump with a charged battery and a backup generator. Use masonry blocks to elevate appliances and furniture that are within expected flood levels. And after residents are evacuated, shut off the building’s electrical breaker.
As we mentioned in the section on hurricanes, communication with tenants is critical when facing natural disasters. While we hope that no one has to deal with a disaster like a hurricane or a flood, we were glad to know that our Community Messenger app has helped an apartment property manager effectively send bulk messages to tenants to keep everyone safe during Hurricane Matthew. Not only has it been used to alert residents of the evacuation timeline, but the app is helpful for after the storm communications, including updates on power restoration, cleanup efforts, pet assistance and ongoing communications throughout the year.
Preparing Your Apartment Building for Blizzards and Severe Cold
Winter weather can cause severe damage to buildings. From a collapsed roof to frozen pipes, extreme cold and heavy snow can certainly take a toll. Apartment buildings need appropriate maintenance at the end of autumn, before the cold weather sets in.
Start by inspecting the heating system and changing the HVAC air filters. You’ll also want to create a plan for regular heating maintenance throughout winter months.
Plumbing is another system that’s prone to damage during the cold. Winterize your plumbing by adding insulation to pipes and draining exterior faucets. Also be sure to inspect your building insulation and look for structural gaps that can cause cold air drafts and damage plumbing.
Before a blizzard, be sure that you have backup generators on hand so that you’re prepared for a power outage. During and after the storm, keep sidewalks and parking lots safe by regularly clearing snow and putting down salt. Assess snow load on roofs and, as needed, perform maintenance to prevent a roof collapse.
Be sure to clear snow from air intake and exhaust vents. Make sure that your building is outfitted with carbon monoxide detectors because when snow accumulation blocks exhaust systems, fumes can build up within your building and go undetected.
Preparing Your Apartment Building for Earthquakes
While earthquakes often occur without any warning signs, having an apartment building in a high-risk area can be daunting.
To protect your apartment building from earthquake damage, start by having an engineer do a seismic evaluation to ensure your building is up to today’s codes. While it may seem easier to hedge your bets and hope that your building isn’t damaged, being proactive about structural modifications can be a smart investment. In San Francisco, a $260 million seismic update would prevent $1.5 billion in damages from a major earthquake.
Additionally, be sure to address interior spaces by reducing falling hazards. Both in common areas and in renter spaces, be sure that furniture is anchored securely. Walls should be properly anchored to floors and ceilings. Ceiling systems, including acoustic-tile, light fixtures and duct vents, need to also be braced and secured.
After an earthquake, immediately evacuate the building. You don’t yet know what the damage is, and it’s important to make sure that your renters stay safe. Also, shut down main electrical switches and gas sources until the building is deemed safe.
Preparing Your Apartment Building for Wildfires
Damage estimates from the 2017 California wildfires topped $3 billion, and more than 5,700 structures were destroyed. If you manage an apartment building in an area prone to wildfires, be sure to make building modifications that give the structure fire resistance. Use fire-resistant materials for construction, renovation or repairs. Also, alter landscaping to reduce brush that could spread the fire to your building.
As for building maintenance, check to make sure that all sprinkler systems are up to code. Alarm systems and fire extinguishers are key, so create a schedule to regularly test smoke detectors and check fire extinguishers. Building codes will dictate where smoke detectors and fire extinguishers should be placed, and how many are needed on each floor of the apartment building.
In preparing for a wildfire, be sure that you communicate with your tenants to provide updates and address concerns. Distribute an evacuation plan for the building to your tenants, and be sure to note that it’s important to never use an elevator during a fire. Before elevators are out of service, consider appropriate accommodations for people with disabilities.
Preparing Your Apartment Building for Severe Heat
In Phoenix, summertime average temperatures can be as hot as 113 degrees with high temps peaking at 119. With such extreme temperatures, the heat can be a severe and sometimes fatal health risk.
For apartment managers, start with building modifications during the cooler weather. Upgrade or maintain HVAC equipment so that it produces proper temperatures in each apartment unit. Install digital technology like smart thermostats that can monitor total building energy use and help renters conserve utility usage. Consider advanced cooling systems that recirculate and clean indoor air. Green solutions like these can result in 20-30% energy savings.
Ongoing maintenance throughout the hot summer months is also necessary. Create a schedule and then do routine checks to make sure building systems are functioning properly. Replace air filters to help indoor air quality, and have a backup generator installed for power outages.
Preparing Your Apartment Building for Drought ConditionsThey say that it takes a drought to truly appreciate the value of water. But if you manage an apartment building in a drought-prone location, it can be wise to plan ahead by making building modifications in advance of the dry season.
Landscaping is a major use of water. Reduce outdoor water use by changing plant types or switching to greywater systems. Additionally, with dry conditions, be aware that dead or dying trees may fall on your building, so inspect your property to avoid damage.
Add smart water meters to each apartment. When apartment buildings tried this during the California drought, water consumption rates fell by 14-20% simply because residents were more aware of the water they were consuming. Additionally, you can educate residents about water conservation by providing an information packet on how to save water.
Be proactive about building maintenance to ensure water conservation. Repair plumbing to reduce leaks, and upgrade to low-flow water fixtures. Additionally, fire protection is critical during drought conditions. Ensure that systems are in place to protect against and prepare for fire.