Like many, I’ve found myself following the news of the recent natural disasters hitting our nation. If it’s not Hurricane Florence terrorizing the Carolinas, or Michael wreaking havoc on the Florida Panhandle, it’s the heartbreaking and deadly fires in California.
The images and stories of homes and communities destroyed — of lives forever changed — are not ones that simply slip from the mind.
The recent spate of crises has called to attention the need to prepare, as best we can, for something similar to happen in the future. As a homeowner, there are certain considerations and affairs to get in order to prepare for these disasters — whether it’s insurance matters, property protection measures or communication precautions. But if you’re among the growing population of individuals choosing to rent in America, you might find yourself feeling anxious and unsure about where responsibility lies in these emergency situations.
It’s important to know what resources are available and what processes your community has in place to effectively and safely navigate the storm. While avoiding or predicting disasters may be impossible, here are three actions you can take now to save you precious time and, hopefully, heartache if that day ever comes:
Learn how your community communicates
Maybe you’ve just moved in, or are looking at moving to a new building. Maybe you’ve lived there for years. Regardless of tenure, one question every resident should know the answer to is How does my apartment community communicate?
When you signed your lease, did the agent hook you into the community’s comprehensive online portal, like RealPage or Yardi — two of the many providers who offer that type of system? Do they use an app — such as Mobile Doorman — to keep residents apprised of information? Or have you noticed taped fliers to each door when there’s a message the property manager needs to get across? From text messages and robo-calls to push notifications, communities are always honing the ways they get in touch.
Find out what the answer is, and then evaluate it for efficiency.
If you’re concerned that the channel and pace of communication could be an issue in an emergency, initiate that discussion with your community’s management now.
It’d be a whole lot better to know of an issue as it’s happening than to be asking questions only after seeing emergency personnel respond. Or to get a text message or push notification letting you know exactly where and when to move your car in the event of forecast flooding, instead of waiting for the rain to come.
Probe where responsibilities lie
When you own a home, it’s clear whose responsibility it is to ensure there’s a generator on site in the event of a power outage, or to shutter the windows before an impending hurricane.
Make sure you have the same clarity as to which responsibilities are yours as an apartment resident. Review the information available at FEMA’s Ready.gov and use it as your guide to have those conversations with your property manager.
Make a point to understand what areas of your unit, or of the community, would provide the most shelter from a storm or other non-evacuation emergency. Develop your own plan in the event of a loss of power, and confirm what channels you should rely on for information on restoration. Residents reliant on electricity for health issues should plan ahead and consider purchasing an Uninterruptible Power Source (UPS) to provide emergency power as a fail-safe.
Additionally, evaluate your renter’s insurance policy to be completely abreast of your coverage, and then push to understand within your community what your role is in an emergency. Renter’s insurance doesn’t cover flooding, and the National Flood Insurance Program’s policy for an apartment building does not cover contents, so look into getting your own policy to cover your possessions.
Learn about your evacuation options
What if the worst happens, and evacuation is the order or recommendation for your area?
You’ve received the notification from your management, and you know getting out of harm’s way must be the priority. Where can you go?
Educate yourself on the tools at your disposal. Apartment residents may not be aware of the options when faced with dire straits. They can be unique to each geographic area or rental community, so it’s important to begin your query in quieter times.
Ask about disaster policies in the event of a flood, fire or other natural disaster to learn about any past programming or plans for future issues. For example, is there a hotline or online portal available for evacuees in need of housing assistance? Ask the question now.
Once you’re safely away from the danger area, remember to check your community’s communication mechanism often to find out when residents may be cleared to return and other important information about the status of your home.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball to alert us to when the next natural disaster or other emergency situation may arise, but preparedness can certainly help. Don’t wait until you’re in the thick of it to get answers to your questions and craft your plan — be your own best advocate now.
Robert Pinnegar is president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, headquartered in Arlington, Va.