Some days it rains, some days it pours – and some days, there’s a Category 4 hurricane. And while the latter is relatively rare, it can be a true disaster, and any condominium, co-op or homeowner’s association worth its salt should be prepared for it. Whether storm, fire, earthquake or freak accident, a board must take into account anything that may confront its community and put property and personal safety in danger, and come up with a plan to best lead its constituents to safety. And while this seems like quite the undertaking, there are guidelines in place and experts on hand who can help steer an association through disaster preparedness.
The Roof Is on Fire
While hurricanes are more common in Florida than elsewhere in the United States, nationwide data points to fires as being the most common cause for evacuation of residential properties. An association needs a firm policy in place for what to do in this type of stressful situation.
“The Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 home fires per year,” says Kevin F. Kelley, senior director of community preparedness programs for the American Red Cross. “Although they’re a little under the radar, they can happen in every community, and nationally they add up, so this is always a smart thing on which to work with residents. We have a campaign currently underway called 2 Steps 2 Minutes, and those two steps are basically to check your smoke alarms monthly and to practice home escape fire drills, where you try and get everyone out of the home in two minutes, as research indicates that it’s at that point where a person will be overcome by smoke and potentially killed.”
In condos and HOAs, there may be municipal codes or language in a community’s governing documents that speak to fire safety requirements, and a board should consult those accordingly and make sure that they are, at minimum, adhering to the law of the land. But as Kelley observes, “The general rules are to check the smoke alarms, make sure they’re working, and to practice a home fire escape drill that includes a meeting place that is well away from any potential fire. The reason being that when everyone gathers at the same place, no one – including firefighters – risks their lives trying to go into homes to rescue people who still may be inside. If the first responders know that they don’t need to undergo a search and rescue, they can just handle the suppression of the fire itself.”
According to Howard S. Dakoff, a partner in the Community Associations Practice Group of Levenfeld Pealrstein, LLC in Chicago, it’s important to listen to the experts when it comes to safe conduct in a fire because a board’s legal requirements extend only as far the duty to react responsibly—which in this case means working with first responders and property management to ensure that all residents vacate the building in an appropriate and timely manner.