Educating for Preparation: Equipping Residents with Emergency Response Plans

Emergency checklist Safety in your home – whether it’s a single-family, apartment or dorm. This issue hit home for me in the past week as one of my children attends UNC where there was an active shooter. I spent two hours on the phone with my brave little person as we walked through all of the preventative measures she has literally spent a childhood training for. She knew what to do, how to do it and how to judge it’s effectiveness. After the initial trauma response wore off and the tears dried, I started thinking about this concept in application to where and how I work.

We train our schools and our workplaces but I began thinking about whether we sufficiently train our residents. As stewards of the community, we can’t control the actual instance of safety, but we can control how we prevent, prepare and react to it.
So let’s walk through some basics that we, as an industry, have gotten very good about doing and some things we might want to look into improving upon.

“Is this place safe?” We all have the red flashing light that goes off in our heads when we hear this question. We all know how to “appropriately” answer without placing ourselves in a position of liability. Instead of just ending the discussion there, why don’t we show our residents what we’re doing instead and how they can partner with us.
  1. Lighting – is the community well lit, bulbs working and eliminating dark corners? Is the community being regularly checked/walked and residents encouraged to report items of concern? More important than just encouraging the report is the timely and effective response by the site team!
  2. Tree canopy – are the tree limbs lifted to allow the light through?
  3. Landscaping – are the lower levels cleared of brush to allow shins to show?
  4. Email and text communications – cover the bases of who, what, where, when and HOW!

These are just a few of the basics that we’ve all been well-conditioned to look for and maintain across our portfolios. But what else can we highlight?

  1. Partnerships with local 1st responders like the fire department, EMS, sheriffs and local police departments – during free time, resident events and emergencies.
  2. Emergency plans – do your residents know where to gather in case of a fire or flood? Do they know what to do in their home in case of an emergency or what to take outside with them?
  3. Safety drills – practice what you’re teaching your residents and ask your local 1st responders to help educate, demonstrate and celebrate with you – it’s a great community builder activity.
  4. Block leaders – designated residents who, when present during an emergency, can assist in the coordination of responses (an ancillary version of a courtesy officer).
  5. What types of situations to prepare for: Building/wild fire, severe weather (floods, hurricane, tornadoes), death of resident or staff, significant break-ins (car or unit), etc.

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If we, as an industry, can create a prep checklist for ourselves for almost every situation, we should extend a little of that knowledge to appropriately equip our residents for the same type of situations. I know that everyone sends out the holiday missives about locking vehicles and not keeping valuables in visible sight, but when was the last time we actually walked through the steps and taught residents how to report it to the police, how to report it to their insurance company etc.? When was the last time we held a tornado drill or shared an emergency supply checklist for hurricane season?  INFORM (your residents and community partners), CREATE (a plan),  PREPARE (the supplies, route and people) and then PRACTICE.  Four simple steps that will lead to an increased level of action readiness.
Finally – our reactions and responses. We know that our residents want us to hear them, truly hear not just the words but also the inherent emotion, trauma, fear and insecurities. Our response is as valuable, if not more than, all the prep work we do in these situations. Employ the active listening skills we’ve all been trained on. Utilize the professional level of the Golden Rule. Connect with them and between them to provide resources and peers.
We can’t control everything (despite what many of our Type A personalities believe) but we can do a lot to mitigate situations, communicate clearly, effectively respond in a timely manner and utilize community resources to bolster our own apartment communities.
Remember – whether it’s ten or a thousand units on your spreadsheet, every resident has a single priority – their HOME with you.