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by Michael Monteiro

Better safe than sorry. Sure, its trite ¦ but its also true. Every property manager should consider a well thought out emergency plan to be an essential part of his property management duties. In an ideal world you will, of course, never have to use it.
Fire plan
However, should you ever find yourself in an emergency situation, an emergency plan may literally mean the difference between life and death for your tenants and between a property making it through an emergency episode intact or not.

What kind of plan do I need?Begin by carefully thinking through worst-case scenarios that could potentially strike your property.

Obviously, all properties should have a fire escape plan, but you may be subject to other natural disasters depending upon your location.
If you are located in California, for example, you may want to have a plan in place should an earthquake occur. If you live in the mid-West, youll want to have a plan of action in case of tornadoes; if youre in the South, plan ahead in case of a hurricane.
Also bear in mind that even the most prepared person cant foresee all potential scenarios, so it may also be wise to have a general evacuation plan on-hand to prepare for miscellaneous events that could put tenants and your property in danger.

What type of information should my plan include?Every propertys emergency plan will vary dependent upon the size and layout of the property, its location, the landscape of the area around it, and the type of hazard the plan is designed to guard against.

There are, however, a few elements every plan should include, including:
Escape/evacuation route
Communications plan
Utility shut-off plan
Special needs (for handicap and elderly tenants, etc.)
Dealing with pets
Safety resources (list of emergency numbers, individuals who can administer CPR, etc.)

Disseminate information. No matter how well thought out your emergency plans are, they wont do you any good if tenants and other property management personnel are not aware that they exist. Make sure that all evacuation routes are clearly posted throughout the building in multiple places; the entrance to stairwells and elevators is always a good place to display evacuation routes.

In addition to posting this information, be proactive by providing printouts of such maps and a listing of emergency procedures in the lease packet at move-in. You may also want to redistribute this information on an annual basis, whether thats at the beginning of every year or to each tenant on an annual basis when their lease renews. Annual distribution will also provide you with a built-in opportunity to update emergency numbers and review procedures to make sure they remain optimal and address any altered circumstances (such as a remodel).

Protect your property.In case of an emergency, your top priority is making sure that all tenants are rapidly removed from harms way. Unfortunately, in certain scenarios, its simply not possible to avoid property damage or destruction. So the most surefire way to protect your property is to make sure that it is fully insured against all types of damage, however it may occur. FEMA recommends that all property owners carefully research the Insurance Information Institute to determine what kinds of insurance will offer the most protection.

Also be sure to strongly recommend (or even require) that all tenants carry renters insurance. Many renters assume their personal property is covered under the building plan, which is not the case. Let them know upon lease signing that they are responsible for covering their own personal property and that renters insurance plans can be found through most major insurance companies at an affordable rate.

Creating an emergency plan can be overwhelming. You should always feel free to consult with city engineers and planning or zoning administrators, all of whom will be able to advise you specifically on what sort of disasters you should be guarding against. They can also give you professional tips on how to protect your property and its tenants from potential threats. Also, be sure to visit FEMAs website for tips on how you can protect your building from fire, flood, and earthquake hazards ahead of time; their Are You Ready guide to emergency preparation is a resource every property manager should have on-hand.

Michael Monteiro works for Buildium LLC, maker of online property management software for landlords, professional property managers, condos and homeowner associations (HOAs) and is author of the The Buildium Property Management Blog.

Check out the Buildium Blog for more property management resources. See The Right Way to Handle Subletting.

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