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Question: What is a community disaster?

Answer: The International Federation of the Red Cross [ www.IFRC.org ] says a disaster is a sudden, calamitous event that seriously disrupts the functioning of a community or society and causes human, material, and economic or environmental losses that exceed the community’s or society’s ability to cope using its own resources.

Every homeowner association has some exposure to a disaster. However, disaster planning has the potential and probability of saving lives, reducing suffering, and minimizing damage.  The three key elements of a disaster plan include planning, preparation and recovery.

While it is true that some communities will be more affected by natural disasters than others, no association is exempt from the threat of some type of disaster.  Some things your Condominium or Homeowner [HOA] Association may provide prior, during and after a disaster include emergency supplies, an evacuation plan that summarizes procedures for community evacuation with maps and location of public shelters, and a communication plan that describes the various forms that may be used to contact the membership.

But how do we, as individual members of our condominium or homeowner [ HOA ] association, plan for such an event?  The best plans call for each member in the community to prepare themselves for a disaster and simultaneously not becoming a burden to those that have properly prepared.  Ready.com conducted a survey and found that people who believe themselves “prepared” for disasters often aren’t as prepared as they think. Forty percent of survey respondents did not have household plans, 80 percent had not conducted home evacuation drills, and nearly 60 percent did not know their community’s evacuation routes or public shelters.

Becoming more prepared in case of an emergency is easier than you might think. Whether it’s your home, your neighborhood, or your place of business, you can take a few simple steps to prepare yourself and your community.

Disaster Planning:

Get in touch with your local fire department, police department, paramedics, or emergency management agency to discuss ways to prepare your community and improve its capacity to respond to and recover from disaster. Our emergency managers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, EMT/paramedics, and other emergency responders do an incredible job of keeping us safe, but they can’t do it alone. We must all embrace our individual responsibility to be prepared.

Have adequate insurance in place for your property and personal belongings.  If a disaster strikes, having insurance for your home or business property is the best way to ensure you will have the necessary financial resources to help you repair, rebuild, or replace whatever is damaged.  Document and inventory your property to better understand your options for coverage.  Your inventory will help you prove the value of what you owned, which may speed your claim processing. An up-to-date inventory can also help you to determine the correct amount of insurance to purchase. You can take photos or videos to help you record your belongings, but be sure to also write down descriptions, including year, make, and model numbers, where appropriate.  Contact your professional insurance agent for any questions and to ensure that you have the appropriate coverage for you.

Staying in communication will be vital.  So be sure to document important phone numbers.  A longtime friend could recall almost any phone number he needed to access; it was quite impressive.  Yet nowadays that talent has lost its necessity due to our availability to store contacts in our phones.  During a disaster, accessing them may not be an option. So be sure to write them down, laminated if possible, as your phone may not be operable and you will need use someone else’s phone or a landline.

Important contacts to keep with you:

  1. Water Company
  2. Power Company
  3. Poison Control
  4. Local Hospital(s)
  5. Family or Personal Physician
  6. Animal Control
  7. Neighbors and Nearby Friends
  8. Out-of-Town Relatives
  9. Towing Company
  10. Insurance Agent
  11. Veterinarian
  12. Locksmith
  13. Local Hotel(s)
  14. American Red Cross

These contacts have varying degrees of importance and timeliness.  Many are for keeping you updated with certain municipal services, others are in the event that you need assistance and/or need to relocate, and others are important to have once the disaster and emergency situation has passed.

Should all lines of communication fail, it may become important to know your local amateur or ham radio operator.  The American Radio Relay League [ www.arrl.org ] is an association of radio amateurs organized for the promotion of amateur radio communications and can be of valuable assistance in providing critical and essential communications during emergencies and disasters when normal lines of communication are disrupted. They may also be a useful resource in finding local members or becoming one yourself.

Disaster Preparation:

In the event of a disaster, it will be essential to have some emergency supplies or an Emergency Supplies Kit prepared and ready for use.  After an emergency, you may need to persevere on your own for several days. Being prepared means having your own food, water and other supplies to last for at least 72 hours. A disaster supplies kit is a collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency.  Consider specific needs in your household. As you prepare your supplies be sure to incorporate your specific daily living needs, such as your dietary needs, medical and prescription needs, as well as the needs of other family members and school-aged children and pets.

A good disaster supplies kit may include:

  • Water – one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food – at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Light tool kit
  • Manual can opener
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Additional items to consider:

  • Prescription medications
  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities

Disaster Recovery:

Recovering from a disaster may be a long and slow-moving process. Being safe and cautious of perils after a disaster is just as important as during a disaster.  These perils just come in new and different forms.  Some of these include washed out roads, downed trees, contaminated buildings and water, gas leaks, damaged electrical wiring, as well as building and landscaping debris, including broken glass.

While recovering be wary of over-exhaustion and don’t try to do too much.  Consider the recovery process exactly that, a process, one that will take time and planning.  Be sure to set priorities of things that need to happen right away and those that are of secondary importance.

If you have had to vacate your home and are returning to it, walk carefully around the outside and check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage. If you have any doubts about safety, do not enter your home and contact the appropriate authorities.

Since you have properly prepared, you can now call upon those saved contacts for additional support.  Contact your friends and relatives to let them know you are okay or that you need assistance. Now is also the time to contact your insurance agent to let her/him know of an impending claim.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

If we all do our part in planning, preparing and recovering from a disaster we protect our property and personal well-being, we are less likely to burden our community’s safety and support systems, and we are better positioned to contribute to its recovery processes as well.

Additional information and resources can be found at the following:

www.FEMA.gov

www.READY.gov

www.ODPM.gov.tt  [Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management]

www.IFRC.org  [International Federation of the Red Cross]

www.HOA-USA.com

“Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy.” Max Mayfield, Director, National Hurricane Center