Get your thumbs ready. As it turns out, one of the best ways to communicate with staff during a hurricane is via text messaging. “It's one of the things we learned going through Katrina, Rita, and now Ike,” says John Ridgeway, a regional manager covering the southern United States for Seattle-based Pinnacle, an American Management Services Co. “The phone lines go down, cell coverage is spotty, but text messages seem to go through quickly and dependably.”

In addition to serving as president of the Houston Apartment Association, Ridgeway oversees a management portfolio of more than 10,000 units stretching from Houston to Biloxi, Miss. That literally puts his operations in the path of Gulf Coast hurricanes. In 2008, Hurricane Ike became the third-most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the United States, causing $27 billion in damage.

Much of that damage occurred in Houston, where more than half of the city's apartments were damaged, according to the Houston Chronicle. The paper reported that nearly 150 apartment complexes accounting for more than 93,000 renters were severely damaged. Houston-based Camden Property Trust CEO Ric Campo says Ike caused about $3 million in damages to its Houston properties, including 100 units that were rendered uninhabitable. “We don't have a lot of properties that were destroyed; they were just damaged, and now people are fixing them,” Campo says.

For one, Irvine, Calif.-based Leasing Desk (a division of RealPage) has processed about 300 renter's insurance claims as a result of Ike and expects to pay more than $500,000 in total loss reimbursements.

Ridgeway says that all properties should have a plan for dealing with calamities: “Preparedness is key. We usually [know when] a hurricane is approaching the gulf. That is when you communicate to your residents—here's what you need to do. If there is a mandatory evacuation, that means management, too. They need to know that from 12 noon on day one until whenever the evacuation order is lifted, no one is going to be on staff.”