Hurricane season is once again officially underway, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting another active season with the potential for significant risk to coastal and even some affected inland communities.
Forecasters are predicting 13 to 21 named storms and two to three major hurricanes, making this the seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season. With this forecast, apartment firms need to take stock of their hurricane preparedness plans and review their natural disaster protocols.
Apartment firms may experience added difficulty in preparing for this season as well. Rising inflation may put more pressure on funds and resources firms and residents normally would put toward storm preparation. An active hurricane season could also worsen the already-hurting energy market and push prices higher. The war in Ukraine is ratcheting up energy prices, and many oil and gas refineries located on the East and Gulf coasts are susceptible to damage in a strong hurricane season.
With so much at stake this hurricane season, apartment firms need to be aware of the myriad resources available. Here are a few tips to help you analyze your risks and steps you can take to lessen the blow.
Be in the Know
As the hurricane season begins, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Business Ready Hurricane Toolkit is a great starting point for firms in need of guidance and mitigation steps. The toolkit helps firms identify their risks and develop emergency plans as well as provides practical checklists. Similarly, the National Weather Service released an in-depth guide for hurricane preparation. This includes TV, radio, and cellphone alerts firms should subscribe to during the season.
The National Multifamily Housing Council’s (NMHC’s) guide on establishing an Incident Response Plan for hurricane season and other disasters can also help inform a firm’s efforts.
Update Your Coverage
The worst time to check your property and flood insurance policies is after your community has been hit by a storm. Familiarizing yourself with the insurance coverage across your firm’s portfolio should be top of your preparation list. This includes understanding your policy limits, deductibles, and limitations, which sometimes include hurricane, wind, and water damages.
Flood and catastrophic coverage may not have been necessary at your community a few years ago, but this is a gamble you don’t want to take with heightened hurricane activity. An important detail to keep in mind is if the valuation of your property has changed in the past year from construction or renovation. Make sure this update is reflected in your policy.
Prepare Your Residents
Just as flood insurance is critical to your disaster preparation, it can offer the same safety net to your residents. Traditional renter’s insurance does not cover the value of residents’ possessions in the aftermath of flooding. Many residents may be unaware of this coverage gap. So, as you work through your preparedness plan, owners and managers should encourage their residents to take out flood insurance policies.
Policies are available through the National Flood Insurance Program at relatively affordable rates and can cover up to $100,000 in contents. Renters in low- to moderate-risk areas may be eligible for a Preferred Risk Policy with the lowest available premiums.
Now that your residents have a financial safety net, it’s critical they know what to do in the days or hours leading up to a hurricane. If a storm is headed for your community, circulate any evacuation plans for the region, links to the local disaster or emergency management agency, personal safety tips, relevant packing checklists, and basic instructions for minimizing property damage. Making a written plan with contacts outside the impacted area can go a long way. The FEMA mobile app is a great way to access all these resources on the go.
Strengthen Your Property
Before you evacuate your community, make sure the property is in good repair and up to local hurricane building code specifications to withstand high winds. Luckily, many retrofits are relatively inexpensive and quick to install.
Simple preparation steps include trimming trees around your property and boarding up doors and windows with plywood, steel, or aluminum panels. Work with residents to move cars from surface parking into covered or garage spaces and bring in any outdoor or patio furniture. Keep in mind that garage doors are usually the most vulnerable point on a property, so ensure they are fastened to withstand strong winds.
Owners and managers should shop early for these materials, especially given today’s supply chain issues. The war in Ukraine, port and factory closures in China, and congested port operations in the U.S. have worsened supply chain constraints. This means even basic materials like plywood and steel could be difficult to get your hands on. It never hurts to get a jump-start on critical preparedness step.
Assess the Damage
If a storm hits your community, on-site staff and residents should only return to the property after local officials have given the all clear. When assessing your property, firms should thoroughly document and photograph any damage. This will be critical in filing insurance claims.
Even more important is assisting your residents in getting back on their feet. If there is substantial damage to your apartment community, residents may need alternative housing options. Fortunately, FEMA and the Red Cross track shelter information and locations. FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program is available for residents in need of shelter for an extended period of time.
On top of providing resources, firms may choose to freeze rents, waive late fees, or lessen lease terms in the wake of a natural disaster. This can make all the difference for residents navigating a tumultuous time.
Prepare for Next Season
With hurricanes increasing in intensity and frequency, apartment firms no longer have the luxury of preparing for hurricanes in the days leading up to a storm. Preparation needs to be a year-round affair. Firms that invest in resiliency and flood mitigation measures will see substantial payoffs in the long run.
Hurricanes and major flooding events—even in inland communities far from the coasts—continue to pose a major safety and financial risk to your residents and your property, but you don’t have to be left without a road map. So, as hurricane season unfolds, take the time to thoroughly outline how your team will navigate the stormy season.