Ryan Huffman learned to stay clam during terribly tragic situations early in his career.

Huffman, a senior vice president at Overland Park, Kan.-based Cohen-Esrey, learned some key lessons in crisis management during some terribly tragic situations early in his career.

Huffman was entering a vacant unit with a maintenance person when they discovered a man who had been shot dead. While his mind may have been racing, he stayed calm as he called the police to open an investigation, he says.

“The hardest thing is that, as a person, we all have emotions and our emotions are going to play into our actions,” he says. “But you’ve got to get yourself calm and remain objective. You have to take action, don’t stay frozen. Everyone is looking to you to be the stabilizing force.”

The tale is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Apartment operators are regularly faced with the full spectrum of the human condition, including death and destruction, and have to restore normalcy as efficiently as possible when dealing with a crisis, he says.

“So, the first step is, obviously, to create calm from chaos,” he says.

And usually, the first thing a staff should be trained to do is call 9-1-1 immediately without any hesitation.

Fire Prep
First and foremost, Michael P. Henry advises his staff to move as quickly as possible in an emergency.

Henry, director of environmental, health & safety for Pinnacle Family of Companies says fires are the most common crisis the Dallas-based firm’s team deals with.

The company manages more than 150,000 units across the nation and fires are reported every couple of weeks somewhere in its portfolio, Henry says.

“You have to be prepared,” Henry says. “A fire can go from zero to fully engulfed in less than 40 seconds.”

So Henry demands staff at each property is trained in crisis response at least twice a year.

Part of that training is reviewing each site’s plan and communicating to residents where to go if something catastrophic were to happen. The team is also briefed during training on which residents may be unable to get out of their buildings and where those residents plan to go for help.

“So, say you have a three-story building, then you would have staircases at the north and south ends,” he says. “We would identify the mobility impaired residents and get them all to go to the north stairwell.”

And every staff member should be familiar with what shut-off valves look like and where they’re located. While the fire response has proven to be effective, there are also other kinds of emergency response plans that are also reviewed several times a year. Staff members of each Pinnacle property are trained on three different emergency response plans, according to Henry.

“We have evacuation, shelter in place, and intruder response,” he says.

Lindsay Machak is an Associate Editor for Multifamily Executive. Connect with her on Twitter @LMachak.