In the days leading up to the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, many news stories circulated about HOA boards and property management companies putting their disaster plans into place. These are the kinds of stories that are encouraging to hear; they show that these communities were prepared for natural disaster, and that they are doing everything in their power to minimize the damage done to homeowners’ properties. These stories also serve as vital reminders to the rest of us, of just how important it is for community associations to plan ahead for natural disasters.

But how, exactly, does an HOA board begin to develop its HOA disaster preparedness plan? There are six basic steps that go into the formation of an emergency response strategy:

1. The first step is simply committing to the development of such a plan, getting all of the HOA board’s leaders to sit down and get busy with drafting a plan.

2. Next, it is important to seriously address the hazards that could face your community. Your disaster relief plan should not be based on what has happened to other communities, but on what might happen to you. If you live in an area where there has been no earthquake in recorded history, then going to great lengths to prepare for quakes is probably not necessary. If, on the other hand, your community is located in a prime earthquake zone, then you should plan accordingly.

3. Next, draft a plan that includes answers to all of the big “what ifs.” What if the roads through your community are inaccessible? What if everyone loses power? Your disaster preparedness plan should help you to prepare for as many contingencies as possible, even if it just means having a procedure in place of who needs to call the local authorities and arrange for some help.

4. Test your plan, using some drills to work out the kinks.

5. Communicate the details of your plan to all of the members of your community, passing out hard copies of the plan, if possible.

6. Finally, consider how your HOA might help other, local organizations that might find themselves in need—even if it is nothing more elaborate than planning to do a canned food drive on behalf of a local school or church.

Disaster preparedness is something no community should take for granted—and it is an area in which the HOA association has an opportunity to truly lead!

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