By Ellen Hirsch De Haan, Esq. / Published July 2017
Have you thought about hurricanes in very personal terms? Many of the Florida communities are near enough to water to be impacted by a storm surge. During the 2004–2005 hurricane seasons, every city and county in Florida (including Orlando in the middle of the state) was affected by the six named storms, which made landfall. Whether we are talking about hurricanes, floods, fires, sinkholes, or tornadoes, we should be prepared.
Hurricane preparation has to occur long before the event is upon you—for the association’s property and residents, and yourself, your friends, and family.
Copy records to a flash drive:
Create a video or photographic record of the community and its equipment; add to the flash drive.
Designate a disaster coordinator, and set up the website for information for those who have scattered to the four winds.
The clubhouse is not a shelter. Find out where the residents plan to go if there is an evacuation. Get cell phone numbers and locations where you will find the residents/owners. Add to the flash drive.
Don’t underestimate the friction effect of sand and water on concrete pilings for the waterfront property. You may be on the third floor, but you are sitting on pilings that are highly susceptible to storm surge.
Owners and residents need to know that emergency services stop when the wind reaches 40 miles per hour. If you are in the high rise and change your mind, or if you are on a barrier island during a storm surge, you may not have a rescue option.
Do you have employees on the premises? Will they assist in securing the property? Remember, you will have to ensure they are off the premises and with their homes and families well in advance of the event. Does your community have limited access through a gate? Arrange to leave the gate in an open position for access when you lose electricity.
In the event of a hurricane, the cell relay towers may be down, and without electricity you cannot charge your phone, pump gasoline, and get access to the bank or the grocery store. Do you have enough water and canned food to last until the electricity is restored? Is your gas tank full? Do you have some cash on hand?
Personal records should be secured, including birth certificate, driver’s license, banking information, copy of your deed and mortgage, photos of property and interior of your home, family pictures and irreplaceable photos, and other keepsakes with personal significance.
Don’t forget your glasses and any medication. Do you have a pet? Where will you go, as some shelters will not take pets?
Is there language limiting the board’s powers to implement disaster recovery? Are insurance trustee provisions in the documents?
Did you know that the county or city will not clean up storm debris on private property? Consider pre-contracting for these needs: (1) emergency services; (2) security from vandalism; (3) removal of debris; (4) glass replacement; (5) engineering services to assist in disaster recovery.
Purchase casualty insurance, windstorm insurance, flood insurance, business interruption coverage, and ordinance and law coverage for Code upgrades during rebuilding. Review exclusions with your insurance professional, and see if there are areas which can be covered, but require a couple of different policies.
Individual owners should not only cover their homes and the contents thereof, but also:
Loss Assessment Coverage, which protects against special assessments levied by boards to cover losses from covered peril when the primary coverage is inadequate.
Water Seepage Coverage, which covers water damage from wind-driven rain or water entering from a source other than an opening in the building (e.g., through stucco or around window frames.)
Additions, Alterations, Improvements, and Betterments Coverage, which covers upgrades as well as real prop-erty added by the unit owner. This endorsement may be available with all risk coverage, without a water seepage exclusion.
Account for the residents. The association is not responsible to enforce an evacuation order. However, knowing who did not intend to leave will enable the board or management to direct emergency medical assistance to any residents in need.
Identify areas of the property needing priority attention. Get the roads cleared so emergency vehicles can get through.
Activate the lines of communication. Efforts should be made to locate all owners. Contact employees and vendors as soon as possible after the event.
Dispel rumors by disseminating necessary information. Show status updates on the website. If you are in an area which is closed, let the owners know when they will be able to get access to their homes.
Depending upon the extent of the damage, it may be necessary to suspend or cancel ongoing contracts, such as pool and lawn services, following a disaster. Contracts should include a provision, which assures that, in the event of a disaster, services can be suspended without obligation on the part of the association.
Immediately following the disaster, secure the property to mitigate against further damage, and clean up debris. Most insurers will offer advances for this purpose. Don’t sign any releases or settlements in exchange for such advances. Ensure that “proof of loss” forms are filed within the time limit required under the policies.
Disasters do not respect geographic location or economic status and can occur at any time. Their effects can last for years; but, pre-disaster readiness, quick action after the disaster, and a little common sense will go a long way toward promoting recovery.
Ellen Hirsch de Haan, Esq.
Ellen Hirsch de Haan received her B.A. from Boston University and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami, School of Law. She has more than 30 years of experience in the practice of Community Association Law. Over the years, she has been honored locally and nationally in recognition of her contributions to the community association industry. With the Law Firm of Wetherington Hamilton, P.A., de Haan practices throughout the state of Florida. She can be reached via e-mail at Elllen@whhlaw.com or by phone (813) 676-9073. The firm’s website can be found at www.whhlaw.com.