When the Unthinkable Happens – Putting Your Plan Into Action, Part III

By Alexandra S. Jackiw, CPM®, CAPS, C3P

Regardless of the endeavor, having a concrete plan in place is an important first step in ensuring that the implementation, when confronting any challenge, goes as smoothly as possible.  When your teams are dealing with emergency situations, those unthinkable events that require agility, focus and mindfulness, the plan and its implementation may spell the difference between tragedy and an optimal outcome.

As we explore the process of being prepared when the unthinkable happens, the focus needs to be on ensuring that everyone on the team understands their role and how to accomplish critical tasks during any situation that can result in harm to individuals, destruction of property, unlawful activity, or damage to reputation.  The previous blog in this series provided a framework for creating a written plan to address just these kinds of unthinkable events.  Within that written plan your on-site team needs a Policies and Procedures Manual, an Infrastructure Manual, and a Public Relations Crisis Management Plan.  Let’s take a look at each of these components.

Policies and Procedures Manual

At a minimum, your Policies and Procedures Manual should include the following:

  • The local municipality’s emergency plan (usually available on the municipality’s website)
  • A comprehensive list of on-site emergency systems
  • Current resident information including emergency contacts
  • Notification process for all stakeholders – an information tree should be in place
  • Sample notices to distribute to residents
  • Emergency drills – calendar and outcomes
  • Location of staging areas and gathering places
  • Law enforcement actions and how to respond
  • Insurance procedures
  • How to manage the media
  • Emergency supplies and where they are stored
  • Damage mitigation/crime scene clean-up
  • A list of emergency contractors to call
  • A list of all utility providers and emergency numbers to call
  • Resuming business operations

Infrastructure Manual

Each apartment community is different so make sure your Infrastructure Manual is customized to address the specific systems of each site.  Those should include:

  • Alarm systems
  • Intercom systems
  • Fire suppression systems
  • Utility shutoffs
  • Back-up systems/auxiliary equipment such as generators
  • Elevators
  • Cameras and surveillance equipment
  • Key/lock systems
  • Garage access
  • Security gate access
  • Panic bars/buttons
  • Video recording equipment

Public Relations Crisis Management Plan

Your Public Relations Crisis Management Plan should answer the following questions:

  • Who manages the message?
  • How is information disseminated?
  • Who is responsible for responding to media inquiries?
  • How is misinformation addressed?
  • Who anticipates potential fallout?
  • How are notifications handled?
  • Who interacts with law enforcement or other municipal agencies?
  • What community resources are available to assist when the unthinkable happens?

While we need to be concerned first and foremost about the safety and well-being of residents and employees and the preservation of the physical asset, don’t forget that unthinkable events can dramatically impact a property’s reputation for months or even years to come.  Your public relations strategy should include an honest assessment of how your apartment community is perceived in the community.  Manage your reputation now, not after an unfortunate event occurs.  Consider the following things:

  • Public opinion will be colored by anything that has occurred prior to the current incident you are dealing with.
  • Remember that it is the job of journalists to dig up information and they will certainly be looking for prior problems.
  • Take a critical look at your marketing collateral. Does it portray the property in the right light or in a way that will come back to haunt you if something happens?
  • Take a look at your social media pages. What impressions would the public have from the pictures and postings?
  • How is your staff perceived by residents, business owners, law enforcement and other stakeholders?
  • Are you checking all social media outlets, including rating sites, and working actively to dispel negative comments?
  • Are you surveying your residents regularly to gauge their overall perceptions of your operations?

There are many things to consider when you are trying to plan for the unthinkable.  Your on-site team needs a detailed roadmap so that each team member knows instinctively how to respond in an emergency situation.  If your plan is already in place, take the time to review it to make sure it is complete and that no adjustments are needed.  If you are just beginning the process of developing your plan, put a framework in place and then solicit input from your team and other stakeholders to cover all eventualities.  As Benjamin Franklin wisely said:  “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Plan now so that you and your team are prepared when the unthinkable happens.