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Emergency Preparedness & Preemptive Actions - A Guest Article by Jeremy Stilwell

Emergency preparedness is often viewed as a topic that relates to large-scale storm or earthquake-related concerns.  And yes, it is indeed wise to be prepared for such major events. In fact, the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) has repeatedly encouraged every US resident to be prepared to take care of their own essential personal needs for a minimum of three days - and has provided extensive guidance on how to become prepared (see http://www.ready.gov/ for specific information).When it comes to home owner associations and the communities where we live, it is not unusual for these associations to have disaster response plans and, for many associations, their professional managers play a key role in those plans. Even so, whether or not you live in a formalized home owner association, our government leaders have encouraged everyone to be prepared.As attorneys, we often help homeowners and community associations deal with insurance coverage, deductibles, assessments, alternative funding, governance, and liability issues that arise following such events.  In doing so, it is our goal to first of all focus on prevention - in order to minimize the impact of such an event on an association and individual residents.What preemptive steps can be taken to reduce the amount of damage with which a homeowner must contend? For one example of how to answer this question, we can examine a less dramatic event and see how we can be prepared for it.  In doing so, this preparation can also apply to a more significant event if it were to occur.Let’s assume that a water line bursts in your home or association.  With an active water leak, the time required to turn off the water can have a dramatic impact on the amount of damage done.  How much time is going to pass before someone is able to stop the flow of water by activating a water shut off valve?  Can a resident shut off the water?  Is there an owner or resident that knows where the shut-off valve is and how to turn off the water?  Does anyone know who that person is?For professionally managed associations, if the association manager or the management company’s emergency hotline is called, will they know where the shut-off valve is and how to turn off the water?  Are there building plans on-site to aid a plumber or other service professional respond more efficiently? Certainly knowing the answers to such questions as these will serve the homeowner and community well regardless of the size of the event.Using the above as an example, associations and neighborhoods may want to formally identify people on site that know the location of key utilities and equipment, such as gas, water, electrical, sprinklers, boilers etc. - as well as knowing how to shut them off if needed.  While owners should not be relied upon or entrusted to take the place of emergency responders or service providers, they can be helpful in an emergency situationIn addition, being able to provide emergency responders or service providers with floor plans, schematics of gas, water, electrical, fire suppression, and HVAC systems can be extremely valuable in an emergency when professional help is available. In addition to having knowledgeable owners identified, it’s also a good idea to have a list of residents with special needs identified for emergency personnel, so that those residents can receive priority assistance following any event that impacts the community.In short, preparation for emergencies is smart – and it is strongly encouraged by our National, State, and Local government leaders. And when considering such plans, we don’t need to simply think in terms of larger-scale events. Instead, when planning for emergencies it can be just as helpful to take time to consider the smaller emergencies and what you might do on an individual basis to keep them… smaller. By doing so, such preparation will also serve you well if a larger event were to occur.And because no amount of planning will eliminate all emergencies, please know that you are welcome to call me or any of the attorneys at Barker Martin to help deal with your questions or, if an event occurs (whether small or large) we are here to assist you in dealing with the fall-out.