Hurricane Season Doesn’t Stop During a Pandemic

The strain on local governments and resources due to the pandemic and social unrest could lead to delayed emergency response.

With communities still reeling from the strains of the coronavirus and widespread social unrest and civil rights protests, the threat of an exceptionally active hurricane season seems particularly menacing. But if experts are right, that could be exactly what’s in store for multifamily property owners.

Kevin Donnelly and Daria Dudzinski

Projections for the 2020 hurricane season show it’s shaping up to be the most dangerous storm season since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that we’re likely to see as many as 19 named storms, including as many as six major hurricanes. There’s a 70 percent probability that between three and six of these storms would be of Category 3 or higher, with wind speeds of at least 111 miles per hour.

While preparation is always key, this year it takes on added importance.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency and state governments are gearing up for the start of hurricane season, which officially began June 1. However, resources and supplies are stretched thin in the wake of COVID-19, potentially delaying traditional relief responses and efforts. Apartment firms must take a serious, fresh look at their operations and disaster planning efforts to ensure they are ready for whatever storm heads their way.

5 Keys to Preparedness

The 2020 hurricane season projections are spurring concerns over FEMA and state emergency authorities’ ability to handle a particularly vicious hurricane season. FEMA, in particular, has already been wrestling to aid states in their coronavirus responses as all 50 states have a declared state of emergency in effect at the same time for the first time in history. Lawmakers, too, have begun to raise concerns about FEMA’s inadequate staffing levels, plans for sheltering amid social distancing orders and access to Personal Protective Equipment during a global shortage.

With questions over how swift or robust a government response can or will be in the wake of a hurricane, pre-disaster planning should be mission critical across your entire enterprise. Here are five tips to get you started.

  1. Don’t procrastinate. Waiting until a storm is on its way may very well be too late for apartment firms to implement effective preparedness and mitigation measures. FEMA’s Business Ready Hurricane Toolkit is a valuable resource for apartment firms looking for actionable guidance and steps to take in mitigating the risk posed by the looming storm season. FEMA also released the COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season, providing “actionable guidance…for response and recovery operations and encourages personal preparedness measures amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”  This, too, should be consulted for tips on how to manage hurricane preparedness as apartment communities continue to recover from COVID-19.  NMHC’s guide on establishing an Incident Response Plan for these and other disasters can also help inform a firms’ efforts.
  2. Make sure you are covered. Now is a perfect time to dig into the insurance coverage across your firms’ portfolio and understand their policy limits, deductibles and limitations. Where flood or other catastrophic coverage was unnecessary just a few years ago, that is likely not the case any longer. Be sure to pay particular attention to exclusions that may exist and be doubly sure that the policy reflects the most recent valuation of the property and accounts for any recent renovations or construction to ensure things go smoothly if a claim is ultimately necessary.
  3. Educate your residents. Many residents assume that in the wake of a storm or flooding event that the building’s insurance coverage, or even their traditional renter’s insurance policy, will cover any damage to their property. Yet, the reality is that affected residents will find themselves with little recourse to recover their losses unless they have standalone coverage. The National Flood Insurance Program offers affordable flood policies for renters and firms should encourage their residents to secure it.
  4. Continue to communicate with residents. Each apartment community is unique in the risks they face. Whether it is hurricanes in the East or wildfires in the West, property-level incident response plans should be developed with an eye towards ensuring effective communication with residents, local officials, regional or corporate offices or even other properties in the same area.
  5. Prioritize resiliency and flood mitigation. As recent history has shown us, storms and flooding events are only getting more intense, occurring more frequently and becoming more costly. Designing properties with resilience in mind is key for the future of multifamily and for those already in operation. Reviewing what flood mitigation measures can be deployed now is essential. Options can range from improving drainage around the building to more involved and costly steps like raising a buildings’ utilities and equipment to higher floors. Any step aimed at reducing flood risk is a step in the right direction and could save the property significant resources in the long run. 

Should disaster strike during this hurricane season, firms that have invested in preparedness measures will be in a far better competitive position than if they had rolled the dice against Mother Nature.  While not all firms or operators have the same capabilities or resources, they can have an honest look at their risks and clearly outline steps they can take to mitigate some of these risks posed to their residents and properties.

With COVID-19 still ravaging many of our communities and apartment firms serving on the front lines of that crisis, it can be challenging to think of the possibility of yet another disaster. However, it’s critical that everyone from leasing and on-site teams to members of the C-Suite take hurricane preparedness seriously.

Kevin Donnelly is the vice president of government affairs at the National Multifamily Housing Council in Washington, D.C.

Daria Dudzinski is the manager for government affairs at NMHC.