How Inspections Can Help Prepare for Disasters

While common-sense safety steps can help people ride out Mother Nature’s extremes, owners and managers must go above and beyond the basics to ensure the safety of their portfolios and (more important) their residents.

By Jindou Lee

HappyCo Jindou Lee headshotAn onslaught of major cataclysms in the summer of 2017 proved that no person or property is ever completely safe from natural disasters. A blazing heat wave led to roaring wildfires that consumed dozens of structures in California and Oregon and required more than 6,000 firefighters to contain. A chain of earthquakes beginning in Mexico spread north and west along the Pacific Rim’s infamous Ring of Fire—in Mexico City alone, the event cost at least 360 lives and over $500 million in property damage. In the Atlantic, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated the islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba en route to American cities like Miami and Houston, where Hurricane Harvey caused billions of dollars in damage and 82 deaths. In just one season we’ve seen how cataclysms can come one after another and hit anywhere at all, proving just how important disaster preparedness is for everyone.

While common-sense safety steps can help people ride out Mother Nature’s extremes, owners and managers of multifamily properties must go above and beyond the basics to ensure the safety of their portfolios and (more importantly) their residents. And going that extra mile means inspecting each property both before and after a disaster to keep careful track of damage, watch for safety hazards, minimize risk to people and property, and provide ironclad evidence for post-disaster insurance claims.

Before and After: Ensure Accurate Damage Assessments

Business and property owners usually perform inspections after a major incident like a hurricane, but such an inspection only collects general information about how a property has weathered the storm rather than a detailed look at exactly which items have been damaged and to what extent. To get this detailed level of knowledge, the property owner must be able to compare the post-disaster walkthrough with another inspection performed shortly before the event. Only then is it easy to do a side-by-side, detailed comparison to determine just how badly a location has suffered from a major upheaval.

This type of “before and after” catalog of damage streamlines both the repair and insurance claim processes when seeking to restore a property because it is easy to see the change in a single line item, time-stamped prior to and following the disaster. Inspections that include inline photography make this even easier because they let owners show actual images of a given item or section of the property. Nothing proves the extent of a storm’s devastation like a shot of a wall in good repair one day and collapsed by a wave the next.

Batten Down the Hatches: Preparing Properties for Major Events

Inspecting a property before a disaster does more than just help owners recoup their losses. A thorough walkthrough also lets managers and maintenance personnel notice any problem areas or potential safety issues that could, if not addressed, exacerbate damage to a property or even jeopardize resident and public safety. Items like free-standing concrete planters are not normally a danger, but hurricane waves or tornado winds could turn them into dangerous projectiles. Light fixtures shaken in an earthquake could fall, crushing cars or starting fires hours or days after the immediate danger has passed.

Inspections can spot these potential issues—indeed, wise property owners should have special pre-disaster inspection templates ready to check and double-check that all such issues have been accounted and prepared for.

Know Your Property, Know Its Needs and Inspect Often

Few natural disasters are predictable. Even the storms coming rapid-fire out of the Atlantic in 2017 can only be tracked as they advance, while earthquakes can devastate major cities at any time. The key to performing before-and-after inspections is to be safe rather than sorry and inspect often. Inspect when hurricane season begins and every time a new storm appears on The Weather Channel, regardless of where it’s predicted to go. Property owners near a forest or dry hills should inspect throughout the wildfire season just to be on the safe side. Companies that own facilities near fault lines should do regular earthquake preparedness inspections and may want to double check their properties whenever a quake hits somewhere else. It only takes a few minutes, but it can have huge rewards should the unthinkable happen.

Jindou Lee is CEO of HappyCo, a San Francisco-based software company that builds mobile and cloud solutions to enable real-time property operations. It’s Happy Inspector product is used by thousands of companies and has captured more than 100 million items inspected. The company was founded in 2011 and is privately held.

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