How to Prepare Your Community for a Compound Disaster

Lindsay Shapiro of HUB International on how to get ready for two or more emergencies that hit at the same time. We're resharing this piece in honor of Women's History Month.

Lindsay Shapiro

The COVID-19 era has brought on many new challenges. Imagine adding a severe weather disaster to the mix. The result is a compound disaster. And it’s more likely than you think.

A compound disaster refers to two or more disastrous events that create additional and increasingly complex response and recovery challenges. That’s COVID-19 plus a hurricane on the East Coast, a wildfire on the West Coast or a cyberattack anywhere in between.

Multifamily owners and operators across the U.S. and Canada are starting to take note of the potential for a compound disaster in their area and are now preparing ahead for the risks and liabilities that come with it.

Compound disaster multifamily considerations

There’s no playbook for how to respond to a natural disaster in the backdrop of a pandemic. One thing is clear it’s never been more important to assess and adjust your community’s preparedness plan, anticipating new ways of responding to compound events. 

Multifamily owners and operators run essential businesses. Their properties house families and they must consider issues of supply chain, power outage and local business closure due to severe weather events and the pandemic, and the effect these have on the multifamily operation.

During a major storm, wildfire or data breach, how will your company respond? To prepare, consider the following best practices and challenges based on your community’s unique features—location, resident population and access to resources.

Evaluate your emergency plan

Although your building likely has an emergency plan already, the pandemic adds another dimension, necessitating a pandemic-related version of the plan. Think through each difference. If residents need to evacuate, where will they go? If temporary living situations need to be set up, what is your obligation? What reasonable and alternative arrangements for shelter can be made? Account for how residents working from home will affect your emergency plan. At the end of the hurricane or wildfire season, evaluate the effectiveness of your plan and modify any pitfalls for future use.

Adapt on-site services during an emergency

A compound disaster may lead to a temporary loss or lack of on-site personnel. Therefore, services may need to be scaled back. Consider how to best go about suspending routine maintenance, repairs and inspections. Focus on necessary emergency repairs and what expertise and materials those will require.

Review your internal emergency communication plans

Communicating with staff and residents is critical to the timely distribution of important information. Review and update contact and emergency contact information of both staff and residents. Multiple communication methods should be established. In a power outage, phone lines and automated systems may not work. Consider special provisions for elderly residents. Safety-plan expectations should be understood by staff and residents alike. A newsletter is a great way to routinely remind tenants of policies and emergency information.

Prepare for longer disruption of essential services

Anticipate and prepare for extended downtimes and longer wait times for restoration of services, as essential workers may already be on adjusted shifts, with smaller crews or with extended hours for COVID-19 protections. In a compound disaster situation, utility restoration services may be impacted in ways not seen before. Ensure existing backup systems like generators are functioning properly and disaster kits are fully stocked with food, water and other recommended essentials. 

Know supply chain disruptions will be compounded

Supply chains and deliveries have already been significantly disrupted by COVID-19. A natural disaster will add another dimension that requires reassessment of essential processes, functions and materials. Anticipate supply chain disruption over the next 12 months by placing supply orders well in advance. Do this for cleaning materials, cold weather necessities, personal protective equipment and more.

Understand your policies

Talk to your broker and risk services specialist to find out what coverage you have, including what your policy limits and exclusions are. Knowing what you are covered for will aid in disaster planning. Should you be forced to make critical decisions at the height of the compound disaster, this knowledge will be crucial.

Staying on top of local weather reports and continuing to safeguard your facility’s network will go a long way in further preparation for and prevention of a potential compound disaster.

Lindsay Shapiro is a Certified Safety Professional and serves as a risk consultant for global insurance brokerage HUB International. Shapiro’s role is to assist clients in developing and applying safety programs in support of risk management efforts and outreach. She strives to promote safety by evaluating situations for hazards with the objective of implementing safe practices. 

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