New Brunswick, N.J.—More than a month after Hurricane Sandy, the effects of the storm are still reverberating across the Northeast. MHN talks to Robert Lampher, president, Pennrose Management Company, about the damages their New Jersey properties suffered, and how their experiences affected how they will react to hurricanes in the future.
MHN: Did you have much damage to your buildings because of Sandy?
Lampher: For the most part, we were very lucky. We had trees and gutters down and some basic wind damage. We had more severe damage on a very small handful of properties. We also had some significant roof damage, and on a couple of properties we had some pretty serious flooding.
MHN: How did you prepare your buildings before the storm?
Lampher: We started with the basics, asking, “Do we have all our safety systems in place? Are we stocked on fuel for generators? Are our systems backed up? Have all the batteries been recently been replaced?” We check routinely, but before a storm like this we do an immediate check. We check all the drainage systems and make sure everything is clear and running the way it should. We make sure all the windows are properly sealed. We’ll board windows, everything we need to do to make sure the physical structure is as prepared as possible for what may be coming with the storm or power outage to make sure our residents are supported as much as possible.
We have resident communication before a storm, depending on what the anticipated path of the anticipated path for the storm is. If we’re hearing that it looks like evacuations are going to be ordered, we arrange ahead of time to make sure our residents understand the evacuation procedures, where to go and who to contact. We have employee-based and resident-based floor captains and folks that are there to be the lead in the event of an evacuation. We arrange for family notifications, supportive services, whatever we anticipate the resident need is going to be.
In advance, we also contact all our vendors and find out where their emergency contacts are going to be, that they have them stationed properly for our different geographies, where they’re going to be and how to get in touch with them during the entire storm in the event that we’ll need them to respond to anything.
MHN: What precautions did you take during Sandy?
Lampher: We had our folks staged that were doing inspections throughout the course of the storm for safety systems, drainage, etc. to make sure we could respond to any issue with something failing, the storm causing damage to one of those systems, or whatever the case may be. We had staff on hand that were going door-to-door during the course of the storm just to check that everybody was OK, and that there weren’t any issues going on with their residents that needed to be addressed. We had emergency response lined up that we were dispatching, and staff on hand doing a fire watch to make sure there weren’t any issues because the emergency system might have been down because of a power outage. We brought in staffing relief from other states, because when folks were working 24 or 48 hours straight it would allow someone to cover for them. All this was happening during the course of the storm.
After the storm, the biggest issue really was power, at least in our Northern New Jersey portfolio. In some cases, power was out for more than a week. Most of the backup power systems for properties of this nature are some form of gas fuel, and they’re not always piped to a continuous fuel feed. So when you have a power outage that goes on for days, you don’t have enough fuel on hand. In this particular case, in many places where we had gas-powered generator systems, we had to truck in fuel from out of state to keep the generators going.
I think one of the things that we’re most proud of about the ways things were handled after the storm is as we were seeing that the power wasn’t going to be coming back on, we stepped up and put together a mass relief effort. Our ownership very generously put up financial support for our management to engage, and we got a large group of employees from other states and other regions that banded together and went out and rented trucks and did large food and clothes purchases. And then we sent teams to the buildings with power outages and delivered food, blankets and fuel. It really turned into an incredible community organization—everybody was really coming together.
MHN: Are you rethinking any of your emergency procedures?
Lampher: After a major event, we always take the opportunity to look for lessons learned. What this particular storm brought to light is extended power outages. Those really were the key issues that any of us incurred, and the power system in New Jersey being affected for so long, and even with backup generators, fuel becomes an issue, as well as being able to keep the building heated. We’re revisiting some of our procedures for accessibility for the backup system.