Perspectives: One Year After Sandy

By Ian Marlow, FiTech Consultants All across the country extreme weather events are growing more frequent and more severe, as is the devastation they wreak. Add to these natural disasters the scope of the 9/11 attacks and we see that although multifamily property owners and managers cannot anticipate these events, there

All across the country extreme weather events are growing more frequent and more severe, as is the devastation they wreak. Add to these natural disasters the scope of the 9/11 attacks and we see that although multifamily property owners and managers cannot anticipate these events, there is a strong need to plan for them in order to mitigate operational and occupancy losses during emergencies and beyond.

These events have been an alarming wake-up call for property managers about the vulnerability of our physical and technical infrastructures.  Hurricane Sandy’s huge impact on the multifamily real estate industry shifted the spotlight to operations and occupancy continuity during emergencies.

Besides the obvious physical damage to properties and their contents, the extended power outages put multifamily buildings at an operational standstill. As the storm revealed, the loss of viable physical space is challenging but the lack of a business continuity plan (BCP) for building managers and landlords can be crippling.

Today’s property management companies must adopt long-term solutions to meet their business continuity needs following disasters. In the 24/7 environment of multifamily housing, management is on the move assessing damage, meeting with contractors, and dealing with resident issues. Staying in communication is of vital importance. A modern BCP that uses technology along with time-tested procedures can relieve managers of the issues caused by damaged or failed public infrastructure, and allow management to continue via remote operations (both distant and local). Consider these solutions for your company’s BCP:

1Private clouds.
Most real estate management companies cannot afford to implement and maintain their own data network, server and storage platform. A growing alternative are private clouds that offer customizable space on a distributed infrastructure that is reliable, fast, secure and flexible. A private cloud safeguards a company’s system from on-site mishaps and network failures. All computing, memory and disk performance is dedicated to each distinct organization. Private clouds are more cost-effective, offer superior compliance, and provide access to business files from anywhere at any time, on any device.

2 Emergency/after-hours phone coverage.
When the property’s phone system is out of service, you should have phone lines forwarded at the carrier level to managers’ cell phones. This enables managers to contact emergency workers or property owners, and not miss critical calls when local phone service is down. Contracting for emergency phone coverage provides a vital link in this situation.

3 Mobile communications with owners, employees and residents.
If possible, get residents to opt into a mobile emergency communication protocol. Group texts, automated phone messaging and email blasts keep all parties in the loop during critical times on their mobile devices. Having multiple forms of communication (landline and cellular phones, text, email, instant messaging) aids in the ability to report fires and other emergencies at any time as well as account for all employees and residents who would have multiple methods to report their status.

4 Wi-Fi hotspots.
Identify and catalog, in advance, local Wi-Fi-enabled spots to keep managers and supervisors connected and able to work and address resident needs. “Wired” merchants and public spaces are plentiful in most areas. Share this list with tenants as well to help keep them connected to their families or work—or to receive messages with updates on service restoration from building managers. Encourage users to employ wireless hotspot capabilities on their smartphones as well.

5 Cellular-capable tablets.
Wireless technology allows managers to do their jobs any time with utmost flexibility. Cellular capability on tablets frees users from searching for a Wi-Fi connection since the devices will work anywhere a cell phone does. Cellular connections for tablets grew nearly 50 percent in the first quarter of 2013, and investments in cellular-connected tablets have soared over the past year as technology and mobile adoption evolve. Private clouds accessed on these tablets are becoming the new intranet.

6 Portable power.
Portable power packs and recharging systems for smartphones, tablets and cameras are critical during times of outages. These portable power sources are even built into briefcases and back packs, such as The Powerbag, which will recharge smartphones four times and can power up to four portable devices simultaneously.
7 Backup Internet.
Investing in a secondary Internet line for the management office provides additional insurance for business continuity.

8 Emergency kits. Every building should have: emergency shut-off maps of valves/equipment, gas valve wrenches, yellow caution tape, first aid kit, work gloves, water purifying equipment, fluorescent lanterns, flashlights and fresh batteries, spade, axe, pry-bars, crowbars, safety helmets (with lights), tarps, ropes, and spare elevator keys.

9 Off-site and remote communications. Establish an alternative communications center and inform residents of its location. Have the building’s surveillance system remotely monitored by a company that can also provide remote dispatch of emergency services.
Whether dealing with short- or long-term outages, real estate companies must be prepared to continue with the business of managing their properties. Creating a BCP that incorporates technology and hands-on practical measures provides assurance now that operations will not be disrupted later during a natural (or other) disaster.

Ian Marlow is founder and managing partner of FiTech Consultants, a technology consulting firm serving the real estate industry.