Winter Storm Hercules is aptly named not just for its destructive power but also the number of nigh impossible labors that will come with cleaning up its icy mess.
Blizzard warnings have been issued for areas of Boston and for Long Island. Snowfall as of Friday afternoon was being measured as high as 30 inches and rising. Wind gusts topped 45 miles an hour. With wind chill, some areas of the northeast were looking at temperatures usually reserved for places like Canada and Greenland – windchills hitting -50 degrees.
Temperatures in the nation’s icebox – International Falls, Minn. – dropped to 42 degrees below zero Friday morning. More than 1,600 flights to and around the northeast were canceled and almost twice as many were delayed. While the brunt of Hercules was expected to hit the northeast, at least 20 states could be affected, forecasters said. The Packers were expected to play Sunday’s game in -8 degree weather.
Given this, it should be obvious that even properties that are occupied and well-prepared are going to be struck with busted pipes, frozen branches that crash through roofs, roofs that collapse under the weight of frozen accumulation, and all other manner of merry winter hell.
So you can just imagine how vulnerable vacant, institutionally owned properties will be.
Property managers in the northeast are already short-staffed by employees still on vacation or stuck at home, making the tasks of management companies truly herculean.
What does all this mean? You need to have a plan.
There are three keys stages for emergency management to plan – before, during, and after the event, be it winter storm, hurricane, wildfire or zombie apocalypse.
There has to be a plan and everyone involved needs to be trained and to know their role.
Ensure that you are on the same page and up-to-date with the institutional owners to make sure they have adequate insurance needed for emergency/disaster situations.
Have a list of all the emergency services, field personnel, and contractors needed to prepare properties. In the case of a winter storm, all those things that homeowners and tenants are told to do – wrapping pipes, turning faucets on, setting thermostats to a certain setting band so on.
Since these are more likely distressed properties that will be under institutional ownership, they will also present certain challenges and issues that non-distressed and occupied properties don’t.
Have a list of vendors and contractors ready so they can be mobilized as soon as it is safe to roll out.
Assign emergency plan roles and periodically drill your staff. Since most larger disasters have some kind of lead-time – winter storms, hurricanes and so on – there should be time for extra practice run-throughs just before everything hits the fan.
Have a system in place for monitoring emergency announcements.
Have a system in place for dealing with the fact regular means of communication and transportation may not be available, and that if your office is in the affected zone your employees may have to work remotely.
Have someone in charge of assessing and prioritizing actions. Call it disaster triage. You want the worst and most pressing problems dealt with first to minimize loss of value.
Determine what properties are within an impacted area as soon as possible so you can direct resources and assessment of damages quickly.
When an emergency/disaster occurs, it is crucial to understand that the property manager must handle the situation first, and notify owners when the situation allows.
Have a system in place for creating and delivering a damage report to institutional owners so you can coordinate damage control and repair.
Ensure properties rendered hazardous by the disaster are properly handled to limit liability to trespasser, and so it doesn’t create what the lawyers call an "attractive nuisance."
Be patient. After a major disaster it takes time to figure out the best solutions for properties, and that will be exacerbated by delays in having even basic services restored.
By being prepared both mentally and in your planning, you can complete all the labors it takes to get things back to normal.