Basic Emergency Procedures for Your Apartment Complex

Editors note: This special guest post on multifamily emergency procedures is written by Ingrid Sutherland.

When my family would stay in a hotel my father would check the map on the hotel room door for emergency exits. He would then insist that we stand in the hotel hall and locate the exits. Naturally, as an adolescent, I found this embarrassing and unnecessary.

One cold morning, on the 26th floor of a hotel in Boston, we woke up to a shrill fire alarm and the unmistakable sound of approaching fire engines. After everyone evacuated, the kitchen fire was contained and I didn’t complain about my father’s precautionary measures anymore.

Educate your residents on emergency procedures

Of course, no one wants to consider a potential disaster coming to life, but the best way to prevent panic is education. In nautical and aeronautical situations, a vessel may declare a number of “souls onboard.” This is an old turn of a phrase but as a landlord you are a captain of sorts as well.

Plan ahead. Ignore the peanut gallery’s complaints about another meeting. Natural disasters do happen and you can give your residents the best possible chance by planning ahead of time. Take it from me, the complainers will get quiet.

Have an emergency plan

Identify your goals and objectives for your emergency plan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), your insurance agent, local fire department and local police department can help you put together your plan.

Create and distribute your building’s emergency plan in paper and digital forms. The plan should address what to do in case of snowstorm, blackout, flood, fire, hurricane, tornado, earthquake and any other unforeseen emergency. It should be on your tenant portal for easy access at all times.

Before any emergency occurs your tenants should be prepared. If your residents need to remain in the building during the emergency event they’ll need:

  • Information on shut downs of major building systems
  • Locations of emergency exits in the building
  • Location of the nearest shelters
  • Phone numbers of emergency responders – medics, firefighters and police
  • Evacuation routes and emergency kits (see below)
  • Sources of vital information – National Weather Service, FEMA, Red Cross, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Share FEMA’s PrepareAthon playbook materials with family members and tenants.

Prepare Yourself

If an emergency occurs you will also need a solid plan of action for yourself and/or other responsible parties. A few starting questions to consider:

  • Who is shutting off water, gas, and electricity?
  • What are building procedures in case of power failure?

Know what tasks need to be performed and who is responsible for completing them. Designate back-up people. Have your residents and staff’s contact information in several different places. You will want to do a roll call if anything happens.

  • Maintain and update the list of your residents. Have one contact person or check-in phone number for everyone. Emergency responders might ask you to provide a list of residents and staff to make sure everyone is immediately accounted for.
  • Keep your keys and codes organized and accurately labeled. Medics might need access to locked doors to save someone’s life.
  • Have a special emergency plan for those with disabilities and the elderly. Notify emergency responders of the residents in your building who might require extra assistance ahead of time.

Everyone should have an emergency kit prepared ahead of time. Basic recommended items include:

  • Non-perishable food items – a 3-day supply
  • Drinking water – a 3-day supply
  • A flashlight
  • A hand-crank radio
  • Prescription glasses if needed
  • Extra medications and/or medical supplies – a 3-day supply
  • Two-way radios
  • A manual can opener
  • First aid supplies
  • An airtight container for important documents
  • A multi-purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items – a 3-day supply
  • A cell-phone with charger
  • Family contact information
  • A map of the area
  • Extra keys
  • An emergency blanket
  • Extra cash
  • If needed – baby supplies and/or pet supplies

Hopefully you will never need to use your emergency plan, but plan ahead!

Learn more:

5 Tips for Multifamily Disaster Management and Resilience Planning

Flood Safety Tips for Your Apartment Building and Residents

Inexpensive Fixes for Life Safety Issues at Your Rental Properties


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Ingrid Sutherland

Ingrid Sutherland is a real estate investor and a content creator.  She boarders on obsession with DIY home renovation projects.

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