Extreme winter weather ravaged parts of the United States in a mid-February 2021 storm cycle. Power outages, burst pipes, below-freezing temperatures, record-breaking snowfall and car accidents from hazardous road conditions impacted nearly 170 million Americans under winter weather advisories. And more storms were still on the way. This type of weather event can be severely destructive to apartment communities and threatens the safety and health of residents.
It’s critical for apartment communities to prepare for winter storms and keep residents safe, warm and informed.
Here is a guide for winter weather preparation, precautions and how to implement different systems for handling and recovering from incoming storms:
Before the storm — Preparation:
- Ensure a communication system is equipped for success during winter emergencies. Resident apps and portals should properly sync, communicate and implement preventive maintenance protocols on all platforms.
- Provide answers to frequently asked questions and reduce residents’ need for questions by creating accessible links to resident resource information that includes local authority contacts for emergency services.
- Communicate and distribute transparent information to residents before and during winter storms. Develop a winter weather preparedness packet for onsite teams and maintenance staff with a response strategy and emergency protocols. Share emergency response strategies with staff and residents.
- Review vendor contracts and communicate with contractors before extreme weather to determine the level of service and support to expect during and after the storm.
- Check the fuel, oil and pressure levels on generators
- Inspect all pumps
- Prepare HVAC systems
- Repair or replace any damaged weather seals
- Update inspection templates or implement saved templates
During the storm — Response:
- Utilize all communication platforms to reach residents and communicate safety and protection measures and guidelines by email, text, phone, resident apps and portal, push notifications, social media and preliminary winter newsletters.
- Maintain communication with residents and corporate offices regarding new information and emergency situation updates.
- Provide a checklist to residents to help them prepare for winter storms and communicate emergency strategies before the cold weather season.
- Residents and their pets can stay warm with space heaters plugged directly into a wall outlet, by placing rolled up blankets or towels at the base of exterior doors and covering windows with blankets, towels or sheets.
- Power outages: When trying to generate heat in the case of power outages, residents should be extremely cautious of carbon monoxide poisoning. Place generators outside and do not generate heat by using an oven with the door open or by car running in the garage.
- Frozen pipes: Residents can help apartment communities prevent pipes freezing by letting faucets run at a slow drip to ensure constant water circulation. Residents can also open cabinets to expose the pipes to the heat within the apartment.
- Encourage residents to rapidly communicate with the community and maintenance teams through the resident app or portal about any situations concerning power outages, burst pipes or damage to the apartment.
After the storm — Recovery:
- Leverage service platform to expedite winter storm damage inspections on all apartment homes and building exteriors. Find a solution that syncs all documentation into the core property management system as well as offers offline working capabilities.
- Prioritize managing communication channels so residents can seamlessly relay apartment and building damage to on-site and maintenance teams. Encourage residents to report minor damage; it may indicate a larger issue.
- Document any damage with a disaster inspection form to ensure comprehensive coverage and avoid liability. Consider including insurance companies in the inspection to help residents work through damages and claims for personal property.
- Diagnose damages with residents’ photos or via video chat and provide maintenance tips and appropriate tools for non-urgent repairs so residents can work on minor fixes themselves.
- Assess the apartment community’s emergency preparedness, communication platforms and on-site protocols. What worked, what didn’t and what systems need improvement before the next storm?
- Implement mold remediation and environmental resources protocol via in-app technologies.
The 2021 winter storm cycle has been fierce and doesn’t show signs of relenting. Apartment operators and onsite teams with emergency preparedness, strong communication systems and calculated response protocols will have an advantage for keeping residents safe and mitigating building damage whenever extreme winter weather strikes.