In a world where natural and man-made disasters are a reality, it is essential for multifamily property management teams to be prepared. Having a disaster plan in place can mitigate damage, curtail expenses, and minimize the time lapse between the event and your team executing responsive measures. Importantly, it can also maximize the safety and well-being of your staff and residents. This guide provides an overview of key considerations and steps for creating an effective disaster preparedness plan.

1. Types of disasters and their implications

Disasters can vary in form, including natural disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, or other severe storms. Between 2018 and 2022, there were 90 natural disasters in the U.S., costing a total of $611.80 billion and resulting in more than 1,750 unfortunate deaths. Disasters can also include man-made crises like active shooter scenarios. Each type of disaster has its own set of challenges, including loss of life, loss of property, and/or psychological impacts to residents and staff. They may also require evacuations from certain areas and have the potential to overwhelm resources in communities. Staff and residents will turn to a building’s management for updates, communication, and leadership, so your disaster plan should be comprehensive enough to address various situations. You can never be too prepared.

2. Preparing for hurricanes and floods

Hurricanes typically come with three to four days of warning–not enough time to create a disaster preparedness plan, making it all the more important that your team create one well in advance. Those elements should include:

Evacuation plans

In advance of hurricanes and floods, leave ample time for your residents and team to evacuate and be aware that your staff might not be able to return immediately due to safety concerns such as high flood water or electrocution risks.

Local aid societies

Create a list of local aid societies that provide emergency assistance, like Red Cross, that you can send to your staff and residents in case of severe damage or evacuations.

Remediation vendor relationships

It’s critical that you establish relationships with remediation vendors before an emergency occurs. When you’re in need of remediation services for your property due to a natural disaster, it’s likely that many others in your area will as well. Often these companies will visit those with whom they have a pre-existing relationship first. Take the call from these vendors before the disaster happens so they’ll take your call when you need them.

Dealing with non-evacuees

Some residents may choose not to evacuate. It is important to communicate the risks of staying put to them, and your team can prepare those communications ahead of time. Those who stay should also understand that building staff will evacuate and will not be accessible to offer aid if needed.

3. Addressing fire emergencies

Onsite leader designation

Ensure that there is a key onsite decision-maker identified in your preparedness plan. When there’s a fire, it’s critical to have a designated leader in place to manage the aftermath who is familiar with the plan and can execute without panic.

Emergency assistance

Have plans in place to provide assistance to residents: if they need to be evacuated, where should they go? What are their temporary housing options? If they’ve lost or don’t have access to their belongings, are there local schools, community groups, or religious organizations that typically organize donations?

Pre-engagement with vendors

Similar to hurricanes and floods, it’s critical to establish relationships with fire remediation vendors before an emergency occurs. Have a list of companies who specialize in fire remediation and maintain contact on an ongoing basis.

Pre-engagement with community officials

Get to know your local fire and police departments, and build relationships with department leaders. It will help for them to be familiar with you before an event occurs.

Insurance planning

You can work with your insurance broker to include the name and contact information of a pre-identified claims adjuster in your policy paperwork, so that you have an established and single point of contact to handle your claims. It will streamline efforts if you’ve identified the insurance adjuster you’ll be working with to manage your claims before an event occurs. Calling them directly can save precious time and avoid the frustration of hold cycles and lack of responsiveness.

4. Handling active shooter situations

Leader’s role

The pre-assigned property management leader must have the capacity to remain calm in order to assess the safety of the team and residents. This person should be identified in your preparedness plan.

Determine what will need to be documented

Have an active shooter plan that helps to get the facts straight. It’s imperative to pinpoint the specifics of the incident, including the nature of the event, its location, the time it occurred, the methods employed, and the individuals involved (in other words, the Five W’s: who, what, where, when and why). When emotions and tensions are running high, having a form to complete will aid your disaster leader in organizing necessary information for the company, residents, and law enforcement.

Relationships with law enforcement

As mentioned above, it’s important to build relationships with local law enforcement, know your beat officers and precinct, and participate in local meetings. When an emergency occurs, managing the traumatic aftermath will be somewhat eased if these relationships already exist.

Media interaction and social media posts

Team members should know ahead of time who, if anyone, is authorized to speak to the media, and what, if any, kind of social media posting is permitted by the company.

Handling trauma

Have resources in place to help address trauma for all parties involved.

5. Common mistakes in disaster plans

  • Roles and decision-makers are not pre-established.

  • The plan is not easily accessible.

  • The plan is too long and complicated: when the emergency happens, no one will have time to read a length binder. The plan should be simple and easy for anyone to understand immediately.

6. Key Elements of an effective disaster plan

  • Warning & notification instructions

  • Utility shut-off procedures

  • Alarm systems details

  • Community resources directory

  • Relocation options

  • Remediation companies

  • Evacuation plans

  • Company call list / hierarchy

7. The importance of renters insurance compliance

Renters insurance is often overlooked, but is increasingly important for owners and operators to reduce their risk and liability in the aftermath of a disaster. A surprising 60% of renters either don’t have renters insurance or have an inadequate policy, creating additional expenses and headaches for many operators.

It is important that your residents have a valid renter insurance policy in the event of unexpected accidents that could damage their belongings. This not only protects them, but also safeguards owners and operators in case of damage.

With Zero-Gap Renters Insurance from TheGuarantors, operators can ensure 100% resident insurance compliance. TheGuarantors continuously monitors residents’ insurance policies throughout their lease term, automatically closing any gaps with landlord-placed coverage and saving your leasing teams many hours per month. Knowing that you have 100% coverage for your property will reduce your team’s hassle and headache when events inevitably occur.

To learn more and talk to TheGuarantors team about Zero-Gap Renters Insurance, visit

8. Keeping the plan up-to-date

Keep your disaster plan updated with current information and resources, so that it is as effective as possible when and if an unexpected event occurs. Maintaining your preparedness plan is an ongoing commitment to the safety and wellbeing of your residents, staff, and the property itself. It is an integral part of responsible property management

9. Useful resources

The National Apartment Association (NAA) has an extensive of resources to help you craft your disaster plans, including sample policies, best practices, recommended aid societies and contacts, and other planning tools.

10. FEMA Disaster Plan

An Emergency Response Plan template from FEMA is available on the NAA site here.