Are You Prepared to Properly Communicate With Tenants During a Crisis?

Most of the time, when disaster strikes, it strikes without warning. When a crisis impacts real estate properties, whether they are residential or commercial, management needs to be prepared to quickly communicate with tenants to ensure safe evacuation.

Are you prepared to quickly communicate with tenants during a disaster? The following four steps for tenant communication during a crisis are the best practices that any real estate owner or property manager should be equipped with in advance:

Create an Emergency Response Plan

An emergency response plan (ERP) should guide the property manager and tenants through a crisis from start to finish. It should include everything from identifying your unique risks to having a means to communicate with tenants, disaster assessments, incident resolution, and more. For example, it should include an outline of emergency evacuation instructions, providing local exit information and what to do in the event of a fire. Consider a clause in your commercial tenant leases that requires them to develop their own emergency response plan in coordination with yours and give them a copy of your ERP as part of their tenant handbook.

Prepare Scripts for Pre and Post Crisis

Draft a script of what you’ll say to stakeholders, staff, and residents during a crisis. Write a media holding statement, with different scripts that can be swapped in or out, depending on the scenario. Consider drafting pre-disaster communication for crises with lead time, for storms, or when there is a known threat locally. This information might include how to contact the management company during a power outage, what precautions should be taken ahead of time and if there was damage, what is being done about it, etc. Even when it’s bad news, tenants and residents want to be updated.

Select a Preferred Communication Channel

Now that you know what to say, how can you quickly disseminate the information to tenants? Ideally, whether you’re a commercial or residential property, you’ll want to employ multiple channels of tenant communication simultaneously to ensure you’ve reached everyone. A public address or PA system can be very effective. They allow management to immediately notify all occupants, regardless of whether they are tenants, customers, or guests. Residential tenants will be harder to contact on a mass scale.

In this case, apartment towers and condo associations often rely on email to reach their tenants. This can be an effective way of communicating, assuming tenants are checking their email often enough. Or, when there’s lead time, another tried and true way to communicate is to simply post signs in the lobby with warnings. For example, when temperatures drop below freezing in the winter months, post signs asking tenants to keep water running if leaving town.

Large commercial and college campuses often employ a third-party solution to communicate with their tenants via SMS/text alerts. This method is becoming increasingly popular, and more and more businesses are engaging similar mass notification systems, allowing tenants to opt into receiving alerts via cell phone calls or texts. This can be the best way to reach all tenants in the shortest amount of time. In the event of an active shooter scenario for example, this would be the quickest and most effective way to reach your tenants in a critical moment.

Train Everyone, Including Staff and Tenants

Schools have made training students in crisis response a routine practice, but how often do commercial or residential buildings organize a drill? In high-rise commercial buildings, a property manager should be designated to gather and communicate the building’s emergency status. In residential high-rises, the designated person could even be a tenant volunteer. Scheduling regular drills pays off.

In the wake of high-profile national catastrophes, crisis management and response is an important part of your business operation and mitigating the negative impacts of a disaster. Property owners and operators need to focus more attention on disaster preparedness to keep occupants safe moving forward.


Frank DeLucia
Hub International Northeast

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