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Emergency plans for apartment owners

California is no stranger to natural disasters.

Dangerous and disastrous wildfires are now a year-round threat to the Golden State, as San Diego County experienced in May. While major earthquakes are not a predictable occurrence, the magnitude 6.0 earthquake that rattled Napa in August was a serious wake-up call for preparedness. The temblor injured more than 200 people, and the damage total may reach $1 billion. Even San Diego County’s coastline has signs noting tsunami evacuation routes.

Recent disasters — preventable or not — are important reminders of potential threats facing residents and businesses. September was National Preparedness Month — an excellent reminder to examine what property owners and managers can control when it comes to emergencies. They can plan and prepare so that they are ready before a disaster, and know what to do if they are caught in an emergency.

At the San Diego County Apartment Association, we know that our members have a responsibility to protect not only their investments and businesses, but also to ensure the safety of the people they house and employ. We have the expertise and resources to guide property owners and managers, and help these professionals fulfill safety responsibilities.

Property owners and managers should have property emergency preparedness plans in place. Having such a plan will go a long way toward mitigating damage, ensuring residents’ safety, and protecting property.

Preparedness plans should address emergencies that could affect your area, such as fires, earthquakes and floods.

Plans should explain building evacuation routes to residents; alternate routes may be required, depending on the emergency. Large properties should include diagrams for evacuation routes. Make sure that all of your property’s emergency exits and fire-safe stairwells are marked clearly. Managers should consider noting in their plans disabled or elderly residents who may have a difficult time in an evacuation.

Such instructions may sound standard. However, we all get complacent in various aspects of our lives, and this should serve as a good reminder to check that such information is up to date.

Additional elements of an emergency preparedness plan also should include placement and visibility of fire extinguishers throughout a property. Explicit, easy-to-read instructions should be displayed clearly.

If property managers want to go a step further for their residents in their emergency planning, they could invite local firefighters for a community meeting to review safety procedures for emergency situations — from earthquakes to fires.

A preparedness plan also should note safe spots on the property in the event of an earthquake.

If your property is pet-friendly, advise residents with pets to obtain window decals from a local animal organization or fire department so that first-responders know where pets reside in the event of an emergency.

We also recommend that all residents keep emergency numbers for reference, including police and fire departments, a non-emergency police number, poison control and an after-hours property management contact.

Property managers and other designated leaders also must know how to safely shut off gas, electricity and water connections, and what steps are needed in a power failure, should your facility have elevators or power-operated garage doors.

In addition to the local fire and police department, a property’s insurer or the local Red Cross are excellent resources for emergency preparedness.

Even closer to home, is the San Diego County Apartment Association’s own Safe in My Place San Diego website, which is packed with emergency preparedness and response resources.

Use our “Emergency Response Plan Model for Apartment Buildings” as a blueprint for your own preparedness plan. The guide provides information on general emergency policies, management responsibilities, evacuation route planning and sample forms.

SafeInMyPlaceSanDiego.com also includes information on laws that take effect during an emergency, pandemic disasters, brush management, ash and debris cleanup, and rebuilding.

Additional resources also can be found at SDCAA.com under “Legislation & SDCAA PAC.”

If you are still in need of emergency information, be sure to visit ReadySanDiego.org, a county-run website that provides resources for businesses, schools and residents. Here, you can sign up for Alert San Diego reverse 911 calls.

Once you, as a property owner or manager has signed up, we urge you to encourage your residents to sign up, too. With so many people giving up land phone lines, they may not realize that the Alert San Diego option is available to them via cellphone or email.

We’ve heard endless times that it’s better to be safe than sorry, so please take some time to act on that mantra. Use these resources to create an emergency plan for your multifamily residence. We hope you never have to use it, but it’s best to have a plan and be prepared.

Pentico is executive director of the San Diego County Apartment Association.

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