Crises will happen, and most of the time without warning. When a crisis affects properties – commercial or residential – you’ll need to quickly communicate with tenants to ensure safe evacuation, or shelter in place strategies.

Are you prepared to quickly communicate with tenants during a disaster? Here are HUB’s 4 best practices for tenant communication during a crisis.

  1. Build an emergency response plan. An emergency response plan should guide the entity/property manager through the events of a crisis, from start to finish. Include everything from identifying your unique risks to having a means to communicate with tenants, disaster assessments, through incident resolution and more.
    Consider a clause in your tenant leases that requires commercial tenants to develop their own emergency response plan in coordination with yours. Give them a copy of your emergency response plan as part of their tenant handbook.
    For Example: Hotels should have their emergency evacuation instructions on the inside door to each room, providing local exit information and what to do in the event of a fire.
  2. Have scripts ready to go. Draft a script of what you’ll say to stakeholders, customers, 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.
    For Example: In the event of a hurricane, a coastal residential community may publish updates initially every 24 hours, then every four to eight hours during the event. 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.
  3. Pick a tried and true tenant communication method. Now that you know what to say, how can you quickly disseminate the information to tenants? Ideally, whether you’re a commercial or multi-family 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. Where one is in place, remember not to use code words, as visitors to the building will not be familiar with the terms. Residential tenants will be harder to contact on a mass scale. Often apartment towers and condo associations rely on email to reach 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 the winter freeze is coming, post signs asking tenants to keep water running if they leave town.
    Large commercial and college campuses often employ a third-party solution to communicate with their tenants, via SMS/text alerts. More and more companies are engaging similar mass notification systems, where tenants sign up online to receive alerts via cell phone calls or texts. This can be the best way to reach all tenants in the shortest amount of time.
    For Example: Should there be an active shooter, SMS/text alerts are a quick way to disseminate real time information on a mass scale without the use of a PA system.
  4. Train everyone. Our schools have gotten good at training students in crisis response, but how often do our commercial or residential buildings organize a drill? In high-rise commercial buildings, floor wardens (often an HR director or office manager) should be designated to gather and communicate the building’s emergency status. In residential high-rises, the floor warden can be a tenant volunteer. Scheduling regular drills pays off.
    For Example: In the case of an active shooter in a mall, if all tenants were trained, and subsequently got a message from the mall operator about the situation at hand, they could feasibly lock their stores down, collect all customers and usher them into a safe area quickly.

Crisis management will continue to take center stage in the wake of high-profile national catastrophes. Property owners and operators need to focus more attention on disaster preparedness to keep occupants safe moving forward. Contact your HUB risk management team to find out how you can better prepare your staff and tenants for crisis.