Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Step One: Make a Plan: Dealing with Civil Disturbances

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Step One: Make a Plan: Dealing with Civil Disturbances

Article excerpt

NOW THAT THE SMOKE HAS CLEARED FROM VARIOUS CIVIL DISTURBANCES IN THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS, IN THE U.S.--AND WHILE WE AWAIT THE NEXT ONES--IT HAS BECOME EVIDENT THAT MANY PROPERTY MANAGERS AREN'T PROPERLY EQUIPPED OR PREPARED TO PROTECT THEIR ASSETS WHEN THESE INCIDENTS OCCUR. While it's unusual for a property manager to have to deal with the consequences of a riot or a violent revolution--very few managers will ever have to--having a plan in place is essential. Just as important, all concerned parties should know their roles and responsibilities and be trained to fulfill them.

The real estate industry is notorious for being consistently behind the curve, technologically, but property managers will find that crisis management and business continuity depend on staying current with the latest innovations and sharing them with team members and tenants. Communication, almost always, is key to weathering a disturbance.


Toni Harris, CPM, director of property management at Reistertown, Md.-based Oculus Realty, previously with Baltimore-based WPM real estate group, said that the various protests in Baltimore in the spring of 2015, related to the death of a man in police custody, forced property managers to acknowledge the need for written plans and training. When she was with WPM, she focused on residential properties, many of which were particularly vulnerable to damage. At the time of the demonstrations, she said, there were no written plans in place to mitigate resident and general public confusion.

"We did have plans in place to address weather-related emergencies, and our teams were able to utilize some of those protocols to address our client and resident concerns," she said. "Those protocols included a call tree for first responders and contractors to address vandalism. All staff members were to remain on call to ensure assistance for our residents if necessary.

"While there was not a formally trained crisis management team in place, all of our team members were briefed on what to expect and how to respond to specific situations that may have come up as a result of the disturbances. The executive management team provided in-depth guidance and communicated frequently during with all line staff onsite during the protests. Our organization had a media policy in place that specified what to do in case there was news coverage at one of the communities."

To ensure tenant safety and the security of the physical plant, Harris said, Oculus' first step was to communicate with residents via email, text, social media and building notices to let them know that their communities were secure and appropriate measures were being taken to prevent property damage.

"Most businesses and offices in the immediate vicinity of the riots closed," she said. "Our management teams sent personnel who would be affected by street closings and dangerous conditions home early. Our teams who lived onsite provided up-to-the-minute reports of any damage and were prepared to respond immediately should it occur."

Harris reports that WPM's communications systems worked well throughout the ordeal. She was able to keep communication open and current with all of teams and residents.

"The senior management teams held meetings to discuss what to expect prior to the riots, and met as needed to debrief as the situations progressed," she said. "Our onsite teams made calls to our residents who didn't have email, to update them on anything relevant to their homes. We did have an evacuation plan at every community. However, it was not necessary to implement any of them; we also had no water or power loss."

An often overlooked part of crisis management is minimizing the effect of the crisis on future business, Harris warned. She advised property managers to work with leasing and sales staff to develop ways to improve the reputation of the community and stress the security of the individual property. …

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