Many commercial buildings are required to have detailed plans for handling fire and non-fire emergencies. They have designated fire- and life-safety staff, and they must hold fire drills every six months.
The requirements for multi-family residential buildings are far less rigorous. The focus here is on informing residents of fire safety tactics in notices posted in common areas, as well as emergency preparedness bulletins published by FEMA every year.
Unfortunately, the difference between emergency preparedness in commercial settings and residential settings is often stark. How can apartment building owners learn from the commercial sector to make their buildings safer? It all comes down to good communication, staff training, and proper implementation.
When an emergency strikes, communicating effectively with residents is paramount to everyone’s safety. This is where technology comes into play. If you own a multi-family housing facility, make sure you establish efficient communication methods. This could include sending out mass emails, mass texts, or dialing phone numbers with a pre-recorded message from the property manager instructing residents to evacuate or shelter in place.
Whatever system you use, community-wide notifications require you to gather contact information from all residents and keep this info up-to-date. An easy way to do this is to collect information when residents sign their initial lease. Update the info with each subsequent re-signing or once per year, whichever is more frequent.
Getting the correct information to the right people at the right time requires adequate staff training. For instance, if someone calls the leasing office to report that they smell smoke, the staff member on duty should know exactly what protocols to follow based on the training they have received for a fire emergency.
It’s also important to know when residents might require extra help. When collecting information for community-wide notifications, have residents fill out a questionnaire with facts they want the front desk to know in case of an emergency. For example, disclosing mobility limitations or the need to use oxygen or a respirator can help the leasing office staff provide special assistance as needed during an emergency.
Here are some effective ways to explain your apartment building’s emergency protocols to residents:
- Hold an annual town-hall-style meeting with an opportunity for residents to ask questions.
- Post evacuation routes on every floor.
- Make fire extinguishers available in every unit and shared hallways.
- Designate a place where all residents should meet if there’s a fire.
- Conduct fire drills every six months with optional (but highly encouraged) participation.
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