Talking Storm Preparedness For Residential Property Owners

The time of a storm is not the time to be determining what to do. Now is when we can talk to our experts and help everyone understand the timeline and implement proper procedures.

Katalina Cruz, COO of Miami-based KW Property Management & Consulting

Talk about great timing. After sections of Florida experienced some flooding and heavy winds from Subtropical Depression Alberto earlier this week, Globest.com talked with Katalina Cruz, COO of Miami-based KW Property Management & Consulting to discuss storm preparedness. Cruz has been with Miami-based KW Property Management & Consulting since October 2004, when the company was in its infant stages. She is a Certified Public Accountant who leverages her accounting background and previous professional experience at major accounting firms to oversee KWPMC’s operations. KWPMC is one of the largest residential property management companies in Florida, with more than 1,300 employees and 70,000 units under management. Its portfolio spans from upscale high-rise towers to homeowners associations and garden-style townhome communities.

Globest.com: How has KW Property Management & Consulting adjusted its hurricane season preparations and training following last fall’s Hurricane Irma and other major storm events?

Cruz: Immediately after Hurricane Irma, we set up a committee of different members, including property managers, district managers and other key personnel from within the company. We had several debriefing sessions where we discussed what we felt was critical information to improve our existing preparation plans and recovery phases. In December, we started integrating all of that information into a hurricane plan template and began modifying it. During the first quarter of this year, we finalized that plan and approved it so we could roll it out to all of our communities. Starting the first week of May, we held hurricane trainings for property managers throughout all of our regions.

Globest.com: What are some of the key points and best practices you are emphasizing to your managers in these training sessions?

Cruz: One of the biggest things we stress is the importance of proactive communication. Don’t procrastinate. Get in front of your condo board members immediately and go through all of the procedures we have in place and also address any questions they might have. Talk about the sensitive issues, such as when certain residents opt to stay in the building after an evacuation order is given. They consider these buildings to be strong and better built than some of the shelters and prefer not to evacuate. That’s a hard situation to deal with and navigate. Now is the time to have those conversations with board members, when everyone is calm. Come up with the final procedures that are approved by everyone. Another item to address, especially when it comes to high-rise buildings, is at what point do you start shutting down equipment, such as cooling tower. These are critical pieces of equipment that run and power an entire building. Outages and surges can damage the electronics of major equipment, which in turn can cost a lot of money and time to repair and restore services. Last year, we experienced differences of opinion on this subject within communities that we manage. The time of a storm is not the time to be determining what to do. Now is when we can talk to our experts and help everyone understand the timeline and implement proper procedures.

Globest.com: What other aspects of hurricane preparedness is KWPMC emphasizing and implementing?

Cruz: A crucial part of the hurricane season plan is working with the many different vendors involved at each property. We have to make sure we have a team ready to go in prior to and immediately after the storm. Our properties should obtain a commitment from critical vendors on their response time subsequent to the storm. Some essential vendors should include: landscaping, electricians, plumbers, elevator technicians, restoration services, etc… Part of the preparation includes having a clause in each contract regarding adequate response time after the storm.

Globest.com: What are the most important items to consider as it relates to insurance claims?

Cruz: The key here is to understand the insurance policy and coverage for major losses. This understanding needs to be obtained by reading the insurance policies and having detailed discussions with the insurance representative. Another critical component is to have proper documentation via pictures and videos prior to and after the storm. Some of our properties use drones to capture video of affected areas. Another important step to consider is to act quickly by reporting the claim and contacting the insurance agent. Some associations may also select to hire a public adjuster for the purpose of filing and navigating through the claim. For us, after Irma we spent significant time with board members, educating and assisting them through the insurance claim process. Additionally, because some deductibles may be high, associations should prepare financially and properly reserve an amount to cover any costs below the deductible amount. This strategy will expedite the recovery phase and avoid associations from having to pass special assessments. We are recommending all of our associations to be prepared and more importantly have the financial resources to respond to any 2018 storms. Budget season is around the corner and we should all be prepared!

Globest.com: What are the most common reasons post-storm insurance claims get denied?

Cruz: With Irma, the issue was related to the threshold amount as many claims fell below the deductible. Furthermore, for associations the claim has to be related to common areas or areas specified in the condominium documents. As such, our role became critical in explaining to owners their responsibility and the association’s responsibility with regards to coverage.

Editor’s Note: While most of the effects of Alberto are now being experienced in other sections of the Southeast after Alberto made landfall in the Florida Panhandle Gulf Coast on Memorial Day, recent predictions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should give Florida property owners some pause. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a 75% chance that the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season will be near or above normal. NOAA’s forecasters predict a 70% likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 39 miles per hour or higher), of which five to nine could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to four major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.