Eady: Disaster preparedness


Today's topic, boys and girls, is disaster preparedness. Remember fire drills in school? Well, today, the fire alarm system sounded in the condo where I live. I mean that for several minutes it made my ears want to bleed.

What it did not make me want to do was get the heck out of the building. I was rather blasé about the whole thing, and I was not the only one. After all, they tested the fire system for a dreadful three days last week. I wandered around figuring out what I should take. The computer? No, that stuff is stored in some cloud somewhere. Family photos? No, those are already offsite. Ultimately, I grabbed my purse, my passport and a phone charger and said sayonara to my unit. Truth is, if that had been a true emergency, I would now be a fritter. At least I have dental records.

Don't get me wrong. I am not criticizing the condo board or making light of what could have been a serious situation. I am pointing out that associations need to have life-safety procedures and disaster plans in place.

Section 718.1265, Florida Statutes, enumerates condominium emergency powers. My first boss taught me to include them in the bylaws I drafted, and even though he was never credited for it, this law is the result of him watching and living through the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992. Every condo board member needs to read and understand this law. Of primary interest is the ability of a board to implement a disaster plan either before or immediately following an event triggering a state of emergency.

A board is not required to do any of this. Does it make sense to have a disaster plan? Does it make sense to make such a plan before an emergency actually strikes? The law leaves it to condo boards to decide.

The bottom line is that condo boards hold and must protect the health, safety and welfare of the condo residents. Heavy. Accidents and natural disasters cannot be prevented, but the impacts can be mitigated. If a category 5 hurricane was headed directly for the west coast of Florida, would your community be prepared to batten down the hatches and make sure everyone was evacuated?

These emergency board powers can seem broad, such as the authority to levy special assessments and borrow money without owner consent. I think those powers are necessary in a true emergency, but they do create fodder for a legal challenge. So goes it for the thankless task of being a leader in your community.

When you choose to live in a community, think of it as a community. I know that seems hokey, and I usually hate all things hokey. I met some neighbors today to whom I had never spoken. I would not have known who was housebound and unable to evacuate on their own. I learned something.

I am a fan of New Urbanism, a land-planning concept designed to breathe life into decaying and dying "Main Streets." One concept is having "eyes on the street." This means that front doors should be accessible and that humans, not cars in garages, actually live next to you.

What would you do in an emergency? I am not telling you the answer because I do not have it. But, it is something everyone needs to think about. Who and what needs to protected? An association board, even though mostly volunteers, has an additional burden, which is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the association and its residents. Like I said ... heavy.

I wrote a few weeks ago about one of my neighbors who has gone rogue and posts funny, anarchistic statements in the elevators. I am afraid of elevators, but I have conquered that fear by virtue of laziness in not wanting to climb stairs. Anyway, I get into the elevator and read a sign that says, "Elevator not operating properly. Please use caution." Excuse me? What is not operating properly and how can I use caution to prevent a problem? Do I need a gas mask and a pickax? I really would have preferred a "Kilroy Was Here" illustration over that.

Maybe it goes without saying, but if an elevator is malfunctioning, the association must shut it down until it can be fixed. And if that is the only elevator, the board might need to know who depends on it and then reach out a helping hand. And if you have a smart aleck in your building, go with it unless health, safety and welfare concerns arise. Then, all bets are off.


Tamela Eady is a Florida Bar board-certified real estate attorney with 25 years' experience. The subjects discussed in the above article are not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and are subject to principles that may change from time to time. Reader questions may be directed via email to tke@eadylaw.com.</i>

Tamela Eady

Tamela Eady is a Florida Bar board-certified real estate attorney with more than 25 years experience, concentrating her practice on community association and real estate legal matters. The subjects discussed in her columns are not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and are subject to principles that may change from time to time. Questions may be modified for clarity or for brevity. Email questions for possible inclusion in a future column to tke@eadylaw.com.
Last modified: July 13, 2013
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