Be prepared at your shopping centers with day-to-day preemptive measures and a strong communication network to aid crisis response.
Having been in the retail property management business for nearly six full decades, and with a 12.5 million-square-foot, 90-shopping-center portfolio, our firm has seen just about everything when it comes to natural disaster emergencies. So when a crisis arises, we know what to look for and what to do.
Yet when it comes to effectively and efficiently handling a natural disaster at a retail — or other — property, being proactive is just as important as implementing an effective post-event response.
Natural disasters typically arrive with little — or no — warning. Day-to-day measures can help to keep a property ready for whatever may come along, and responsible management involves looking for problems before they happen. As a good rule of thumb, a property’s manager should inspect a center on foot weekly, while communicating with tenants and contractors who can serve as eyes and ears on a day-to-day basis.
Additionally, regular inspections during foul weather events can help identify and mitigate clogged drains, broken downspouts and ponding on roofs and parking lots. Semiannual roof inspections serve to examine the condition of the roofing material, and ensure that the surface is clear of debris and that drains are open. These measures go a long way toward minimizing damage common with heavy rain, hurricane conditions or winter storms.
In the event of storms and other events that do have some “lead time,” extra preparations can be valuable as well. For example, Hurricane Irene was a slow-moving storm. The majority of our shopping centers are located in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, so we knew that many of our properties would be impacted. We had time to inspect roof drains and have them cleaned out, as needed. We assembled a network of roofing contractors to be on standby, and had teams ready to help clear trees or provide other maintenance services.
Taking measures for consumer safety, as needed and as time permits, also is an essential practice. At one property with a three-level parking garage, we closed two levels of parking well before Hurricane Irene hit and then inspected it immediately afterward.
In terms of support, property managers and owners have access to great resources. Their own experience, standard emergency planning manuals, and pre-storm tips from local governments, insurance providers and even contractors can be of great help when it comes to battening down the hatches successfully.
Establishing An Information Network
Beyond taking physical measures, a deep and carefully structured communication network is incredibly important in disaster preparedness. And, as previously mentioned, tenants and contractors serve as invaluable “eyes and ears” at shopping center properties.
Because they are on-site every day, tenants often will be the first to notice an issue or potential issue. It is imperative that they be able contact their property manager at any time — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This requires the establishment of a multiple-level response team.
Using our system as an example, each of our shopping centers has a dedicated property manager for whom tenants have a direct phone number. Additionally, during business hours we have a “manager of the day” in the office as well as a backup manager. Our answering service that takes calls after hours has live people with specific instructions on what to do and whom to contact at any moment when the office is closed.
Onsite contractors and suppliers — including sweepers, trash service providers and others — are critical in the communication network as well. In fact, one of our sweeping contractors was on call for us during Hurricane Irene, in the event that we needed someone to quickly assess damage.
Frequently when we pitch new business, our potential client will ask us if we can have someone from our company stationed at their property on a full-time basis. However, that level of investment is almost always unnecessary. Between the attention of a center’s dedicated property manager, and its tenants and contractors, almost nothing — whether disaster related, or general maintenance and aesthetics — should go unnoticed.
Taking a preemptive approach to managing a retail property ensures that it will be an attractive, safe place for consumers to shop and for tenants to do business. And when it comes to the bottom line, this provides great competitive advantage.
— Rose Evans is vice president of property management for Levin Management Corporation in North Plainfield, New Jersey.