When Apartment Property Staff Become First Responders

First Responders

When we hear the term first responder, we generally think of the brave men and women who respond to an accident or major disaster and who are trained to handle emergencies: police, fire crews, and EMTs/paramedics.

What if the roads are blocked or communications are down? But what happens first responders cannot get to your apartment property in a timely manner for whatever reason?

Most likely, apartment residents will turn to the on-site property staff for assistance, guidance, and, if necessary, comfort. Property managers, groundskeepers, and office personnel can be suddenly thrust into the role of first responders to provide immediate assistance to residents before emergency personnel arrive on the scene.

And they need to be ready.

Here’s how to make sure your apartment property personnel are properly trained and ready to hold down the fort until the professional first responders arrive.

Create an Emergency Response Team

The role of a first responder can be as simple as directing people to a safe spot or as life-preserving as initiating CPR.

Forming a Citizen Emergency Response Team, or CERT, composed of selected staff members is a great start to providing assistance before professional first responders arrive. CERT members don’t need to be high-ranking managers; employees of all walks who are willing to make a difference and know their assigned roles can be trained. CERT members can perform basic emergency functions and be extremely beneficial for properties large or small when emergency crews aren’t immediately available or are overwhelmed by the extent of the disaster.

Team members are trained in fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Their duties may include monitoring utilities, enforcing evacuation plans, and checking on residents. Even the simple act of checking to be sure the environment is safe for walking around and identifying dangerous obstacles like downed power lines that can create life-threatening issues is a critical service. For more information on CERT, visit www.citizencorps.gov/cert/.

Create a Disaster Response Plan

If your apartment property does not choose to form a CERT, as a property manager, you still should prepare a disaster response plan and form a team to implement it. CPR training, if a program is not already in place on the property, should be a top priority. Then, using the information provided at www.ready.gov/business to create your plan, determine what your emergency response team will do first when disaster strikes. For example:

  • Check for damage in the office.
  • If electrical power is out, turn off the main power switch.
  • Know where to turn off the gas if told to do so by city, county, or state officials, or if you smell the “rotten egg” odor that is added to natural gas. Remember: once you turn off the gas you will not be able to turn it back on. Only certified technicians from your gas company to do that.
  • Have a communications plan. All of today’s social media options – plus standbys like cell phones and two-way radios – can be useful in communicating during a disaster. A good Wi-Fi connection can be golden, as can be extra batteries for cell phones and laptops.
  • Know how to work the system. Even if technology is working during a disaster, often phone lines and cell towers are reserved for use by emergency and public safety personnel, or simply jammed with locals trying to reach loved ones or additional help. You may avoid that busy signal by calling someone out of state to relay status updates or reach additional parties. Many corporate offices are located out of state, so chances of getting through are actually better. In fact, your emergency plan should specify who the out-of-state emergency contact is, and that information should be provided to all staff members so they can check in.

The Red Cross provides a free, online tool to help you determine your property’s disaster readiness. Visit www.readyrating.org to get started today.

Create an Emergency Kit for On-Site Staff

And don’t forget to make a plan to personally care for the on-site staff. Keeping staff going during a disaster is imperative. Designate an emergency response closet or storage area and stock it with essentials like:

  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Battery-operated or hand-cranked radios to get weather reports (some of them even have a USB port so you can charge cell phones)
  • Three gallons of water per staff member per day for washing and drinking
  • Non-perishable foods
  • Cleaning agents
  • Buckets and liners to be used at toilets
  • Emergency blankets
  • First-aid kit

Being prepared is one thing, but providing for those who can help so many others through a difficult time is just as essential. Residents may be counting on your on-site personnel for the help they need.


Community Disaster Education Program Coordinator
American Red Cross, Southern Nevada Chapter

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Caren Bedsworth is the community disaster education program coordinator for the Southern Nevada Chapter of the American Red Cross, which serves Clark, Esmeralda, Lincoln, and Nye Counties. Caren has been with the Red Cross since 1999, educating communities in disaster preparedness. She has been a CPR & First Aid instructor for humans and pets, first aid station leader, and disaster training instructor. She also served on disaster relief assignments to assist victims of hurricanes in Alabama and Florida and wildfires in Arizona.

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