Establishing a Community Association Disaster Plan

by C. Scott Canady | July 15, 2021


Natural disasters can strike a community association at any time of the year. Boards and managers should prepare by establishing a disaster plan and reviewing it regularly. The Foundation for Community Association Research has developed best practices for disaster planning in community associations that include actions association boards and professionals should take prior to, during, and after a disaster to improve the community’s resilience and ensure a full recovery.

The first step in a community’s recovery is debris removal. Fallen trees and vegetation make association roads impassable and significantly increase flood risk by compromising drainage and water management systems. In addition, furniture and other items from flooded homes are often placed along association roads, creating safety hazards. Removing disaster debris secures the community, protects residents and creates appropriate conditions for recovery.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates with local governments to remove disaster debris from public rights of way, which typically excludes community associations. Under current federal regulations, associations and residents are often responsible for the costs of removing disaster debris from the community. Notwithstanding these regulations, FEMA may allow local governments to remove disaster debris from community associations if damage is widespread and the local government has authority to remove the debris.

To meet FEMA community association debris removal requirements, a local government must cite a state law or local ordinance that provides it legal authority to remove disaster debris from community associations. Additionally, a local government must secure a completed right-of-entry form from a community association authorizing debris removal work and indemnifying the federal government from claims that may arise from debris removal activities. Finally, local governments must demonstrate that removing debris from community associations will eliminate threats to the health and safety of the general public. FEMA strongly advises local governments to receive approval before removing disaster debris from a community association.

To ensure access to maximum disaster recovery resources, community associations should collaborate with local emergency management officials in disaster planning. A community association disaster plan that incorporates FEMA requirements for debris removal and is integrated with the local government’s disaster plan will speed up recovery and reduce disaster costs for residents.

Community associations should work with local governments to adopt ordinances that authorize disaster debris removal activities in associations, and disaster plans should include pre-disaster communications with local emergency management officials to submit right-of-entry and indemnification forms.

CAI has prepared model language for ordinances to provide local governments the required legal basis for entering community associations to remove disaster debris. An example of a local government working to secure debris removal assistance for community associations in its jurisdiction also is available. Share these resources with your local officials and work to enact these ordinances so your association and local government’s disaster plans work together to maximize recovery resources for your entire community.

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