- Posted by Poston Communications
- On July 21, 2021
- crisis, crisis communications
By Megan Paquin and Jonathan Ringel
The tragic building collapse near Miami last month has brought the obscure role of condominium boards of directors into the spotlight.
Once concerned with garbage pickup, landscaping and parking spaces, condo board members now may feel life-and-death pressure with their often-thankless duties. Lawyers are reporting that homeowners’ associations are flooding their email boxes with requests for advice on evaluating building safety, hiring contractors and raising funds to pay for them.
These concerns highlight two communications challenges for condo board members—one to be handled now and the other to be prepared for later.
First, your neighbors may fear that some unknown construction defect lurks in your building, threatening the investment in their homes if not their physical safety. Second, this is a good time to examine your plans on how to communicate with a host of stakeholders if an incident of any kind occurs.
The same principles apply to both situations: Tell people what you are doing to address the situation. Anticipate obvious questions and address them via personal contact, meetings (in person or by Zoom), phone trees, a community email or a social media site dedicated to your building. Showing how you are leading the response will prevent gossip and speculation from exacerbating the problem.
In the more immediate instance of neighbors worrying about potential structural problems, communicate openly about what the board already does to address building maintenance and inspections. If you think the community will need to incur extra costs to address these structural issues, a meeting will allow everyone to feel heard and a consensus—or at least a public decision—to be achieved. Bringing an expert to discuss technical issues will add credibility that can comfort people with information that puts the issues into proper context.
Playing the long game, your board may want to perform a risk assessment; write down all possible threats and rank them in order by a combination of their severity (e.g., a drought that kills the shrubs versus an active shooter in the building) and their probability. Then go down the list from the top and decide how you will handle the operational issues (who’s responsible for calling the landscaper, the plumber, the contractor or 911) and the communications plan.
For the latter, consider a hierarchy of who can speak for the community, since people aren’t always at home, and, sadly, some members could be hurt by the incident itself. Also, consider the audiences you want to inform: your neighbors, of course, but also first responders and, if the matter is big enough, the news media.