Extreme Weather Preparedness

Planning for the unthinkable.

September 23, 2021 • Barry Wood

Expecting the unexpected is one of the most challenging aspects of the property manager role.

Extreme weather preparedness is a critical area of focus for the modern property professional and should be monitored even outside of its typical “seasons.” In fact, the best way to prepare for a tornado, hurricane or natural disaster is when the sun is shining and there’s no sight of a storm. A strategic plan with procedures and resources for on- and off-site personnel should be established well before a storm hits. And although it’s inevitable for properties to experience some sort of disaster at some point, having an emergency response manual, preparing system tests, confirming vendor contracts and preparing an operational checklist are all major components of a successful, proactive plan.

And, weather may become even more unpredictable as time goes on. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, rising global average temperature is associated with extreme weather pattern changes, and will likely continue to rise.

As climate risk continues to grow, property managers need to be prepared and ready for the potential impacts on commercial real estate.

When it comes to geographical events in the United States, we’re experiencing wildfires in California, droughts and increasing heat in several parts of the country. Although a building might not be physically near these events, there are still repercussions. What do we do when the outside environment puts the inside of buildings at risk? For example, property managers must carefully monitor air quality and ingrain healthy HVAC systems into best practices. Regularly changing filters due to smoke from wildfires, for instance, can be heavily impactful whether the building is one or one hundred miles away. Air filtration systems are critical in recirculating fresh air—an aspect of building operations that has been reinforced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In the case of the California wildfires, for example, the smoke and hazy skies are making its way from the northern part of the state all the way to Los Angeles. The ice storms in Texas left the state powerless and crippled by the storms. The state wasn’t prepared for a major loss of electricity and generators and many property systems were put at risk. When the Northwest, especially Portland and Seattle, hit record-breaking temperatures, many properties and residences became impaired. The systems were simply not built to work in that type of heat. Other issues following this massive heat wave include the risk of mold developing in buildings as systems begin to sweat.

The takeaway? In order to be ready for any geographical and weather-related challenge, it’s critical to implement proactive and consistent assessments of the durability and overall preparedness of a space.

Geographical and environmental considerations

Take a step back and ask yourself, what are the biggest risks driven by my property’s geographical location? No matter where in the world you are—be it near mountains, in the desert or positioned in the flatlands of the Midwest—it’s important to prepare for all risks, even if they are relatively low. Some locations experience more rain, heat, snow and other weather-related changes more than others. The Southeast parts of the country actively prepares for hurricane season every year, and the Midwest prepares for tornadoes, for example. But, as mentioned earlier, unlikely events can happen regardless of geographic location. For instance, ice storm preparedness might not have seemed top-of-mind for Texas-based property teams prior to Winter Storm Uri this past February, which brought unprecedented winter weather-related challenges to Texans. For property managers across the country, such events serve as a reminder that there’s no such thing as being too prepared, and that it’s not a bad idea to think “Well, what if?” when it comes to assessing weather-related risks in your region. To ensure a proactive, safe and disaster-ready building, consider implementing the following geographical and environmental planning strategies:

  1. Launch an overall risk assessment of your property, understanding the possible and various impacts the environment can have on your building.
  2. Educate and provide a manual for your team to understand emergency resources and alerts for storms, blizzards, tornados, hurricanes and beyond.
  3. Trigger a response as soon as a threat is identified. Communicate with all building occupants—including guests and visitors—that a shutdown or cautionary measure is being taken due to a weather threat. Building workers must enact shutdown procedures (if necessary) and communicate safe spaces to other team members and occupants.
  4. Prior to any emergency, stock up on necessary supplies and resources including tape, nails, sandbags, generators, etc. and prepare for anticipated storms, while securing the premises.
  5. Keep documentation of the property through photographs and assessments.

Property professionals must remain resilient in facing the unknown. No matter where your property is located, risk assessment and preparation will provide a little more peace-of-mind for owners, managers and all who occupy the building.


Barry Wood is a Director of Operations with JLL’s Property Management group.