Pelican Cove Condominium Association

Condominium of the Year: Pelican Cove Condominium Association

Call in the Volunteers

Pelican Cove Condominium Association of Sarasota has been honored as a winner each year in the Communities of Excellence contest. This year, as winner of the Disaster Preparedness category for larger communities, Pelican Cove has also clinched the title of Condominium of the Year.

Pelican Cove is a wooded, 75-acre community bordering the Little Sarasota Bay. Their 731 homes span 71 two-story buildings, with another 17 common element structures, six pools, and a boat harbor. Chuck Butterfield, Chairman of the Disaster Preparedness and Response committee, relates, “Our community is based heavily on the concept of committees,” and in the case of upgrading their disaster preparedness and response plan, that is again how the association has given the task priority. “We have 12 committees but had never had a standing committee that was accountable for disaster planning and response until the beginning of 2011,” he recalls.

Pelican Cove has had a disaster plan since 1999, and Butterfield states, “It was pretty general and like most plans in Florida was focused on hurricanes. Because we’re a gated community and have a long history of having staff do everything here, it didn’t have any volunteer components. The county emergency operations people have been telling us for several years: good plans contain that element because you can’t always rely on staff being able to come back and assist.”

In 2009, a plan with volunteer components was developed, but Butterfield recalls, “It kind of lay on the shelf, so the strategic planning committee came back in 2010 and decided the only way for this to work is to have an official standing committee be in charge of it.” Butterfield had been involved before retirement in planning for natural gas disasters, and in 2011 stepped forward to chair the new committee. “For a year, we’ve been trying to build a committee and establish responsibilities based on the plan the board approved. It’s been fun, and it’s also been a challenge!” he remarks.

“We’ve implemented what I call a hybrid plan,” Butterfield says. “It’s a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) plan that includes paid staff and volunteers, to work together or for the volunteers to proceed if we don’t have staff available. Every year we plan to increase the number of volunteers and staff who are CERT-trained.” At present, five volunteers are CERT-trained, with an additional fifteen volunteers available for other support positions. Five staff members are also trained, with Butterfield adding, “We started with the top employees, and our goal for the next two to three years is to have the next two levels of management CERT-trained.”

Pelican Cove reimburses the $50 cost of CERT training to anyone who completes the 21-hours of instruction. “The last half day of CERT training is a simulated disaster at the fire department training facility in Sarasota. We hope to develop simulated disaster training here also,” Butterfield notes. “I’m really impressed with Sarasota County—it’s unbelievable, with the talent they’ve hired and the support they give communities. They’re our primary resource for information and training, and they provide good information on what’s happening in other places in Florida that can be an eye-opener. Another benefit to the CERT training is meeting people from other communities who have the same challenges.”

The disaster plan addresses general policies applicable to flood, tornado, wildfire, or hazardous materials as well as the more-anticipated hurricane events. “The plan spells out general policies, procedures, terms, definitions, who’s in charge, organization, and responsibilities before and after an event,” Butterfield recalls. “Several board emergency powers have been approved to be delegated to the general manager and disaster organization, while others are important enough that the board will have to decide.” The basic response relies on six zone captains with assistants to oversee each area of the property.

Assignments are included for a scenario without paid staff able to return to the property to handle search and rescue, provide medical response, staff the front gate, and manage the property. General preparation includes checking of supplies and testing equipment, such as generators, while an approaching hurricane triggers assignments such as securing specific items and the pool, backing up data, shutting off utilities, etc. Reentry plans include security, damage assessment, testing of systems, and a debris removal plan.

The hurricane section of the plan was modified in 2010 to encompass any tropical storm or storm requiring evacuation. Butterfield explains, “Floods are incorporated into tropical storms because we’re on the water and may experience storm surge. But, there are two kinds of floods since we are on the receiving end of a long watershed and with enough rain the creek will overflow. We have sand bags available for minor events, but with 71 buildings, the basic plan in a major storm is to just get out of here and worry about the buildings later.”

The community has had a long-standing policy of levying fines if outdoor items or boats are not properly secured. Butterfield reports, “Since the disaster preparation committee was started last year, we’ve been very aggressive in checking vacant condominiums in May or June and reporting their status to the office. We don’t want to be caught with staff or volunteers putting up items belonging to absent owners in the event of a storm.”

The association has placed 226 fire extinguishers throughout the property. “Originally we thought we’d need 731,” Butterfield remarks, “but the fire department came in and worked with the staff to strategically place them no more than 75 feet from the door of any resident to satisfy the official fire code.”

To combat fires, the association also maintains an elaborate underground hydrant system. “We test that, and once each year, the fire department inspects it and gives advice about location and protection. We train staff to use the system and have a fire evacuation plan,” Butterfield says.

“With tornadoes, you don’t have a significant warning so it’s primarily a recovery plan similar to any emergency—organization, assessment, repair,” Butterfield observes. “Preparation in our hurricane plan does help since we aggressively trim trees to get rid of dead wood.” For an oil spill in the boat harbor, the association has booms on-site for containment.
“An important part of preparation is developing partnerships with vendors to be a preferred customer,” Butterfield emphasizes. “In times of disaster, it’s hard to get a contractor, whether for debris removal, repairing roofs, or cleaning an oil spill in the harbor. It’s difficult, though, because it’s hard to justify the retainer fees. We pay a retainer for our lawyer and CPA so we can call them, but if you never call the vendor, it could be perceived as wasted money.”

Butterfield reports, “We have contracted with vendors for debris removal and a harbor disaster, and we have a tentative relationship for water remediation. That would be one of the first steps with either a flood or a hurricane—get the wet stuff out so the walls and attics aren’t jeopardized by mold and mildew. Down the road, the general manager has a list of priority vendors for roof repair, window replacement, siding, street repair, and tree removal. Those are a little lower priority, since we have volunteers and staff to help with covering roofs and windows. We also want to have a line of credit immediately available with the bank.”

Staying in a state of readiness is one of the challenges that they, as well as other communities, contend with. “Sarasota County has been lucky for a long time,” according to Butterfield, “and nobody gets worried if you’ve never had the problem. But the Emergency Operations Center tells us, ‘It’s not a matter of if you’ll have an emergency; it’s a matter of when.’ The closest we came to a hurricane was in 2004 with Charley, but it went to Punta Gorda. That was serious and Sarasota County implemented their evacuation plan. A good reminder is when other people have issues and you send people to help—we have people who remember going to Punta Gorda. I think there’ll be examples where we can say, ‘That could have been us,’ to keep interest up.”

“We have an annual meeting and have the EOC people come in and show videos that are eye-opening,” Butterfield adds.

He acknowledges, “I feel good about what we have here and what we offer residents. To me the big turning point was for the board to agree that it is naive to have the staff assigned to handle everything. There needs to be volunteer involvement. We’ve developed a plan integrating paid staff and volunteers and have a back-up plan with volunteers if paid staff can’t get back here.” Though it’s the plan no one wants to use, Pelican Cove has done the hard work to make sure they are prepared for a wide range of potential emergencies that may arise.