Have a plan. Practice the plan. Execute the plan.
That was the mindset of all 270 Cushman & Wakefield Florida Asset Services team members as we prepared our 44.5-million-square-foot management portfolio for Hurricane Irma’s landfall in early September.
Our plan is a direct response to Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, which ravaged Florida in 2004, and Katrina and Wilma, which made landfall in Florida in 2005, the most active year for Atlantic hurricanes on record. No one was prepared for that type of hurricane activity, and it was a startling wake-up call. In the intervening years, my colleagues and I have critically reflected on the lessons learned from these experiences and developed best practices into a plan to ensure we respond in an exceptional manner.
Hurricane Irma, which would ultimately become one of the largest and strongest hurricanes in history, put this plan to the test.
Preparing for Irma
Every May, Cushman & Wakefield hosts an annual hurricane symposium to ensure the proper systems and protocols are in place for hurricane season. Cushman & Wakefield’s disaster recovery and supply chain partners attend the event to ensure they are informed of the company’s action plan.
For us, it’s critical that our partners are part of the team and informed of the action plan; we believe this inclusion also fosters camaraderie and collaboration.
Our Asset Services team practices and runs mock hurricane drills to identify areas of improvement and make adjustments. Practical experience from previous storms helps us develop best practices in order to efficiently and effectively respond.
A week ahead of Irma’s landfall in Florida, we established our command center in Tampa. At the time, Irma was anticipated to come ashore in Miami-Dade County, hundreds of miles southeast of Tampa, so we felt this was the optimal mid-state location.
At this time, we communicated to all properties to secure potential projectiles, clear all storm and roof drains of water, and contact landscaping partners to limb up trees. Our team worked with disaster recovery partner DKI to position people throughout the state to act as soon as the storm passed.
We also established a communications plan to quickly and efficiently communicate among our on the status of the storm and managed properties. Asset Services sent clients regular updates on the storm and the preparations the team coordinated with partners throughout the state. Some team members worked around-the-clock to prepare properties for Irma’s arrival.
However, Hurricane Harvey complicated our preparations as it made landfall in Texas less than two weeks prior. Resources for Irma were scarce as the country mobilized to help those in Harvey’s wake. It was a trying week, but we pulled together with our service providers and directed resources and people to effectively serve our clients.
Two days from landfall, Irma was more than 400 miles wide with hurricane-force winds extending out 170 miles from the eye. Florida is only 150 miles across at its widest point, so we had to mobilize everyone in the state. All 270 members of our Florida Asset Services team participated in a state-wide call to finalize our preparations and response plans.
The day before its predicted landfall, Irma shifted west, away from Miami-Dade County and toward the lower Keys and southwest Florida. At this point, we relocated our command center from Tampa to Orlando.
Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Keys as a Category 4 storm, causing major damage and severing contact with the mainland for days.
As the path of the storm continued up the Gulf Coast, I was concerned about downtown Tampa and the predicted eight to 12 feet of storm surge rushing back into Tampa Bay. Six feet of storm surge would have devastated downtown Tampa.
After making landfall in Southwest Florida, however, the storm weakened slightly and tracked east and inland. This likely spared Tampa a direct hit and catastrophic consequences.
As the storm passed, we reached out to our Asset Services colleagues to determine their well-being. Were they and their families safe? Had they been evacuated? Did we need to backfill their first-responder duties?
Our communications plan proved effective in sharing real-time information with our team, our clients, and our disaster recovery and supply chain partners. Technology was vital to our coordination.
Once curfews were lifted and travel was deemed safe and lawful, we made initial site visits and exterior inspections. Severe winds caused the most damage, namely to landscaping, but structural damage was limited, with the exception of properties in Jacksonville that took in water due to a record storm surge.
Loss of power was the biggest hardship for our people in this storm. Fortunately, 95% of our managed properties were back online by Wednesday, September 13 and were open in short order with minimal business interruption, including those with major restoration projects.
In the weeks since Irma hit, our Florida Asset Services team has participated in approximately 50 follow-up calls with our partners and clients throughout the state to assess and provide updates on the status of recovery.
Our team worked tirelessly under duress and performed in an unbelievably professional manner for our clients. It was a true testament to our team’s strength, resilience, resourcefulness, and commitment to the plan.
Senior Managing Director, Asset Services, Florida
+1 813 204 5367
Tim Rivers is Cushman & Wakefield’s Senior Managing Director for Asset Services for the State of Florida. In this role, he provides integrated real estate solutions for clients that invest in commercial income-producing properties by leveraging the expertise of the firm’s management, agency leasing, investment sales & acquisitions, equity & debt financing, appraisal and consulting services.