Survival and Prepping in a Homeowner’s Association, by M.B. – Part 1

As federal, state, local, and county governments reel under the weight of reduced tax revenues, declining productivity, and impossible “unfunded liabilities” (pensions, entitlements and health–welfare services), many communities are only able to continue to operate and maintain their facilities and infrastructure due in whole or in part to self-governed Homeowner Associations (HOAs).

“The fastest growing form of housing in the United States today is Common-interest developments (CIDs), a category that includes planned-unit developments of single-family homes, condominiums, and cooperative apartments. Since 1964, homeowner associations have become increasingly common in the USA. The Community Associations Institute trade association estimated that HOAs governed 24.8 million American homes and 62 million residents in 2010”. [1]

Homeowner associations, property owner associations (POAs), planned unit developments (PUDs), or common interest developments (CIDS) may be in a unique position to take advantage of local planning, control, management, and oversight in providing both essential and recreational services to the members they represent, especially in times of disaster or severe economic downturns.

While the federal government continues to grow itself and increase the entitlement mentality, and as “professional politicians” dedicate much of their time to their reelection (and in catering to the needs of special interest groups), self-governed HOAs today represent one of the last functioning forms of representative government.

HOA Boards of Directors closely resemble the original form of representative government created in the U.S. by the founding fathers, whereby elected officials were essentially volunteers who were largely not compensated and who served limited terms before returning to their original profession, family business, or avocation.

When the ordure hits the rotating apparatus (SHTF), local HOAs with their well-established networks of volunteer committees, adequately funded reserve accounts, and proven ability to operate within a budget will be in a far better position than most towns and cities to weather a crisis and help preserve life and property.

HOAs take many organizational forms and are purposed somewhat differently from traditional municipal government entities according to the HOA governing documents (CC&R’s, By-Laws, Operating Rules), demographics of the membership, and the location and type of community (e.g. 55+, or age restricted, resort communities, large scale communities, condominium associations or high rise towers).

Many larger retirement and large scale communities have resources and business divisions well suited to serve the needs of the membership in a disaster situation, where federal, state, and local government will be overwhelmed and slow to respond effectively.

While some might think it naïve to assume that a community might “come together” in a SHTF situation and others might question the wisdom of “sheltering in place”, or of relying on an HOA-supported “Bug In” scenario, the fact is many HOAs are self-contained entities; indeed, some are gated and others are isolated from metro areas or contain a large number of elderly and/or retired persons. Accordingly, many HOA residents will be forced to stay put, either by circumstance or necessity. I believe some may choose to stay to help and defend their neighbors and friends.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (KJV)

Many large HOAs have facilities and staff well suited for disaster response and grid down situations, such as:

  • Golf course/club operations and private owners with fleets of electric golf carts, charging stations, and lots of batteries
    1. Establish supplies of battery cables to enable interconnection of batteries into 12-volt configurations. The vast majority of golf cart battery bank wiring is done in a “series” circuit. To wire in a series circuit means to connect multiple batteries in such a manner that the entire battery bank acts as a single battery but with the total sum of the voltages of each individual battery (e.g. + or positive terminal on one battery is cabled to the – or negative terminal on the next battery). A common golf cart example involves: 1) six, 6-volt batteries wired in a series circuit that will act as a single 36-volt battery, or 2) eight, 6-volt batteries wired in a series circuit will act as a single 48-volt battery. [2]
    2. Stock a sufficient supply of 12-volt inverters to convert the 12-volt circuits of 6-volt golf cart batteries into usable 110-volt power. (Or, you can use the 12-volt circuits more efficiently by stocking 12-volt lighting, refrigerators, and other small tools and appliances). [3]
    3. Stock or build portable solar charging stations for the batteries to be used in conjunction with gasoline, natural gas, propane, or diesel-powered generators, if available. One Solar World 250 watt panel and one SES- Flexcharge, NC 25 A-12 Charge Controller will charge a golf cart battery set modified to a 12-volt configuration (8, six-volt batteries cabled in a 12-volt circuit) [4]. Various configurations are possible. This author simply attached the charge controller to the back frame of the PV panel and bungee corded the panel to a cheap hand truck from Harbor Freight that allows you to easily move the charging station where needed and to keep it aligned with the sun throughout the day. A few small spools of 10- and 12-gauge wire, some cable zip ties, automotive fuses, and some battery charger style clamps are all you will need. Solder all the connections if possible, and don’t undersize the wiring. Follow the directions that come with the charge controller, and remember batteries release corrosive, explosive gas and can cause sparks when handled or connected improperly!
  • Restaurant and catering business units with professional staff and access to wholesale food vendors, kitchen facilities, and large stores of food stuffs
    1. Chefs and food/beverage managers could be instructed to slowly build inventory levels of shelf-stable, dry, and canned goods in advance of an emergency situation. Proper planning and “menu engineering” will incorporate these shelf stable and canned products into recipes already in use on the existing restaurant menu. The Board of Directors and Finance Committee should be advised of the favorable inventory “carrying costs” of these items as compared to fresh meats, produce, and dairy items with short shelf lives. A well-stocked kitchen, pantry, and restaurant dry storage area could supply an additional 1,000 to 5,000 meals in an emergency situation.
    2. Wholesale restaurant food vendors (Sysco, US Food Service, MRM, et etera) usually provide two to four delivery trucks per week to high volume restaurant operations. If sufficient warning of a SHTF situation is available, chefs and managers should be instructed to order as much canned and dry foods as their credit limits will allow. These orders are usually delivered onsite within 24 hours of order placement, but without some advance warning this strategy will be subject to the same societal collapse issues the large grocery chains will experience, such as empty grocery store shelves, clogged freeways, and broken supply chains.
    3. Backup generators for food and beverage operations are not a long-term solution in a SHTF situation, since the refrigeration systems for freezers and walk-in coolers require enormous quantities of electrical energy. Chefs and staff are trained to use perishable items first in the event of power failures, along with immediately icing remaining perishable foodstuffs with the hundreds of pounds of ice in the various commercial ice machines at most restaurants, which will be soon melting anyway without electricity.
    4. Dishwashing machines will be inoperable without electricity, but if water is available, all restaurants have three compartment pot and pan sinks and large quantities of dish soaps and sanitizing chemicals that will be a valuable sanitary resource in a grid down or emergency situation. “To go” boxes, napkins, hand wash towelettes, plastic utensils, condiment packs (sugar, honey, jellies, salt, pepper, mustard, mayo, and ketchup), and paper plates are all normally stocked in quantity by restaurants and will be valuable resources.
    5. When and if natural gas supplies are interrupted or lost completely, alternate sources of energy for cooking will be required. Many restaurant operations use commercial-quality gas fired, portable barbeques or wood-charcoal fired outdoor char-broilers for catering and outdoor functions. Sufficient supplies of charcoal, wood, and propane should be stocked. Propane burns more efficiently and provides more BTU’s than natural gas for those HOAs located in mountain areas above 5,000 feet. Portable butane cooktops for buffets and cases of “sterno” type gel fuel (used for banquet chaffing dishes and warmers) are common restaurant supplies and should be stocked in quantity, due to their long shelf life.
  • Recreation facilities that can double as shelters and triage centers, and swimming pools and recreational lakes with edible fish and/or stores of water
    1. HOA clubhouses, ballrooms, and meeting rooms will provide shelter, and they usually have ample sources of natural lighting during the daytime due to designs using large exterior windows. Procurement and storage of cots or foam pads for creating impromptu bedding should be considered. Many exercise groups (flexibility, yoga, jazzercise, zoomba) frequently use exercise mats and pads that can double as emergency bedding. Those facilities with elevators usually have backup electrical generators, which will have fuel supplies and monthly maintenance programs to insure operation when required. Overriding automatic startup of these gen sets should be disabled after insuring no elevator entrapment has occurred and then provide for close monitoring of generator use to insure actual run times are dedicated for essentials (battery charging, emergency lighting, et cetera) until fuel is exhausted or replenished.
    2. Almost all HOAs have a community swimming pool, even those small 30-unit condo associations. Swimming pools are a valuable source of potable water, following proper treatment and provided you are certain of what chemicals have be introduced into the water prior to loss of electricity. The FDA considers chlorine concentrations in fresh water of up to 4 ppm safe to drink, while many municipal water treatment plants treat their drinking water to a level of 1 ppm and most commercial pools are required to maintain pool chlorine levels at 3 to 5 ppm. Depending on the outdoor temperature, sunlight, time of year, and number of days without mechanical filtering, algae will begin to grow. Covering the pool will help slow this process by reducing the sunlight. Sunlight degrades the available chlorine and helps the algae to grow. Floating chlorine tablet dispensers will help extend the useful life of this water for drinking; however, the best approach is the use of a multi-stage water filter designed for untreated, raw water sources (think Big Berkey or Katadyn types). Finally, boiling the swimming pool water for at least one minute before consumption will help insure the removal of as many pathogens as possible. Pool water for bathing and sanitation can be used right from the pool, but insure that the resulting grey water is not allowed back into the pool. Think of conducting bathing and dishwashing near your vegetable garden, where this water can be used for irrigation, although you should limit the amount of commercial soaps that are used for bathing as large concentrations will be harmful to the plants.
    3. Recreational lakes and other impoundments owned and maintained by HOAs (such as boating lakes, golf course water hazards, and flood control or groundwater recharge basins) will also contain useful quantities of water that may be treated and used as described above. These water sources often also contain sizeable quantities of fish, edible amphibians, and waterfowl that can be harvested in an emergency. Fish and Game laws in a TEOTWAWKI situation will probably be superseded by the need to harvest and consume protein. In those situations, methods such as netting, fish traps, and shocking will be useful in gathering food. In locations where man-made lakes and ponds are artificially fed with pumped water, the water levels will decline (rapidly in desert areas) to the point where harvesting fish will be a necessity to avoid waste of the stranded fish, and the fish will be much easier to catch as water levels decrease. Smoking or drying of unused fish will extend the shelf life of this important protein source. Why not use the cooking fire smoke or portable Barbeque for this purpose, while cooking the daily meals?
    4. Golf courses are usually comprised of hundreds of acres of irrigated land that will be without irrigation in arid areas and will decline and turn brown rapidly without electricity to pump water. Portions of this land, particularly in the “rough”, or edges of the golf fairways can be converted in part to vegetable gardening by simply removing some turf, loosening the topsoil, planting and watering the crops by hand. Many HOAs have homes along their golf courses and, in a true emergency, the removal and use of a portion of the dead, brown turf behind a home will be a small price to pay aesthetically for a source of fresh food. Of course a source of irrigation water (lakes, streams, ponds, or wells still able to produce water) and a means to transport the water will be required. Water hauling for all uses will require a significant commitment of time and labor to insure a sufficient quantity for drinking, cooking, sanitation, and garden irrigation; however, the nature of a golf course lends itself to cultivation and ease of access, without having to “build” the soil to immediately support vegetables. Residual fertilizers will probably support at least one “first year” crop with a small amount of additional nitrogen (compost, manure, blood from harvested game, fish entrails, et cetera), but proper care and amendment of the soil going forward will insure future crops will produce. Fruit and nut trees on golf courses and throughout the HOA community should be prized and protected as food and seed sources and hand irrigated and fertilized occasionally in arid areas without sufficient natural rainfall.
  • Maintenance and janitorial staff trained and equipped with sanitation supplies and repair and emergency response equipment, such as generators, lighting, pumps, welding, and machine shop operations, automotive repair facilities as well as craftsperson’s such as electricians, plumbers, mechanics, machinists, welders, and carpenters
    1. HOAs employ a variety of contracted and “onsite”, skilled maintenance and janitorial personnel, with the related supplies and equipment that may be dedicated by the Board of Directors to community uses in an emergency. Those personnel may not be receiving a paycheck in a TEOTWAWKI situation, but their position as a representative of the HOA and as a member in the community will lend itself to their continued participation in the organized activities of the HOA in an emergency situation. After insuring the safety of their families, their participation in the “new” services provided by the HOA will hopefully be a win-win for the community and the individual “ex-employee”, who will then become a volunteer like everyone else.
    2. Most large scale communities, country clubs, and resort-style HOAs own and maintain extensive fleets of “rolling stock” and powered equipment, including trucks, tractors, excavators, golf course mowers, ditch witches, specialized turf equipment, boats, ATV’s and snowmobiles, “Snow Cats”, and other types of transport and snow removal equipment for those HOAs located in areas with significant annual snowfall. Most have on-site equipment service technicians and repair shops with stocks of repair parts and maintenance supplies. Security and maintenance of these valuable assets and their operators should be a priority to management and the Board of Directors in a SHTF situation.
    3. Along with the rolling stock and equipment, HOAs usually maintain bulk supplies of lubricants, gasoline, and #2 Diesel and “Red Dye” diesel fuels. Except for very cold areas, all diesel fuels in the U.S. are ASTM #2 Diesel, including farm diesel. On-highway fuel must be low sulfur and be undyed to show that it was taxed (Federal and State highway excise taxes). Farm Diesel or Off Road Diesel will contain red dye to show it was not taxed and may have a higher sulfur content than is allowed for on-road use. Maintenance staff is usually responsible for the dispensing and accounting of fuels and the maintenance of the storage tanks. In an emergency situation, the security and OPSEC involved in safeguarding these valuable assets will be paramount.
  • And of course, a functioning governing body made up of interested and dedicated volunteers, who live in the community in which they serve
    1. A duly-elected HOA Board of Directors is usually comprised of from five to seven members who serve one to two year terms, similar to the U.S. House of Representatives; however, that is where the similarity ends for the most part. The author has served as an “ex-officio” board member of a large resort-style HOA community in the past and as a management team member (General Manager) at several Large Scale HOA Communities in California over the last 15 years. During that time I have worked with many Boards of Directors and have, with few exceptions, found these people to be honorable, moral, just and fair individuals who follow State Law (Civil Code or the “Davis-Sterling” Act, as it is known in California), and have the interests of the community first in their list of priorities.
    2. My experience has shown that, unlike many “professional” politicians, the HOA Board members I have had the pleasure of working with follow at a minimum, the Community Associations Institute “Model Code of Ethics” for HOA Board members.

References

[1] Wikipedia – Homeowner Association

[2] Golf Cart Battery Bank Wiring in Series

[3] DC to AC Inverters

[4] Sunmodule Plus SW 260 mono and NC25A Ultra High Efficiency Charge Controller (Regulator)

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