Re: "emergency plan" for a cohousing community?
From: Philip Dowds (
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2018 10:16:57 -0700 (PDT)
We have some rules about Board interventions and short-notice plenaries to deal 
w/ “emergencies”, but we’ve made little use of them.  Partly because we’ve not 
made much effort to define “emergency”.  Once long ago we had a playground 
“swing set emergency”, for which a committee held an urgent meeting to agree to 
spend thousands on a replacement swing set.  ???

In the past, we’ve had mobility-impaired members living on the top floor, and a 
loss of elevator would certainly have been an emergency for them.  But this is 
no longer the case, and everyone now living on the upper floors can do stairs 
easily, or fairly easily.  Would an elevator failure be an emergency today?  
What about if the common air conditioning experiences a catastrophic failure on 
the 4th of July?  Is that an emergency?  Or, should we wait for the better 
replacement pricing we can get in October?

Our common house combines with 13 apartments, and a few years back, the 
building heat died at about 6pm in the evening, during an actual blizzard at 
6°F.  Our regular service company was unavailable, and although a team of 
volunteers was struggling with the problem, I lost confidence in their ability 
to get things working again.  So I called in some favors and got a plumber to 
appear within 30 minutes.  The heat came back on, and neither residents nor 
building froze that night.  It ended up costing the community more than $2K, 
and several friends and neighbors were unhappy with me for over-riding a 
committee and making unilateral choices.  If this emergency repeats itself, I 
will do exactly the same thing.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rpdowds [at]

> On Sep 18, 2018, at 11:18 AM, Sharon Villines via Cohousing-L <cohousing-l 
> [at]> wrote:
>> On Sep 17, 2018, at 5:00 PM, Sophie Glasser <sophiemosaicjoy [at]> 
>> wrote:
>> Do any cohousing communities have an “emergency plan”? Specifically what to 
>> do if there is a safety threat to everyone from weather, fire, etc and you 
>> need to make sure everyone is alerted quickly
> We have a RISC pod — can’t remember what the initials mean — that is active 
> from time to time. We once had a designated person on each corridor 
> responsible for checking that everyone was out for a fire alarm. Now I think 
> we just check with each other. We have a checklist that a RISC member uses to 
> be sure everyone is present or accounted for at our offsite assembly spot 
> (out on the corner) after fire alarms.
> We had a telephone tree but it was too hard to keep up to date, or remember.
> Email is incredibly effective. I’ve put out emails on 5 occasions in which I 
> or someone close needed immediate attention — falls, flooding water, etc.— 
> and had 5-7 responses within 2 minutes. (And the responses keep coming for 
> the afternoon with people checking in the next day.) 
> People post an email to let everyone know that the CH door and keypad isn’t 
> working and to bring your key. (Some people enter their units through the CH 
> so this is essential.)
> Elevator is out. We have 3 households that can’t use the stairs. This is 
> serious. They can’t go home.
> An email to people when we are having a fairly local wind and rain storm with 
> lightning and tornado warnings during rush hour to tell people to stay at the 
> office for awhile.
>> Also how do you decide as to when it is truly an “emergency”?
> What is defined as an emergency is usually a life threatening event. In 
> cohousing that extends to serious property damage. We have people designated 
> who can make emergency decisions immediately. I think it is 2 members of the 
> board but in general, a lot of people emerge and take action. What 
> undesignated people would be hesitant to do is spend a lot of money. Or call 
> the police.
> But after all that, I do wish we had a big clanging bell in the piazza in 
> front of the CH to ring for even lesser and happier events. Party starts now 
> stuff.
> Sharon
> ----
> Sharon Villines
> Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC
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