The events of September 11, 2001 and subsequent federal
efforts to improve homeland security have prompted an uneasy
new awareness of dangers that could occur. People are seeking
ways to protect themselves and their families and to keep
their homes safe. The boards of housing cooperatives and
condominiums in New York City are particularly mindful of
this responsibility, and CNYC understands its own responsibility
to provide guidance.
CNYC has been pleased to have had representation at three
excellent programs offered this spring by the New York Association
of Realty Managers (NYARM), the Real Estate Board of New
York (REBNY), and the Associated Builders and Owners of
Greater New York (ABO). The first dealt with crisis preparedness
and management. The police department presented the second,
which dealt with recognizing and reporting suspicious behavior,
false documents, and bombs. The third offered guidelines
for building security. What follows are some concrete recommendations
which CNYC considers appropriate ways for a cooperative
or condominium board to prepare residents for problems.
No one can be expected to know all the answers, nor to successfully
prevent some of the vague and generally unlikely threats now being considered.
A prudent policy need not deal with the extremes, but should rather
help your cooperative or condominium establish, communicate, and enforce
reasonable safety and security policies and procedures. Today's enhanced
receptivity to safety and security gives boards the opportunity to collect
more information about building residents, enforcing security precautions,
and even offering drills on how to proceed if the building must be evacuated.
FOR THE UNEXPECTED
High-profile buildings or those with well-known residents might reasonably
fear targeted terrorist activities. Buildings adjacent to noted landmarks
also have reason for extra caution. And buildings where hazardous materials
are used or stored can experience problems from within. However, virtually
every building can benefit from a realistic review of security procedures.
We can also prepare for situations brought on by nature or the environment
that may make it necessary to evacuate the building or the area. You
might need to implement an evacuation plan in the event of severe weather
conditions (storm, tornado, hurricane, heat wave, etc.), or because
of hazards produced by utility failure ( water, telecommunications,
etc.), by a system failure in the building (gas leak, boiler breakdown
spreading fumes, etc.), or upon receipt of a suspicious package (don't
shake it, don't kick it; do report it to the local the police or to
the special police security force at 1-888-NYC-SAFE), or pursuant to
a terrorist threat which the police deem credible.
REEXAMINE AND ENFORCE
EXISTING SAFETY POLICIES
A Security Team consisting of management, staff, and board or committee
members is often the best qualified to perform this review, as they
are most familiar with the building. However, if past policies have
been lax or if there is a particular reason for concern, your cooperative
or condominium can engage professional help to survey the building and
provide recommendations about day-to-day safety.
Every building in New York City is required by law to have a fire safety
plan, prominently posted and also sent to every apartment annually,
in either October (fire safety month) or January. It clearly describes
ways of leaving the building in the event of a fire or other emergency.
The Security Team should include the fire safety plan in its review
to make certain that it is clear and easy to understand and that it
covers all contingencies.
Good communication will be vital to handling emergencies. Residents
should be advised of exactly how an emergency situation will be communicated
to them, and what they will be expected to do. Building employees must
know their roles well; when told by police or management or other authorities
to do so, their responsibility will be to alert all residents to an
emergency and to advise them whether they are safest inside their homes
or whether they must make their way out of the building to a place of
greater safety. Calm, clear instructions will reassure building residents;
holding practice drills will help everyone know what they are to do.
Local 32B-32J of the Building Service Employees International Union
is adding to its fall education offerings a class in security tailored
specifically for workers in New York City buildings.
All evacuation information must be clearly presented in writing and
given to each new resident. If yours is a fireproof building, residents
should be reminded that they are generally safest remaining inside their
apartments during a fire, unless the fire is very close to their own
unit. If they must leave their apartments, they need to ensure that
all family members are safely out and should bring with them their keys,
a cell phone and a prepared box of key information and medications (see
KEEPING TRACK OF RESIDENTS
AND ANY SPECIAL NEEDS
Without a functioning intercom system, staff may not be
able to contact all apartments in an emergency. Without
a list of apartment residents including information
about those who depend on oxygen or on electric life support
equipment, or those who require help to leave the building
staff will not be able to verify that all families
are safe or help firefighters or rescue workers target those
most in need of help.
In the event of an emergency, staff should be prepared to meet police
or firefighters in the lobby with building plans, a list of residents,
and apartment keys. In a fire, quickly provide firefighters with information
that you are sure about, regarding the floor of the fire, the apartment
number, if anyone is still in the apartment, whether anyone in the apartment
is disabled or uses oxygen, and whether the door is open. Indicate the
nearest staircase to the affected area. Also provide keys for the affected
apartment, so that police or fire fighters will not have to break down
There should be a protocol to ensure that everyone is safely out of
the building. Once out on the street, residents should know to not stand
around. Since the building itself may present a danger, they must continue
walking until they are at a safe distance from the building. Provisions
should be made for residents to go to a pre-arranged assembly point
or to call a contact number. Cards can be distributed to residents giving
these contact numbers and a summary of evacuation procedures.
Encourage residents to keep on hand a supply of drinking water, flashlights
with working batteries, and portable radios, also with working batteries.
These may prove very useful in an emergency whether the resident must
evacuate the building or "shelter in place." A speaker from
the Red Cross suggested that every family maintain a small Family
Emergency Supply Kit containing necessary medications for each
family member, extra pairs of glasses and copies of important documents
such as birth certificates and insurance cards. Keep this box near the
rear door and discuss in advance how to make sure that it is carried
out in an emergency.
Also encourage each family (particularly those with children old enough
to travel through the city on their own) to discuss and practice a family
emergency plan, including a procedure for contacting one another to
make sure that everyone is safe if an emergency occurs (e.g., everyone
calls Dad's cell phone or Grandma's house once they're safe).
Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields has developed a more
detailed set of suggestions for protecting your building. To obtain
a copy, contact Earl Simons at (212) 669-3872, and the Mayor's Office
of Emergency Management has prepared Disaster Preparedness for Your
Pet. These guidelines can be found under pet tips at the OEM website
PROTECT YOUR BUILDING AND ITS RESIDENTS
Review Existing Safety Policies
- Is an Independent Security Evaluation Needed?
- Has Security Policy Been Lax or Non-Existent?
- Is Your Building a Likely Target?
- Strengthen if Necessary
- Develop and Communicate Clear Evacuation Procedures
Are Existing Safety Policies Well Understood and Well Enforced?
- Communicate Clear Guidelines for Residents
- Require Compliance
- Offer Periodic Drills
- Give Safety Information to All New Residents
- Drill Staff to Enforce Safety Policy and Emergency Procedures
- Offer (Require) Additional Training
Compile Emergency Information and Have It Accessible
- Residents Using Life Support Equipment
- Residents Needing Help to Evacuate the Building
- Building Plans to Help Rescue Workers
Suggest That Families Develop Personal Safety Plans
- To Leave the Apartment Safely and Quickly
- To Communicate in an Emergency