Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums
Article Archive
Building & Neighborhood Issues

Published: Summer 2002


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.


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.


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 below).


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 the door.

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 at


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


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