When Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast at the end of October, hurling a record breaking 13 plus-foot water surge at New York City, knocking out power to millions of residents and devastating parts of Queens and Staten Island, how prepared was your community? Was your building well-stocked with emergency supplies? Was an evacuation plan in place? How about a communication system?
While the basics of preventing—and surviving—common disasters like fires or blackouts should be well known to anybody living in an urban apartment building, the reality is that each building is different, with varying physical equipment, divergent building materials, and unique escape routes for emergencies. Since in some worst case scenarios each building can become practically its own island during an emergency, it’s important for board members and management to devise customized emergency plans for the community. That way if the unthinkable happens, everyone can escape quickly and safely.
Dan Wollman and Harry Smith, CEO and director of management, respectively, for Manhattan-based management firm Gumley Haft, recommend that a building’s board of directors establish a Disaster Management Plan, which should include a command center, rally points, and evacuation plans, to name a few items. The colleagues should know, since two of the buildings their company manages suffered frightening emergencies in the summer and fall of 2006. In the first emergency, an explosion in an Upper East Side condo destroyed the building—and in the second instance, a small plane crashed into a multifamily building.
While more common crises such as power outages in winter or flooding in low-lying areas are likelier for many residential buildings, the elements of readiness are the same for any emergency. Boards and managers can draw up customized emergency plans for their buildings, but they must know where to look to find the right information and with whom to work to make the plan implementable. Soliciting the advice and the involvement of the key players who are called on in a building emergency—such as the property manager, the superintendent, the building’s security chief and others—is the foundation of any effective plan. With some buildings, even more expert help may be needed.
In most cases, emergency response professionals will come to your door to help long before you need them to execute an evacuation. Though the American Red Cross is an organization known for helping those affected in the aftermath of disasters, the group also works to educate people in how to respond to disasters before they strike.