Just this past September, a tornado hit Park Slope, Central Brooklyn and parts of Queens, doing substantial damage in a few short minutes. It left people in other parts of the city wondering, “Could it happen here?” But the tornado—and one like it in Bay Ridge back in 2007—are just the most recent examples of why board members, managers and unit owners have to think seriously about emergency planning.
At one time, when people talked about emergency planning for multifamily buildings, they mainly meant fires, or very temporary power outages of maybe an hour or so. Then, 9/11 made everyone think of the possibility of man-made catastrophe. The New York City blackout in 2003 added lengthy power outages to everyone’s worries, although older New Yorkers went through similar blackouts in 1965 and 1977. Add the possibility of hurricanes, floods, snowstorms and more, and the result may be enough to scare almost anyone.
However, help and resources are readily available, and disaster or emergency planning is on the front burner in many quarters. It’s just a matter of learning what to do.
Everyone agrees that within your building or development, you have to have people you can rely on. Usually, says Rob Britigan, an experienced Michigan property manager who is active in the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), “The property manager should prepare an 'emergency preparedness' plan that contemplates emergency policies and procedures, then present the plan for the board to review and approve.” Once it is approved, the plan could be incorporated into a resident handbook.
Mike Beirne, executive vice president of Kamson Corporation in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey and a regional vice president of the National Apartment Association (NAA), adds that managers and other building administrators and staff should be conversant in the local fire codes. In New York City, the source for this information would be the Department of Buildings (DOB), but smaller towns and cities in the metropolitan area have their equivalents. “Some towns, like Newark, have ordinances about what has to be in the emergency plan—you want to check with the town,” Beirne says, adding that there are consultants who can help boards with this in any jurisdiction.