When Disaster Strikes Managers Share Lessons Learned

When a townhouse exploded on Manhattan's Upper East Side last summer, New Yorkers ran terror-stricken into the streets. As smoke billowed from the wreckage, no one knew what had caused the explosion, or how many people had been hurt. Just three months later, on October 11th, panicked residents were again evacuated when a small plane crashed into the 40th floor of the Belaire Condominium on 72nd Street. Smoke and flames consumed the brick wall where the plane lay lodged in one apartment owner's living room. A severed gas line caused a raging fire and sent a cascade of brick, mortar, glass and airplane parts crashing to the sidewalk below.

Amazingly, our firm manages both the Cumberland House, a 100-unit cooperative next door to the destroyed townhouse, and the Belaire Condominium. As chief executive officer and director of management at Gumley Haft, the two of us were among the first responders to both incidents, and present throughout the entire crisis management process. The lessons learned from these two tragic events can help co-op and condo boards and their managers be prepared to handle their own emergencies if and when they occur.

We suggest that boards work with their managers to establish a Disaster Management Plan, including a command center, rally points, evacuation plans and more in order to protect building residents and their property.

Explosion on 62nd Street

On July 10, 2006 at approximately 8:30 a.m., a townhouse on East 62nd Street exploded as a result of tampering—allegedly by the building's owner, Dr. Nicholas Bartha. The Cumberland House, a 15-story, 100-unit cooperative next door to the townhouse, took a beating from the explosion, with a rain of bricks from the townhouse and water from the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) pouring into the lower floors and underground parking garage on the east side of the building. When Gumley Haft received the call reporting the building explosion, we immediately went to the site. There is nothing quite as scary as seeing the building you live in—or manage—up in flames.

The townhouse was in a total collapse and engulfed in a fiery blaze. In a matter of minutes, representatives from the NYPD, FDNY, SWAT, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the Red Cross and the mayor's office arrived at 62nd Street. This incident was initially considered a possible act of terrorism, so all federal, state and city law enforcement agencies were called in to determine what course of action to take.

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