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Blackout sheds light on building procedures.

Landlords and building managers relearned a valuable lesson on August 14, 2003: the importance of preparedness in an emergency situation. While Blackout 2003 posed untold difficulties, the good news is that New York City's real estate community rose admirably to the occasion. On that day, at Adams & Company alone, our well-trained staff of 102 workers successfully evacuated 25 buildings, which included more than 1,200 tenants.

Communication is key in any crisis, and the blackout proved once again the importance of staying in touch. With cell phone use sporadic and computers down, many building managers were frantic to reach their workers for updates, assistance and instructions. Since we outfit our entire staff with Nextel phones, which also serve as two-way radios, we were fortunate enough in the early stages of the blackout--the most critical--to have constant communication between staffers within the same building as well as from building to building.

In addition to being able to communicate by phone, we also were able to physically walk from site to site to assess each situation and to provide executive leadership since we manage many buildings within a 30-block radius. While we exist in a world that has come to depend on electronic relationships in our daily activities, we learned on August 14th that "old-fashioned" physical proximity, presence and comfort is still important in a time of need.

We also learned during the blackout that setting workers' hours from 7am to 6pm, instead of the typical building management hours of 8am to 5pm, is helpful in an emergency situation that affects tenants. Our tenants were grateful that our workers were on hand to inform them of the situation and to guide them in the evacuation. Since our fully dedicated staff stabilized the situation, we did not have to scramble to ask workers to report back to work.

Since 9/11 we have implemented mandatory evacuation drills in all our buildings, therefore in instances like this tenants were well versed in evacuation procedures prior to August 14. However, in the blackout there were no fire alarms and stairwells were lighted by emergency lighting that in most cases are minimal at best. On this day it became important for staffers with flashlights to personally assemble and escort tenants out of the buildings and to perform floor-to-floor searches on darkened floors before closing each location. All of our buildings experienced seamless evacuations during Blackout 2003, with evacuation completed in under an hour without any injuries.

However, there are always unplanned events, such as tenants being trapped in elevators. At seven buildings we had tenants trapped in elevators for less than 20 minutes. However due to our long-standing relationships with our vendors, some of whom we have been dealing with for more than 50 years, they made it their priority to visit each of our buildings and assist in any procedures.

Many factors contributed to New York City's building managers' prompt responses during the blackout. One of which was the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Following September 11th building management teams all over New York City took stock. At Adams & Co. we re-evaluated our procedures and implemented improved preparedness systems.

These events remind us that buildings in New York City are affected by outside influences and that it is the proud job of building managers to help keep New York City working.
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Author:Walsh, Kenneth G.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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