John Wheeler thinks we should be worried about The Bomb. The former military man, who graduated from West Point in 1966, was assigned to a missile crew for a year in Franklin Lakes, N.J. The missiles had the capacity to carry nuclear tips. "I knew what would happen to all the little kids who looked up in the sky over the blast zone," he told the New York Times recently. "And now the circle closes. I am again back in New York facing the possibility of another nuclear strike."
Wheeler has become a Paul Revere of the nuclear age, warning anyone who will listen about the threat of annihilation. Lately, he has been campaigning to encourage private citizens to take a role in preparedness for a possible nuclear or biological terrorist strike. To that effect, he has even set up a web site, http://www.preparednessfornuclearterrorism.org.
Wheeler is not alone in sounding a wake-up call. In the light of the terrorist attacks of September 11, building managers and other professionals are warning co-op and condo owners to be ready — if not for the end of the world, at least for terrorist attacks, threats, and other emergencies.
At a recent seminar staged by the New York Association of Realty Managers, New York Police Department (NYPD) Sgt. Peter R. Picarillo, of the New York City Office of Emergency Management, said: "Be a Boy Scout and be prepared. Plan for everything. Don't rule things out because you never know. Nine-eleven proved it." Picarillo warned: "Complacency is the biggest problem and the worst enemy."
Be prepared — but for what? "The shock of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the recent warnings by the FBI that terrorists will likely strike again, have awakened the world to the dangers of terrorism, and have shown people that, unfortunately, the improbable and catastrophic are suddenly quite possible," says Richard F. Muhlebach, senior managing director for Kennedy-Wilson Properties with more than 30 years experience managing and leasing a diverse portfolio of properties. He is also editor of Preparing for Terrorism: A Property Manager's Guide, a 189-page book that walks real estate professionals through the realities of terrorism and teaches them how to protect a building and its tenants.
Muhlebach is one of many managers advising boards about the different steps they should be taking. Most emergency plans, pre-September 11, focused on responding to such crises as fires, flooding, and, perhaps, bomb threats. What should boards be doing to prepare for any future terrorist attacks?
At the very least, the board should meet with residents to explain the property's emergency and safety procedures. Have periodic meetings to update residents and staff on steps that are being taken. To help do that, here is a guide to what boards can be doing, depending on their degree of concern.
Be prepared for: security before an attack. Boards that don't already have tight security and screening measures should institute them. Security cameras are useful. It is also important to screen visitors to the building — most doormen do this already — with doormen asking for ID from repairmen and vendors.
Coordinate with outside organizations, such as the police and fire departments, to find out what special training they can offer. "You're better off if you can properly integrate your building with outside emergency systems," says Bob Williams, vice president of Invensys Energy Management's Commercial Property unit, a member of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat World Trade Center Task Force, and co-chairman of the "Building for the 21st Century" Conference, held in London in December 2001. "It makes sense to integrate building systems," he notes. "If you set up systems properly, you can know where people trapped in a building are, and police and fire [departments] are better able to rescue them."
To that end, the police department established a counter-terrorism division, which will inspect a building and make recommendations as to how the board can deter and prevent terrorist acts. The division offers training for the superintendent in crime and terror prevention. (For more information, call 718-615-7093.)
The police department also offers the Area Police Private Security Liaison (APPL), which enables the super, doorman, or concierge to receive e-mail bulletins and other communications concerning crimes in progress. (To enroll in this program, e-mail APPL@NYPD.org or NYPDappl@aol.com). There is also a 24-hour pager system available to connect your super or doorman to the local precinct. (To enroll, call 646-610-8658.)
In addition, the NYPD, in conjunction with the Association for a Better New York, continues its nearly 30-year-old Interlock, Interwatch, and Queenswatch programs, which allow a super or doorman direct radio communication with the local precinct desk to hear about or report crimes in the making. It costs $365 a year, with a one-time fee of $1,100 to purchase a special radio. So far, 700 residential and commercial properties have signed up. (To enroll, call JoAnne Polise at 212-370-5986, or go to www.ABNY.org)
Be prepared for: evacuation in case of a conventional attack. There are a number of ways to get ready for an attack. According to Preparing for Terrorism, "the property manager has two primary responsibilities: to protect the lives of the building's occupants and others on the premises, and to protect the property owners' investment."
A good way to achieve that is to draft a thorough and well-designed emergency procedures plan and train the staff to follow it. "People will pay more attention now," argues J. Brian Peters, director of management at Rose Associates, which owns and manages buildings in the downtown area. "It is incumbent that you think through your evacuation planning a bit better. Most buildings do not have evacuation plans, only sketchy outlines."
The size of the building determines the complexity of the plan. Small residential properties (from 20 to 50 units) do not require complex evacuation arrangements. If the property has a site manager, he or she may have primary responsibility for overseeing emergencies. For smaller properties without resident managers, the plans are to be executed by the maintenance staff. Informing the residents in advance of their roles is a key part of any plan.
Write an emergency procedures manual. "We are in the process of preparing a whole program and a manual, which can then be tailored to each property," says David Kuperberg, president of Cooper Square Realty. "September 11 taught us to be more cognizant of the possibilities."
To draw up a manual and an overall plan, set up a committee to investigate building needs. The manual should include a chain of command (along with an alternate chain if members aren't available), with instructions for each person in the chain (the manager, emergency personnel, floor monitors). This should also include building blueprints (with exits indicated), lists of resources and residents, a list of any hazardous materials on the property, and any other pertinent data (for instance, phone numbers of residents and emergency services).
As part of the manual, create a profile of your property's population. Determine how many very young and very old live in the building. Does it have a high concentration of disabled or elderly? Are there many children? What floors are the elderly, disabled, and very young on? Are residents aware of emergency procedures?
According to Preparing for Terrorism, special considerations should be made for the elderly. "Poor health or impaired vision, mental capacity, or movement could make it difficult for elderly residents to respond quickly to emergencies," say the authors of the book. "During planning and practice evacuations...allow elderly residents to be as independent as possible, even if they are physically slower than younger residents. These sessions should be used to observe and evaluate their physical capabilities. If special assistance is needed, it should be indicated on the individual's resident profile."
Many of the same procedures for the elderly apply to the disabled. Note, also, anyone who is temporarily disabled (i.e., with broken bones). Residents with visual, hearing, and mobility problems could have a "buddy" assigned to them to assist in their evacuation. The same procedures for the elderly apply to children. Keep records of which families have children and what apartments they reside.
Appoint residents as floor monitors or captains. "Monitors should be individuals who are calm, quick-thinking, and level-headed, and who will perform well in emergency situations," notes Preparing for Terrorism."They should be responsible for directing residents to safety until management or fire or police personnel can arrive on the scene. The monitors should have a list of elderly or disabled residents to assist them in evacuations...These residents may not hear radio warnings or emergency announcements or may not be capable of evacuating on their own."
Communication is also a key issue that needs to be reviewed. Some managers set up e-mail "hotlines" to cope. "During the events [of September 11], it was difficult to get communications on the phone," Peters notes. "We found we could communicate by e-mail. We immediately set up an e-mail address; when phone lines were re-established, we set up a phone hotline, with a recorded message and updates on the status of the building." Resident-owners should have emergency telephone lists so that they know who to call and how to report an emergency.
Be prepared for: a nuclear attack. The worst-case scenario occurs if and when a nuclear device goes off in midtown Manhattan. That essentially means dealing with the fallout. "By far, the overwhelming threat to be concerned about is a fission bomb detonation in Manhattan," former military man Wheeler says. "It is smaller and simpler than an H-bomb, more like the devices used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What we know about terrorists is that they want to make a statement to the whole world. So they'd choose a very dense target, like New York or Washington. If there is a blast, the bottom line is how far you are from the Empire State Building [where a bomb might presumably be exploded]. If you're ten miles or more away, some might survive. I would worry more about the fallout than the blast."
Wheeler says it is only prudent to prepare for the worst: a nuclear explosion that will destroy everything within a ten-mile radius. Those outside that area will have to cope with nuclear fallout effects. That means stockpiling food, water, and supplies that will last for at least two weeks, setting up a system for human waste removal, storing first aid equipment, and having portable radios.
Few management firms are preparing for nuclear fallout, however. "We have not made any plans for that," says Ian Mayglothling, a property manager at Midboro Management who has been gathering all the security and evacuation procedure data together to create a comprehensive plan. "We haven't done anything specifically to that end," admits Eugene DeGidio, a principal in Maxwell-Kates. Another principal at a Manhattan management firm is more blunt: "Nuclear disaster preparation? You must be kidding. If the bomb is dropped, you can kiss my ass and say goodbye."
In the end, though, preparation for the worst is paramount. Observes Wheeler: "We must be ready. On a cruise ship, everyone puts on a lifejacket in a drill and stands by the lifeboats. And they do that, even though the odds of a ship going down are even less than one of these awful detonations happening. Citizens have to take the lead, because the politicians are too scared."
Can you fully protect yourself from terrorism? "Of course not," admits Muhlebach. "But you can be better prepared for it."