New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Big Brother is Helping

We are in a hi-tech information age. And no one knows that better than Carmen Colon. As chief concierge at Central Park Place, a 303-unit condominium on West 57th Street, she remembers the bad old days as if they were yesterday. Nine years ago, when she first started working at the building, work orders and tenant requests and complaints were scrawled on scraps of paper and placed in file folders. Vital statistics about workers (when they came, when they left, what they did), residents (who possessed keys, who was allowed residency), and emergency procedures (who to contact) were all kept filed away in the superintendent's office - if they were kept at all.

No longer. Colon's building has entered the 21st Century by employing Concierge Plus, a computerized information tracking system. Developed by Cooper Square Realty for use in buildings it manages, the proprietary software keeps track of visitors, package deliveries, repairs, messages from residents, and is networked with the superintendent's office, the property manager, and the package room. "It makes my job a lot easier," Colon acknowledges.

At Central Park Place, with a staff of 21 full-time employees, it is clear to see how such software would be useful. The concierge sits in a wood-paneled alcove, answering questions from residents and visitors. During the hustle and bustle of a typical day, something can easily get lost or misplaced - a note, a package, a key - or how mistakes can occur about the time of arrival of a repairman, or when a breakdown occurred, or how long a repairman was on the job.

David Kuperberg, president of Cooper Square Realty, notes that the system is valuable when a resident is away and gives permission to have a friend or relative stay or check up on an apartment. The data, with the visitor's name, relationship, and other pertinent information, is stored by the system. "We are currently writing an emergency preparedness template that will become part of the system," he adds.

Concierge Plus is part of a new trend: keeping on top of data so little problems don't mushroom into major ones. BuildingLink, for instance, is an internet-based system that manages all day-to-day communications, record-keeping, and task-tracking between occupants, building staff, and property managers. The program runs on web servers, so users can access their property's data from anywhere, using a web browser and their log-in name and password.

Such information-gathering and retrieval has become even more important in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks of last year. If emergency evacuation of a property is required, is the proper data available to residents and to emergency personnel?

That was the issue that troubled Ira Meister, president of Matthew Adam Properties, a management firm. Concerned about evacuating residents needing extra assistance in a crisis (the elderly, infirm, disabled, and children), he developed a life safety program to target those with special needs. The voluntary program, in place at the 200-unit 118 East 60th Street cooperative, gathers pertinent data from residents: i.e., "Are there any occupants in your apartment that would require special assistance in the event of an emergency...?" and "In case of disruption of utility service to the building (electric, water or gas) are there any occupants in your apartment using medical equipment that requires active utilities (i.e., respiratory equipment, dialysis, etc.)?" The information is then collected and kept in a program book at a secure location in the building.

"As a parent of a disabled child, I have become even more aware of the need for such a system," Meister explains. "Unfortunately, due to the events of September 11, the need for such a system is even greater in our city." He reports that he is currently developing a software program to handle the data.

The Matthew Adam Properties life safety program is applauded by other professionals, who have instituted emergency procedures of their own. Most say that having a list of emergency procedures and contact numbers is a must. They add that boards might also want to create a profile of their property's population. That means determining how many very young and very old live in the building. Is there 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?

Attorney Stuart Saft, a partner with Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, says: "We recommend having a log. But we recommend having it kept by members of the board rather than the staff for confidentially reasons." He says that such a log can save lives. In a case at Saft's own 82-unit Manhattan cooperative, an elderly man lived alone in his apartment and hadn't been seen for a full day. The doorman noticed he was missing and reported it to the board, which checked out the contact list in the log and then notified a relative. "We got permission and gained access," Saft recalls. "He had suffered a heart attack and was unconscious on the floor. Without our having the contact list, he could have died."

All such life safety and information retrieval programs must be purely voluntary or else a board could face invasion of privacy questions. As a further protection, confidentiality safeguards - passwords and access only to the board or the manager - must be considered and implemented.

Systems like BuildingLink, employed by 17 different management companies in the New York City area, address such concerns, while making emergency data easily available. The software's "Address Book" function allows building staff to look up the contact information for one or more residents, including home and work phone numbers, intercom, numbers, e-mail addresses, and emergency contact information. Staff can send an e-mail to some or all of the building's occupants with a click of the button. Tenants can only see those entries in the address book that they have been authorized to view. The "Events Log" can keep track of packages, visitors, and keys.

"When September 11 happened, three buildings in Battery Park were our clients," reports Jerry Kestenbaum, president of BuildingLink. "Most of the other buildings had no phone communication and were in the dark about what to do. In our buildings, however, that wasn't the case. With BuildingLink, the supers communicated with the tenants and everyone had access to emergency information."

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