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Co-op Board Learns to Act Fast After a Disaster

Frank Lovece in Building Operations on January 2, 2018

Greenwich Village, Manhattan

After a Disaster

The fire that destroyed 56 apartments in the Hamilton co-op in Greenwich Village.

Jan. 2, 2018

When fire roared up a restaurant ventilation shaft and devastated a Greenwich Village co-op called the Hamilton – destroying 56 of the 214 apartments – the board and its professionals got a crash course in how the cope with the aftermath of a disaster. The first thing they learned: deal with the biggest problems first. And in such cases, biggest equals most basic. 

“The first real issues after a major casualty come up over the next 24 hours,” says the Hamilton’s attorney, Ken Jacobs, a partner at Smith, Buss & Jacobs. “How are you going to deal with security? If the building staff leaves, people can come in and loot the apartments. What about structural safety? And where are people going to gather? Can you get a school or a synagogue opened?” 

The focus falls initially on management, which ideally arranges for an engineer to start checking the structural stability of the building. The first thing residents want to know is if they can move back into their apartments or need to find a place to spend the night. “Fortunately, New York City has decent Emergency Management services that come in and have potential shelters for people,” Jacobs says. “But residents need to find their own locations.” 

Communication is also vital. “Communication and reassurance,” Jacobs says. “A board needs to tell shareholders where you are in the process, and that if you don’t know answers now, you will find out answers. The board needs to be a sounding board, a place for shareholders to address questions.” 

The managing agent will contact the building’s insurance carrier, but board members should remind residents to contact their own insurance brokers and explain what’s going on.

Finally, take care of your staff. “They were basically working around the clock,” says the Hamilton’s co-op board president, Michael Coopersmith. “So we made sure they were going home to get some sleep. You can’t continue to have them running 24/7. We brought pizza in for lunch, or passed menus around and told them, ‘Whatever you want for food, just get it. We’ll take of it.’ I was not concerned about spending a few hundred dollars on meals for staff that’s giving everything to us. They need to be taken care of and thanked considerably.”

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