Posted in BE SAFE, Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Floods, High-Rise Buildings, Hurricanes, Workplace Safety

How to prepare for and respond to flooding when you are in a high-rise commercial building

Case Study: Hurricane Sandy

(Because much of this post was graciously provided by Chris Rodriguez of Brookfield Property Partners, I have not added my usual “firedogisms.” Thanks for your help, Chris!)

City submerged in water because of climate changeThe most common natural disaster in the United States is a flood. In the U.S., floods kill more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning. This week, we will focus attention on this severe weather-related disaster, because El Nino could potentially produce the types of conditions that often result in floods.

Since flooding generally occurs at or below ground level, you may be surprised to learn that there are specific flood-related dangers and steps to take to deal with floods if you work or live in a high-rise building. As a service to our subscribers and friends, this post focuses on preparations to take before, during and after flooding if you are in a high-rise commercial building.

Photo courtesy of Brookfield Property Partners
Photo courtesy of Brookfield Property Partners

In the third edition of his High-Rise Security and Fire/Life Safety, Vice President of Universal Protection Service, Geoff Craighead, writes this about flood safety as it relates to high-rise buildings:

“Torrential rain, melting snow, a tsunami or a hurricane may produce too much water for land, rivers and flood control panels to handle and therefore results in serious flooding that will impact an entire area, including high-rise buildings. Floods also can occur as a result of a public water main pipe break or a reservoir failing.

Subterranean parking garages located beneath high-rise buildings can become flooded with water. This can result in damage to vehicles and substantial damage to elevator systems because of water cascading into elevator shafts. Building operations can be paralyzed for days as a result of cleanup of impacted areas and repair of damaged equipment. Also, a severe landslide could result in the collapse of a building.”

Photo courtesy of Brookfield Property Partners
Photo courtesy of Brookfield Property Partners

Our friend and client, Chris Rodriguez, is the Director of Security for Brookfield Property Partners at One New York Plaza. He was onsite at that location in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. Chris stayed on the scene for days, and was kind enough to provide us with the steps he and his team took before, during and after the hurricane. We chose to include excerpts from his notes despite their length, because we believe it provides great insight into a real-world scenario relative to managing and recovering from flooding in a high-rise commercial building.

Pre-Sandy

  • Secured the building perimeter and all entrances to the building, 12 hours prior to the expected landfall of the storm.
  • Protected all street-level entrances with sandbags.
  • Advised tenants to remove their personal vehicles from the subterranean parking garage.
  • Monitored perimeter surveillance as well as live television broadcasts.
  • Brought in an evening security platoon prior to the shutdown of public transportation systems.
  • Advised personnel to be prepared for an extended stay.
  • Reviewed the Emergency Action Plan.
  • Double-checked the security cache of radios, flashlights and backup batteries.
  • Instructed critical operation staff personnel to don high-visibility clothing that identified them as “security, engineers, or life safety personnel.”
  • Made sure that engineers checked and tested critical building emergency utility systems, days prior to impact.

During Sandy

  • Equipped building personnel on duty with walkie–talkies.
  • Maintained perimeter surveillance from the elevated plaza level.
  • Continued to monitor local TV news and weather.
  • Upon notification that the sandbag “levee” had been breached by the incoming tidal surge, instituted the Emergency Action Plan.
  • Gave evacuation orders over the public address system for all areas below the lobby level.
  • When water started entering the loading dock and other areas of the building from the street level, parked elevators on upper floors.
  • As the three sub – surface levels of the building continued to flood, one final check was conducted.
  • When emergency power and lighting was lost throughout the building and downtown area, made sure all personnel were accounted for.
  • Ordered everyone in the building to assemble at a refuge point.
  • Continued to monitor the rising flood waters.
  • After the tidal surge appeared to have peaked, personnel “hunkered down” for the night.
  • The engineers on duty threw all the breakers connecting the service from the sub-cellar to the upper floors, which proved to be a vital maneuver contributing to the rapid recovery of power to the upper floors.

Post-Sandy Actions

  • By daybreak, the tidal surge had receded. The streets were dry but the damage was done. All three sub-levels of the building were under water.
  • The building was officially closed to all tenants.
  • All civilians remaining in the building were evacuated to allow for a damage assessment and to address safety concerns.
  • Perimeter patrols were resumed to ward off inquisitive sightseers and maintain the integrity of the building. Manual sign-in was mandatory and enforced.
  • The building Life Fire Safety system was non-functioning. So a fire guard patrol was established for all 50 floors.
  • Everyone was required to have a flashlight and walkie-talkie at all times.
  • Personal cellphones were the sole means of contact with the outside world.
  • Emergency generators were brought in to supply limited power to critical areas of the building.
  • Security Supervisors contacted all off-duty personnel to inquire about their personal wellbeing and potential availability to relieve peers. (The personnel onsite from the evening of the storm remained on-site for four days before relief was available from off-duty personnel).
  • Food vendors in the area of the city with power delivered three hot meals, per person, each day.
  • Security measures were addressed as the first sub-level street entrances were compromised and exposed by the receding water.
  • New security posts were established to maintain a secure environment.
  • The building remained closed to tenants for one business week, which is when sufficient emergency generators were in place to light stairways and restore the Life Fire Safety system.
  • On week two, the building was partially opened only to Critical Information Personnel for certain high-profile tenants’ data centers.
  • Security teams supplied supplemental officers to assist the newly established posts deemed necessary to protect tenants’ assets during their absence.

Lessons Learned

Chris had this to say about his experience: “No matter how much you prepare, you will likely never be ‘totally prepared’ for an event of historical magnitude. A storm the likes of Hurricane Sandy strikes only about once every 100 years. So the road to recovery is much longer than the avenue of destruction. Patience is indeed a virtue.”

Here are a few of the other lessons Chris says he learned:

  • A three-foot levee of sandbags does not standup to a 12- foot storm surge.
  • You probably will not have sufficient resources to handle a large-scale emergency and safely equip all personnel.
  • An easily assessable cache of equipment and resources must be maintained off-site, like radios, food, water, extra uniforms, toiletries, flashlights, etc.
  • Certain critical building resources should be relocated to upper floors, where feasible.
  • A team of supervisors trained and experienced in handling emergency situations begets a staff of efficient, disciplined and task-oriented personnel.
  • Personnel including supervisors must be able to accept and adapt to modified working conditions and hours.
  • Supervisors must be able to execute and display confidence in new and revised policies.
  • It will take some time to get back to “business as usual.”

FEMA has prepared a free, comprehensive 12-page PDF booklet that goes into great detail about flood preparation and recovery. We hope the FEMA resources and this blog post will motivate you to do whatever it takes to #BeSafe in floods as well as every other type of emergency…particularly if you live or work in a high-rise building! A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about our system, or to subscribe, click here.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Health & Welfare, Hurricanes

Hurricane Sandy Recap as FEMA & SBA Help Recovery

A significant number of RJW Training System subscribers are located on the east coast. Our hearts go out to each of them. If you would like to donate to relief efforts, consider giving through a reputable charitable organization such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, the United Way, World Vision or Operation USA. We are currently devoting RJWestmore blog space to lessons we have learned about disaster preparedness and recovery from Superstorm Sandy. This week will be our final blog post in our Hurricane Sandy series, focusing on statistics provided through FEMA about recovery efforts, to date, as well as ideas to help business owners recover following a disaster.

(We excluded my usual “firedogisms” in this post, out of respect for those who are still suffering from this storm’s devastating effects.)

According to a press release distributed by FEMA, the totals so far relative to how the federal government is responding and assisting post-Hurricane Sandy recovery operations in New York City is $449M, given to date for individual assistance (IA). Still early in the game, this figure does not include other hard hit states in the surrounding area. Experts predict that IA for Sandy will total well over $1B. When it comes to Public Assistance (PA), the total will require billions and billions of additional funding.

These are the FEMA figures regarding disaster recovery effort to date:

  • More than 204,000 New Yorkers have contacted FEMA for information or registered for assistance with FEMA. More than $449 million has been approved.
  • 31 Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) are open in affected areas. These include mobile sites as well as fixed sites. And, to date more than 27,000 survivors have been assisted at DRCs in New York.
  • 1,249 inspectors in the field have completed 71,992 home inspections.
  • 1,085 Community Relations (CR) specialists are strategically positioned throughout affected communities, going door to door to explain the types of disaster assistance available and providing registration instructions.
  • 20 Points of Distribution (PODs) are open and providing supplies to affected residents.
  • 9 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs), 1 Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) and 1 National Veterinary Response Team (NVRT) from the Department of Health and Human Services are deployed in New York.
  • There are 13 New York counties designated for individual and public assistance, including: Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester.
  • U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) staff members at 15 Business Recovery Centers in the New York area are providing one-on-one help to business owners seeking disaster assistance. $1.9 million has been approved thus far in disaster loans.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is employing 220 long-haul trucks, three tugs and 19 barges to transfer material from temporary storage sites in Staten Island and Queens to the Seneca Meadows landfill in Waterloo, N.Y.
  • Individuals can register online at www.disasterassistance.govor via smart phone at m.fema.gov.  Applicants may also call 1-800-621-3362 or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585. Those who use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services (VRS) should call 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice.

Thousands of business owners, homeowners, and tenants along the East Coast are returning to find physical damage to their buildings and property post-Hurricane Sandy. Even those whose buildings were not directly involved are dealing with the economic blow caused by power outages, damaged inventory, and lost profits from forced closure.

Whether you own a small business in the area affected by Superstorm Sandy, or your company is located well away from the east coast, you may be interested in the tips and suggestions provided by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for recovery from a natural or manmade disaster. Avail yourself to the myriad of resources now, before disaster strikes, so you will be prepared to react and recover quickly if an emergency strikes you and/or your business:

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Floods, Hurricanes

Help Arrives for Some Victims of Hurricane Sandy

A significant number of RJW Training System subscribers are located on the east coast. Our hearts go out to each of them. If you would like to donate to relief efforts, consider giving through a reputable charitable organization such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, the United Way, World Vision or Operation USA. We are currently devoting RJWestmore blog space to lessons we have learned about disaster preparedness and recovery from Superstorm Sandy. This week, we will focus on whether disaster victims should rely on disaster recovery efforts provided by charitable and government organizations.

(We excluded my usual “firedogisms” in this post, out of respect for those who are still suffering from this storm’s devastating effects.)

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the situation was grim. Millions of people were without power, gas was in short supply and desperate east coast residents dug through dumpsters to find food. Time Magazine estimates the amount of damage caused by the Superstorm will exceed $60 billion. Citing data compiled by a forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, Time projects the sobering figure that Superstorm Sandy will end up causing $20 billion in property damage and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business.

Two weeks after the Superstorm slammed the east coast, claiming 43 lives; millions of struggling survivors have criticized organizations including FEMA and the American Red Cross for a perceived slow response.

“I think that we are near flawless so far in this operation,” said Gail McGovern, chief executive officer and president of the Red Cross.

Although the Red Cross continues to list available resource offerings on its website, many victims are still without power and, so, are unable to check the nonprofit group’s updates. The Huffington Post reports that many experts point to the sheer nature of the storm’s damage, which they say precludes relief organizations from offering up a perfect response.

“This is going to be, I think, more challenging than (Hurricane) Katrina in the sense of the large geographical areas that were impacted,” said Ky Luu, head of the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy at Tulane University. “From a logistical perspective, it’s going to be very complex and difficult to manage.”

Nevertheless, recovery is underway:

  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announcing an end to odd-even gas rationing.
  • The head of NJ Transit said a severely damaged rail line could be restored sooner than expected.
  • State officials announced they are readying a shuttered military base to temporarily house residents displaced by the mega-storm.
  • Newark Mayor Cory Booker recently announced the opening of a disaster recovery center in Newark, saying, “The station will help residents dig out from the tremendous damage suffered by the state’s largest city when Hurricane Sandy hit last month.”
  • The Newark Community Center will be run by city officials and representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and will remain open 12 hours a day for at least a month. Mayor Booker urged residents who suffered significant damage to their homes or businesses to come to the center to register for federal aid.
  • FEMA has been directing federal resources to support state, local and tribal communities in affected areas before, during and after the crisis.

However, an editorial in the New York Times recently called attention to what has yet to be done: “For all the efforts of federal, state and local officials to help people after Hurricane Sandy, unacceptable pockets of suffering remain. Ten days after the hurricane struck, thousands of people in New York City’s public housing are still without heat, water, electricity or food. Many people needed assistance after the storm, but the most vulnerable of the city’s inhabitants seem to be among the last in line to get it.”

Since it’s safe to say people are rallying and federal and charitable organizations are working hard to address the myriad needs relative to the storm, it makes sense to consider this:

Is it fair for victims to rely on charitable and government organizations to bail them out after a natural or manmade disaster? Are large groups expected to quickly and efficiently meet each and every need immediately even when so large a geographical location and so many are affected?

We pose the question not as a debate about national politics but to remind folks that prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. So, whether or not you agree with the way FEMA and the American Red Cross and other organizations have administered aid post-Sandy, we would like to offer this suggestion, which stems from our motto to BE SAFE. It always pays to be prepared.

Assemble an emergency kit before disaster strikes to tide you over until help arrives. That way, you will be able to help yourself and others when a natural or manmade emergency strikes. In fact, the life you save might be your own! For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Health & Welfare, High-Rise Buildings

Hurricane Sandy Expected to Pack a Wallop

This week, a powerful mix of wacky weather is expected to hit the East Coast. A major Hurricane (Sandy) combined with Gale force winds, heavy rainfall, flash floods, snow, lightning and thunder will combine to create what the Associated Press is calling Frankenstorm. Experts predict the storm will be a long-lasting event, with two to three days of impact for a lot of people, including wind damage, widespread power outages, heavy rainfall and inland flooding. Scary stuff!

According to meteorologists, Hurricane Sandy is “looking like a very serious storm that could be historic,” said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground., “Mother Nature is not saying, ‘Trick or treat.’ It’s just going to give tricks.” While we’re on the topic, I like dog biscuits in my trick or treat bag.

NOAA officials say the brunt of the weather mayhem will be concentrated where the hurricane comes ashore. Nevertheless, there will reportedly be hundreds of miles of steady, strong and damaging winds and rain for the entire Eastern region for several days. Officials across the region are taking steps to prepare for the devastation they believe will cost over a billion dollars:

  • New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city is striking “a tone of calm preparedness.” Sounds like an oxymoron.
  • The National Guard has been summoned.
  • Utility companies are lining up out-of-state work crews and canceling employees’ days off to deal with anticipated power outages. I’m sure the employees are happy about that.
  • Atlantic City casinos have made contingency plans in case they have to close, as they did for three days last year when Tropical Storm Irene approached. (Meteorologists agree Hurricane Sandy will be more severe than Irene.)
  • New York City has opened an emergency situation room and activated a coastal storm plan.
  • Virginia has declared a state of emergency.
  • From the Carolinas to Maine, municipal authorities kept a close watch on forecasts tracking the shifting path of the impending storm.

People react to weather warnings with varying degrees of alarm. Some batten down the hatches and rush to the store to stock up on necessities, while others take the news in stride and brace for whatever Mother Nature has in store. In fact, last year, Hurricane Irene inflicted major damage from North Carolina to New England, though largely spared New York, where Manhattan restaurants and bars hosted hurricane specials and parties.

Some battle-weary residents have allowed the repetition of weather warnings to thicken their skin, sometimes to their peril. For my part, I take care of our doghouse at the first sign of a storm. But it’s imperative that, no matter how often you hear disaster alerts in your region, take steps to adequately prepare:

  • Prescriptions (Don’t forget about pet meds!)
  • nonperishable food items
  • bottled water (one gallon per person per day, for at least three days)
  • Double check the location of your flashlights
  • Extra batteries
  • Cash (assuming you can get a hold of some of it legally)
  • Sandbags
  • Hand-crank or battery-operated radio so you can stay informed (and listen to music to calm the savage soul.)
  • Reach out to neighbors to find out if anyone will be in need of extra assistance.
  • Make sure you have adequate insurance.
  • Non-perishable food that will last at least three days, per person
  • Check supplies in your first-aid kit
  • Add a whistle to your supplies, so you will be able to signal for help. But don’t use it unless you have to. Your pets will thank you.
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows, doors and air vents and protect you from debris and contaminants in the air.
  • Moist towelettes.
  • Garbage bags and plastic ties
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • A manual can opener (important for opening cans of dog food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers or solar chargers
  • Prescription medicines to last at least a week and eyeglasses (if needed).
  • If you have children, make sure to include entertainment items to keep them occupied, like games, cards, crayons and coloring books.
  • Pet food, if necessary (And if it isn’t necessary, maybe you should get a pet!)

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system. To learn more about smoking and fire safety, visit the Smoking & Home Fires Campaign page.