Approximately 80% of all New York City residents live in multifamily housing, according to the city’s 2018 Housing Supply Report. We are a city of cave dwellers. The high percentage of apartment residents distinguishes New York City from the rest of the country in many respects, not the least of which is emergency preparedness, notes the National Multifamily Housing Council. Emergency preparedness in NYC involves preparing both the building structure and the residents for storms, fires, floods, power outages and other emergency events.
For residents of apartment buildings, there are certain basic precautions. First, locate the nearest NYC emergency shelter in the event that you need to evacuate. This is particularly important if you reside in a FEMA Evacuation Zone. Shelter locations are published at nyc.gov. Second, assemble an emergency kit including: water (one gallon per person for three days), food (three-day supply of non-perishables), a battery-powered or hand crank radio, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio with tone alert, flashlights, extra batteries, prescription medications, a first aid kit, a whistle, dust masks, plastic sheeting and duct tape for sheltering in place, personal sanitation items including moist towelettes, garbage bags with plastic ties, a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, manual can opener for food, cash or travelers checks, and cell phone with chargers.
Third, know your apartment features, including how to turn off the gas or power, particularly if you reside on the 11th floor or higher, where the winds become more powerful — the Tokyo Fire Department reported that after the March 11, 2011 earthquake, electric appliances toppled over, creating fire hazards. Also know the location of your personal fire extinguishers, with one located away from the kitchen and the location of the emergency stairwells. On high-floor units, bolt heavy furniture to the walls in the event of heavy winds, and have a natural gas alarm to warn of gas leaks.
Building owners and managers must prepare the building, and be aware of life safety issues for residents, particularly handicapped, elderly and very young residents.
First, prepare a relocation plan for tenants that includes assisting the disabled, the elderly and young children to reach safety. Second, provide appropriate signage as required by law, circumstances or both. Third, maintain contact information for residents and their families. Fourth, prepare a plan for maintaining essential services, including domestic water (hot and cold), sanitation, electricity and heat (when daytime temperatures are at or below 55° F or nighttime temperatures are at or below 45° F). Fifth, prepare a security plan that includes maintaining emergency lighting. Sixth, register with Housing Preservation and Development to obtain emergency updates.
Property owners and managers should also ensure that all fire safety inspections and notices are provided to residents and staff. Additionally, fire escapes should be clearly marked at all times. Finally, the concierge or onsite manager should have a list of residents needing assistance in evacuating.
As part of an overall building resiliency plan, you should plan access to a generator and mobile steam. Most high-rise buildings depend on electricity to provide domestic water, so even if elevator service is limited, you must maintain domestic water. Mobile steam will provide heat and hot water as required. Finally, building owners and managers should have a contingent repair plan in place to restore any essential services in the event of damage to building systems.
This column presents a general discussion. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should consult your attorney for specific legal advice.