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PEP Feb 2004
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Public Employee Press

Many city buildings still lack emergency evacuation plans

   
 

HEALTH DEPT. site could be downright unhealthy in a disaster. It has no Emergency Action Plan.

 

By JANE LaTOUR

In August 2003, the blackout pitched the Northeast into darkness and a light bulb came on for some city agencies.

At the headquarters of the Dept. of Environmental Protection in Corona, Queens, the blackout brought out dangerous deficiencies in the building’s emergency procedures. Exit doors were locked, the emergency lighting had no backup, and the generator failed.

These hazards violate the New York State Public Employee Safety and Health Law, which requires Emergency Action Plans (EAP) for state and city worksites. The union pressed for action on the problems at DEP in meetings with the Citywide Office of Safety and Health.

Guille Mejia, principal program coordinator for DC 37’s Safety and Health Department, explained: “Even though the DEP doesn’t own the building, they have a legal responsibility to their employees. The agency’s facilities people met with the landlord, and together they have now addressed 98 percent of our concerns.”

“Our members should know that their agencies are required to have emergency action plans in place,” said DC 37 Safety and Health Dept. Director Lee Clarke. “The majority do not.”

Russell Johnson, a Safety Coordinator in the union department, works with six city mayoral agencies. “Most of them have not yet developed a plan tailored to their work environment,” he said. “The agencies need to be more decisive in preparing for an emergency situation.”

The issue has been on the table at COSH meetings since 9/11. “It took a while for them to believe that this was actually a requirement of the law,” explained Ms. Mejia.

The Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services finally responded and focused on One Centre Street, the Manhattan Municipal Building, as a model. The deficiencies in that huge building’s EAP, which were identified by the union in July, got action in September, after the blackout.

“The blackout provided a unique opportunity to re-evaluate our safety and security systems in order to better prepare ourselves in the event of a future emergency,” said Lewis Finkelman, general counsel for DCAS.

The EAP developed for the Muni Building is now serving as the generic plan for other city buildings. So far, DCAS has produced three plans for review by the union. Three more plans are in the final stage of completion.

The goal is to develop EAPs for the dozen-plus buildings owned by DCAS and occupied by numerous city agencies. This should take about a year.

Phase Two is to develop EAPs for DCAS-leased buildings — a much bigger job since there are more than 50 buildings in this category. DCAS has not promised any finite completion date for Phase Two.


 
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