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 buildings
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 37s Safety and
Health Department, explained: Even though the DEP doesnt own
the building, they have a legal responsibility to their employees. The
agencys 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 buildings 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
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.