BOMA New York - Panic Room II

Shelter-in-Place involves more than duct tape and plastic sheets

Disaster response and recovery have long been among the chief concerns of the New York affiliate of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), whose members oversee three million tenants and 400 million square feet of office property. A hot topic in New York right now, according to Roberta McGowan, BOMA NY’s executive director, is Local Law 26, which will cover emergency action plans and is likely to result in mandated evacuation and shelter-in-place drills.

“Shelter-in-place (SIP) seems to be understood differently by many folks in terms of what you need, how to handle the emotional aspects, etc.,” McGowan said. “Our seminar committee decided we should offer some training in the area of SIP, so we approached Attainium Corp. to develop a program for us.” McGowan said that Attainium’s simulation, presented in April 2005, was “well thought out, well done, and extremely positive. It raised significant issues and gave participants a lot to think about.”

“We developed the program to give participants an understanding of the many issues involved in shelter-in-place situations,” said Bob Mellinger, president and CEO of Virginia-based Attainium Corp. “There are, for example, legal issues to consider with regard to holding people against their will… and what to do when someone says ‘I’m outta here.’ The challenge is to get participants thinking outside the box and recognizing potential problems and solutions in their own organizations.”

Participant Roy Crowe, from the regional General Services Administration office in New York, said that GSA is implementing an SIP policy for the buildings in his region. “We do our own exercises and are always looking for new methods and input. We thought this session could help us identify issues we hadn’t thought of, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I sort of expected duct tape and plastic sheets, but it’s all about people… the need to focus on them, how to handle them.” Crowe liked the format of the training, in which participants assume roles different from their own and get different perspectives. “It was very effective,” he said.

The BOMA NY participants worked in groups of about eight, and each group worked on the various incidents as they unfolded, taking on the roles of the executive management personnel that might be involved in any such crisis. The challenge to everyone is to be able to plan while still being flexible enough to react to unforeseen elements.

Larry McLaughlin found the session “much more exciting and relevant than I thought it would be.” McLaughlin, who is the chief engineer for the Paramount Hotel, said that a “great benefit of the training was getting to share experiences of people who have handled similar situations under various circumstances. There was an amazing amount of information developed right at our table.

“The simulation virtually puts you there and makes you think about things you might not otherwise consider,” McLaughlin said. “It was absolutely more valuable than listening to someone talk for two or three hours. You actually felt like you were involved in a disaster on some level; there was a sense of reality that drove home the point.”

Evan Salzman, BCP Coordinator for The Rockefeller Group, said that he went to the session to see how the exercise was conducted and how property managers and engineers acted in an emergency. “It was a good overview of what goes on behind the scenes,” he said, “and it helped with the disaster exercise that we did a week later. What really became clear was how important communication is, and how critical it is to let people know what the procedures are.”

“The most valuable thing I took away from the session,” McLaughlin said, “was that you really need a fast, dependable information source in a situation like this. Communication is most important; the heart of Local Law 26 is an information distribution system to get specific detailed information to building managers. Timing and communication are the keys to protection.”

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