The New York City Mandate

No matter where you work, you need a plan for handling emergencies. NYC's Local Law 26 can guide you.

It was around 1609 that Henry Hudson mapped an area near the Atlantic Ocean and along the river that later bore his name on the eastern coast of the United States. It was incorporated as the City of New Amsterdam on Feb. 2, 1653. Once the British captured the city in 1664, they renamed it New York after the Duke of York and Albany, and the name stuck. New York is the most densely populated city in North America — 25,200 people per square mile. It is the financial capital of the United States, a symbol of America, which is why on Feb. 26, 1993, a truck full of explosives was detonated in the basement garage of the World Trade Center. That explosion killed six and injured 1,000 people.

Fast forward to Sept. 11, 2001, when two fully fueled trans-continental jet aircraft rammed the two towers, with a third plane hitting the Pentagon and a fourth jet crashing in a field in Somerset County, Pa., its target unknown. Before the attack, New York City required high-rise buildings to have:

  • Fire protection plans
  • Fire safety director to direct operations
  • Limited evacuations for small fires, fire floor and floor above
  • Evacuation wardens and searchers to help to ensure all people in the building were notified and evacuated as necessary.
After the attack, Congress passed a law (P.L. 107-306) that created a commission to determine the cause of the events of 9/11 and make recommendations to prevent its recurrence. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States held hearings, reviewed documents, and made recommendations.

Here's what happened to one company.

During the 1993 incident, it took one large banking company, Morgan Stanley, more than two hours to get all of its employees from the top of the tower, down the stairs, and out of the building as they followed their fire safety plan. That was unacceptable to Rick Rescorla, vice president for Security. He revised the evacuation plan. When the planes hit the building on 9/11, the employees followed the new plan and evacuated in about 45 minutes. Thirteen of the company's employees died in that tragedy, including Rescorla as he was helping others to evacuate. Because of all of this, the city knows that many companies in high-rise building offices are not fully prepared to handle any type of severe incident.

For those of us in the industrial sector, emergency planning is nothing new. Per 29 CFR 1910.38 and 1910.39, industrial facilities have had emergency plans and fire prevention plans in place for a long while — but how many non-industrial companies read the Code of Federal Regulations to know that?

Local Law 26

In 2004, New York City's Council passed Local Law 26 of 2004 (LL26), which added to the requirements of the fire safety plan by requiring an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). This new law became effective as of April 6, 2006, and required many things. Some had to be done retrospectively for all existing buildings; others were prospective, applying to all new buildings going up or being modified. The law became effective for all office buildings six stories or higher, 75 feet or taller, or occupied by more than 500 people.

The retrospective requirements:

  • Fully sprinklered buildings by 2019
  • All doors leading to exits and all exit stairs had to have photoluminescent markings by July 2006.
  • By July 2007, building owners had to add additional signs to indicate egress path directions if they were not clearly indicated by travel routes.
  • Also by July 2007, all exit signs required a backup power source (battery or generator).
They also put in prospective requirements that are now current for all newly designed buildings. Included in this section is the requirement to have an emergency action plan, as well as:
  • Floor drains in elevator shafts and vestibules
  • Fuel oil piping above the lowest floor
  • Impact-resistant stair and elevator enclosures
  • Inspection of existing fireproofing and fire dampers
  • Emergency Action Plan for evacuation
This is not the complete list. You can get additional details at  (look for 3 RCNY §6-02).

The law required specific details and the specific layout of each plan to make it easier for fire department personnel to review the thousands of plans that were submitted.

The types of disasters included:

  • Explosion: inside or outside of the building
  • Chemical disaster: fuel or gasoline leak, for example, or any other type of chemical
  • Biological disaster: anthrax or "white powder" incident, smallpox, flu
  • Nuclear or radiological disaster: dirty bomb
  • Natural disaster: flood, hurricane, or blizzard
  • Any other type of disaster, such as a power failure, defective elevator
For each of the above, a building's EAP had to detail how that building would handle shelter-in-place, in-building relocation, partial evacuation, and full evacuation.

Plan Development Process

I worked on developing five plans for buildings that ranged from 30 to 45 stories and included 1,400 to 4,500 people. To get started, a template of topics and section headings was developed that matched the requirements of the law. Building-specific details were then added to complete the plan.

This sounds simple, but that was only part of the project. With some of my co-workers, we canvassed each building, office by office, talking to the person in charge. We wanted to find out several things:

  • How many people worked in each office?
  • How much space did each office have, in the event they had to shelter in place?
  • Did the company have any emergency plans in place? If workers had to evacuate, where would they go? We had to indicate this in the plan and also a general area for those who did not have evacuation plans. (A fast-food restaurant two blocks away is open all night and can handle several hundred people.)
  • Did they have employees with special needs? Working along with us was a drafting company that was making detailed floor plans showing shelter-in-place locations, evacuation routes, warden phones, and other building features.

As we continued our interviews through the buildings, we provided the various companies with a flyer that told them about the law and what the plan would cover. It also told them mandatory evacuation drills would be required of all occupants. (Many of these tenants were financial and brokerage companies who had to be up and running during normal business hours when the stock market was functioning. They were not happy with that requirement.) We also reviewed building documents as to elevator coverage, where mechanical rooms were located, how the building's HVAC system operated, and whether it could handle a chemical release as well as a smoke condition.

One of the important pieces of information was the number and location of special-needs employees — employees who would need help during evacuation. In these cases, the employer had to assign two helpers for each employee, and we needed to include how the employee would be evacuated.

All plans were submitted and eventually approved by the fire department. Because this law was being enforced while plans were being submitted, the regulations being used to ensure compliance were changing. Several rewrites were necessary to ensure compliance with the regulatory changes.

Get Started

What does this mean to you? Whether you work in a high-rise office building, a chemical plant, or a manufacturing company, you need a plan for handling emergencies. OSHA does not say it must be written if you have fewer than 10 employees, but what are you going to tell your employees? It is better when written down.

What do you have on your shelf? Many of you already have some type of emergency plan, fire prevention plan, or contingency plan (such as for large-quantity hazardous waste generators). Follow the minimum requirements that are listed in the regulations (or your jurisdiction's requirements) and personalize the plan to fit your situation.

  • 29 CFR 1910.38 — Emergency Action Plan
  • 29 CFR 1910.39 — Fire Prevention Plan
  • 40 CFR 264.50 — Contingency Plan and Emergency Procedures
When you develop your plan, keep your emergency priorities in mind. Those priorities are, in order, life safety, incident stabilization, and protection of property (FEMA, Incident Command System, IS-100).

What types of hazards can affect your operations? Make a list. Of those hazards, which ones can cause the most damage, and which ones occur more frequently? Prioritize that list. If you get hit with a hurricane, you might lose a roof — but hurricanes may occur once every 10 years in your area of the country, while you have power outages at least once a week every summer. What is the difference in financial losses associated with them?

Your plan should be user friendly. There is nothing as frustrating as having to flip pages trying to find information you know is in there, but it doesn't stick out.

  • Use separate sections for each procedure or emergency situation.
  • Use checklists to simplify tasks and notifications.
  • Use titles in procedures, not names.
  • Put names in an appendix at the end. When a name changes, this simplifies corrections.
  • Have a prioritized hazard list to work on so you work on developing plans for the most important hazard first. (It will be the one that hits while the plan is still in draft stages.)
  • Develop specific plans and procedures for your operations.
  • Publish to other managers and lead employees, asking for their comments.
  • Revise the plan.
  • Practice, train, drill, or run an exercise.
  • Revise the plan after use.
  • Keep it current!
Practice using the plan. Train employees in performing the procedures in the plan. Run a tabletop drill or a full-scale exercise. Revise as necessary and keep it current. NYC regulations require at least an annual update, but changes occurred more frequently as tenants and staff changed.

This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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