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NEW YORK CITY-The lights have been back on for about a week and now is the time for real estate firms and property managers to shore up contingency plans in the case of future emergencies—including blackouts.

Immediately following the blackout on Aug. 14, CB Richard Ellis conducted a survey to get “quick down and dirty” responses from the tenants in the buildings the firm manages. “We got positives and negatives with the intention of putting in any immediate patches we needed to in case there were any more blackouts,” says Gregg Popkin, head of asset services for CBRE.

The firm also conducted a long-term survey, or an analysis on its preparedness, he says. “We looked at anything systematic and we will develop case studies to learn from,” Popkin adds.

Most of the negative responses to its buildings’ preparedness had to do with operational aspects. There were concerns that the batteries in the emergency lighting did not last long enough, the phone systems were not working and contractors did not respond quickly enough, he explains. For example, Popkin points out that there were some delivery issues with fuel—which was needed to power generators in the those buildings that had them.

“These are long-term in nature but we will need to address them as soon as possible,” Popkin says. One issue will be to try to convince building owners without emergency generators to invest in one, he adds.

In addition, Popkin says CBRE will implement redundant communications so it will have multiple lines of communications available. “Communication is key,” he says. One avenue of communication that needs to be addressed is with utility and emergency service providers so “we can get everything we need when we need it.” He adds that this may be addressed at the company level or on an industry-wide level.

However, not all responses to the survey were negative. Respondents pointed to the expediency in communicating information and the courtesy they received during and after the evacuation as positive aspects of CBRE’s emergency response, Popkin adds.

At least one firm learned that no matter how well you plan, you cannot be prepared for every single situation. “I think one of the things we tended to well—and wasn’t a situation two years ago with Sept. 11—was there were a lot of people who decided to take refuge in the buildings rather than go home,” says Hank Celestino, executive managing director of Newmark & Co. “That was not something we anticipated.”

That decision led to some other issues with regard to monitoring the whereabouts of the people who chose to stay, he adds. “I think they anticipated that the power would come back on sooner than it did in some areas,” Celestino says. And as time went on with no power, people began to leave the buildings. “We were maintaining a sequence of runners going up in the buildings every once in a while looking for people who wanted to leave and escorting them down the stairs,” he explains.

The largest power outage in the nation’s history also shed light on another problem that was never anticipated—emergency lighting in several of the buildings were connected to a direct Con Edison feed. As a result of the widespread of blackout, those lights did not work either, Celestino explains. “Many years ago the emergency lighting was done through a direct Con ed feed,” he says. “If something happened in the building the building’s power went out at least there was a separate feed for the emergency lighting. However, the consequence of this outage was that there was no power anywhere.”

Newmark is now installing batter back-ups to all the emergency lighting, he adds.

But overall, Celestino thinks everyone responded to the situation appropriately. “I think that in regard to the response to specific building issues related to losing power everyone was pretty well versed,” he says.

This sentiment was echoed by frank Freda, senior managing director at Cushman & Wakefield. “In most of the buildings that we manage the emergency procedures that we put in place after Sept. 11 worked very well,” he says. “There will always be some tweaking but for the most part it went very smoothly. Everyone was evacuated and people were taken out of elevators. It went very well and I am pleased with all our people.”

He adds that seven people were trapped in elevators at the time of the blackout and the last one was taken out 20 minutes after the 4:11 p.m. outage–and the time may have played a factor in the lower number. “The time of day helped out. Not many people were in the elevators at 4 p.m. and the market was already closed,” Freda points out. “If it had been an hour later there would have been more people in elevators.”

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