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NEW YORK CITY-In the wake of Sept. 11, city officials and the Fire Department of New York moved to pass laws that would aid office tenants to escape their building in case of fire or other emergency. Local Law 26, passed in 2004, outlined specific criteria that office buildings must follow. The two most prevalent requirements are: having an Emergency Action Plan, or EAP, in place and installing photoluminescent signs in hallways, staircases and public spaces.

An EAP is intended to outline what exactly should be done in non-fire related emergencies, such as a terror attack, chemical attack or biological attack, according to Evan Lipstein, president and founder of Hyline Safety Co. In addition to having this action plan, buildings must now have an emergency action plan director who takes control of the situation and an up-to-date floor layout to ease firefighters rescue efforts.

Deadlines for office buildings in New York to have a completed EAP submitted to the Fire Department have varied based on the size. Landmark buildings and those over 40 stories were to have an EAP in place by Aug. 31. The second deadline, Oct. 31, applies to buildings with 25 to 40 floors and the final deadline for all buildings with less than 25 floors is Dec. 31, according to Peter Boritz, president and principal of Real Data Management. While difficult to estimate the number of buildings in compliance with the Oct. 31 deadline, Boritz says some of his current clients include owners of these 40-story or higher buildings.

Kevin McCann, managing director at Cushman & Wakefield, says despite some timing issues, the real estate community has embraced this initiative fully, seeing the benefit it will have for the safety of the buildings occupants. “At the end of the day the buildings will be a notch safer than they were a year ago,” McCann says.

The installation of photoluminescent, or glow-in-the-dark, signs was to be completed in all New York City office buildings by July 1, Lipstein says. The signs are meant to guide office occupants through dark or smoke filled stairwells and hallways to safety. While they do not illuminate the steps, they act as a reference point that will streamline the exiting of many people.

Despite the mandate and the possibility of increasing fines for owners not in compliance, Lipstein says only 50% of the 18,000 commercial high rises have installed the signs. Lipstein, whose company has installed such signs in 170 buildings in New York, says building owners are waiting to be formally reprimanded. “A lot are just waiting to get cited by the Department of Buildings or the Fire Department before they act. They fail to recognize it is not about being cited; it’s about now you have disobeyed a local law ordinance and if something goes wrong you could be held as critically negligent.”

While Local Law 26 only applies to office buildings, there is talk of a possible mandate that could have similar requirements for residential buildings. Boritz and Lipstein said discussion of this topic has increased after last week’s small plane crash into a residential apartment building in New York’s Upper East Side.

New York is the only city to have required an Emergency Action Plan for all office buildings. Boritz believes other cities will soon follow suit. “It is a great initiative; and if it assists in one rescue than it is defiantly worth it,” he says.

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