View Full Version : Proposed Legislation to Improve Building Safety

September 23rd, 2003, 07:45 PM
PR- 266-03
September 23, 2003


Proposed Legislation Based Upon World Trade Center Building Code Task Force Recommendations on Improving Building Safety

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Department of Buildings (DOB) Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster, AIA, today proposed legislation to implement recommendations published by the World Trade Center Building Code Task Force. The task force of experts from government, the real estate community, and the design and construction professions released its recommendations in February 2003. It also received input from academia, special needs communities, and 9/11 victims’ families and survivors. The Task Force made 21 recommendations to enhance and implement standards for public safety that affect occupant safety during emergency events and to implement these standards. The proposal presented today will implement 13 recommendations that require legislative action and will be introduced to the City Council on September 30th. The remaining eight recommendations are being implemented by rule change or still under technical review.

“This legislation represents our commitment to make certain that New York City is a safe place to live, work, and build,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Although our building code is among the most stringent in the nation, these proposals will help to ensure that buildings and their safety systems more effectively avoid or respond to unknown risks without compromising the economic vitality of the City.”

“This proposal is a major step toward ensuring that the tragedy of September 11th leads to positive changes and enhancing the safety of our buildings without compromising the economic viability of major construction,” said Commissioner Lancaster. “We have all worked hard to make sure that the work of the Task Force recommendations become a reality and make a difference in the lives of New Yorkers.”

“These recommendations not only will better protect the public, but will make high-rise commercial buildings safer for firefighters who in the future will be called to respond to emergencies in these structures,” said Fire Commissioner Scoppetta.

“I want to thank the members of the task force for their speed and efficiency in addressing the pressing public safety issue,” said City Council Housing and Buildings Chair Madeline Provenzano. “Not only did the task force move quickly to codify these complex safety measures, but their inclusion of REBNY and other industry groups in the process in this tight time frame is impressive.”

The proposal addresses the majority of the Task Force’s recommendations, some of which are detailed as follows:

Full Sprinkler Protection for Office Buildings. Owners of all existing office buildings 100 feet or greater in height which are not already fully sprinklered will be required to fully sprinkler their buildings on or before January 1, 2019. Owners may apply for an extension of the sprinkler installation deadline in cases of hardship and partial waivers where installation would be impracticable due to structural conditions or interior Landmark designations.

Improved Markings, Exit Signage, and Back-up Power to Exit Signs. Exit stairs and doors in new or existing high-rise office buildings will be required to have glow-in-the-dark markings. New and existing high-rise (75 feet or greater) office buildings will be required to install additional signs where exit stairs have horizontal extensions, where stairwell re-entry doors are recessed to assist egress. Existing high-rise office buildings with grandfathered exit signs will be required to provide back-up power to those signs.

Restrict the Use of Open Web Steel Joists. The failure of open web steel joists under extreme heat and fire are prime suspects in the WTC collapse. (A possible related cause for the collapses was the failure of spray-on fireproofing to remain adhered to these joists.) This recommendation will prohibit the use of open web steel joists in all new, non-residential high-rise buildings until appropriate fireproofing standards are developed and promulgated by the Commissioner of the Department of Buildings.

Inspection of Sprayed-on Fireproofing. Spray-on fireproofing is only effective when it remains on the steel structure to which it was applied. This recommendation mandates that controlled inspections be performed to assess the integrity of spray-on fireproofing during building alterations where such fireproofing is exposed.

Impact-Resistant Stair and Elevator Enclosures. In many accounts of the WTC tragedy, the drywall encasing the stairwells in the impact area disintegrated, blocking egress for some. This recommendation would require the use of more impact-resistant stair and elevator enclosures in high-rise office buildings constructed or altered after January 1, 2006. The Commissioner of the Department of Buildings will promulgate appropriate standards by July 1, 2005.

Restricted Use of Scissor Stairs. “Scissor” stairs are two intertwining sets of staircases separated by a common wall and floors. While this allows for more square footage in a building, it concentrates the number of exit stairs in one area of the building – which may prevent occupants from escaping during an emergency (for instance, if a fire is blocking the only stairway entrance on a floor.) Under this recommendation, scissor stair assemblies will be prohibited in new high-rise office buildings with relatively large floor plates (over 10,000 square feet).

Other Task Force’s recommendations include:

Full Building Evacuation Planning. High-rise office buildings will be required to have plans for full building evacuation for events other than fires.

Smoke Stop Elevator Vestibules. In new high-rise office buildings, elevators serving four or more stories will be required to have smoke stop elevator vestibules, which will help to prevent smoke from spreading throughout a building during a fire.

Controlled Inspections of Fire Dampers. Currently, mechanical ductwork is required under the Building Code to have “dampers,” which close shut to prevent fires from spreading. A specific controlled inspection of these dampers will be required when new ventilation systems are installed.

Raising Air Intake Locations. Current code calls for air intakes for mechanical ventilation systems to be a minimum of six feet above ground level. That minimum would be increased to 20 feet above ground, and existing requirements that such air intakes be located away from exhaust discharges and off-street loading bays will be clarified.

Prohibition of Oversized Fuel Oil Transfer Piping. To help prevent unauthorized storage of fuel oil, oversized fuel oil transfer piping will be prohibited for all new installations and alterations.

Excluding Certain Floor Drains from Normal Fixture Counts. Water that is used to fight fires in high-rises may end up draining into elevator shafts, causing elevator equipment to malfunction. To allow that problem to be avoided, this recommendation will exclude floor drains in elevator shafts and vestibules from wastewater capacity calculations.

Setting Standards for Fuel Oil Transfer Piping. New minimum technical standards will be required for fuel oil transfer piping to generators where there is no storage tank above the lowest floor for all new installations and alterations.

The Administration will introduce the legislation to the New York City Council for consideration by the Housing and Buildings Committee. The task force report can be found on the Department’s website at www.nyc.gov . Legislation will be published upon introduction to the City Council.


Edward Skyler / Jordan Barowitz (212) 788-2958

Ilyse Fink / Sid Dinsay (212) 566-3473

TLOZ Link5
September 23rd, 2003, 09:09 PM
Nothing about refuge floors or fireman's lifts, I see.

September 24th, 2003, 12:46 AM
September 24, 2003

Learning From 9/11, Bloomberg Seeks High-Rise Safety Changes


Legislation that would enact most of the fire safety improvements for tall buildings recommended by a task force that studied the World Trade Center collapse was announced yesterday by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Under a bill being submitted to the City Council next week, existing office towers in New York would have to comply with some of the stricter codes already in place for new buildings, including a potentially expensive requirement that sprinkler systems be installed.

City officials estimated that 200 to 400 buildings, all more than 9 or 10 stories tall, would need to be retro-fitted with sprinklers.

Building owners would have 15 years to put the systems in place. They could apply for an extension in cases of financial hardship or waivers where structural limitations or historic-landmark status made them impractical. Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that economic concerns drove the decision to set a lengthy deadline for compliance.

"It sounds like a long time," the mayor said at a City Hall news conference. "But in a practical sense, by the time everything is engineered and given the economic expense, we think it is a reasonable compromise between our needs to get these buildings sprinklered and what landlords can afford."

Landlords would have much less time — generally 18 months — to comply with other proposals, which include adding more illuminated exit signs, providing backup power to existing signs and placing glow-in-the-dark markings in stairwells.

Most of the legislation affects construction of new commercial buildings and is a result of lessons learned from the trade center disaster. For instance, buildings will be required to have stronger steel joists, since investigators believe the "open web" joists used in the trade center design failed more quickly in the extreme heat caused by jet-fuel fires.

Also, stairwells must be made more resistant to impacts; collapsing drywall stairwell enclosures were blamed for blocking the exits for many people trapped in the twin towers.

Over all, the proposals are geared toward giving office workers more time to escape.

"We can make buildings safer by getting people out faster," said Barbara J. Lancaster, the city building commissioner.

The 13 proposals in the legislation are drawn from a report released in February by the Building Department's World Trade Center building code task force. The report contained 21 recommendations, two of which have already been enacted. Six more are still under technical review, Ms. Lancaster said.

The legislation will be taken up by the Council's Housing and Buildings Committee, whose chairwoman, Madeline Provenzano, joined the mayor in issuing a statement yesterday praising the task force's work.

The task force included a representative of the Real Estate Board of New York, which in the past lobbied against requiring sprinkler systems in existing buildings. This time, the board lined up behind the recommendation, despite lingering concerns that the 15-year window for compliance "may actually not be enough time," said Marilyn Davenport, the board's senior vice president.

"We support the legislation," Ms. Davenport said. "There will be a cost involved, but we think it's the right thing to do."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

December 14th, 2003, 07:28 AM
December 14, 2003

Trade Center Fireproofing Tests Suggest a Wider Safety Problem


A steel truss in a chamber for fire-testing in Gaithersburg, Md. The truss's zigzagging bars, like those that supported the floors in the World Trade Center twin towers, were coated with spray-on fireproofing.

Hundreds of buildings nationwide with fireproofing similar to that used in the World Trade Center could be far more prone to structural damage during major fires than previously thought, according to preliminary calculations by federal investigators.

The investigators are studying the precise causes of the World Trade Center collapse. Their work includes calculations of how heat moves through steel building components with small gaps or imperfections in fireproofing insulation. Their inquiry, which is still in its early stages, shows that during a fire such flaws can act as sluice gates for heat, allowing it to enter the steel, where it becomes trapped, weakening the structure.

Countless buildings put up since the 1960's have used the same type of lightweight, fluffy, spray-on fireproofing to protect their steel. Photographic evidence of the trade center suggests that this material, which is easily damaged, had gaps and possibly larger missing sections. Experts say similar problems are also found in ordinary high-rises.

The investigators want to examine the fireproofing in New York City buildings of similar vintage, and the city's Buildings Department has agreed to help identify them. Patricia J. Lancaster, the buildings commissioner, said that the use of spray-on fireproofing was extremely widespread in the city. "It's everywhere," Ms. Lancaster said. "It's easy to apply, and it's light."

She said that because many fireproofing subcontractors do excellent work, she would be surprised if large variations in thickness, like gaps in the insulation, turned up in every building that was inspected. But, she added, not enough attention has been paid to concerns like the long-term durability of patches to fireproofing. Patches are applied after parts of the coatings are removed during work on ducts, wiring or sprinklers.

Investigators said their findings could have implications beyond the collapse of the towers themselves.

"When we entered into this investigation, there clearly was a concern with explaining why buildings that looked like they would stand forever came down," said Richard G. Gann, a senior research scientist at the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. That is where this $16 million investigation into the sequence of structural failures that led to the collapse of the World Trade Center — buildings that looked as if they would stand forever — is being conducted.

But, Dr. Gann said, "there are implications for other buildings, even if they are of different construction types, different styles, even conventional buildings."

S. Shyam Sunder, the leader of the investigation, cautioned that it was too soon to know if a formal bulletin or alert would be issued. He pointed out that no large-scale survey of fireproofing in high-rise buildings has been done, and that even with variations, it could turn out that in some cases fireproofing thicknesses are conservative, or sufficient for protection in all but the thinnest spots.

So far, he said, investigators have looked at only a small number of buildings in the Washington area, near their laboratories. In those buildings, they found substantial variations in fireproofing thickness.

He said they hoped that the inspections of the New York City buildings would yield closer parallels with the World Trade Center. Whatever the variations in the thickness of the fireproofing in the New York buildings turn out to be, he said, the team's calculations have so far focused only on individual steel components rather than on the overall building structure.

"We need to understand what the effect of this is on the performance of the components as a whole," Dr. Sunder said. "As we complete the work and can make definitive findings on fireproofing variability, then a recommendation can be made."

But other researchers are saying that the implications for ordinary buildings could be the most important outcome of the inquiry.

"When the investigation is over, this issue will radiate out to other buildings that have fireproofing in them," said Glenn P. Corbett, a member of the investigation's advisory committee and an assistant professor of fire science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "We really have to decide whether it's appropriate to continue to use this type of material."

Whether the collapse of the twin towers was inevitable given the structural damage done by the hijacked planes, or whether the towers would have been able to stand with better fire protection is still not known. The exact sequence of failures that led to the towers' falling has not yet been determined either. The federal investigation will try to answer these questions before a final report is released next fall.

Officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which built the trade center, have claimed in the past that no matter how well the steel was protected, the planes probably knocked off much of the fireproofing where they struck. Other experts have disputed that contention, saying that poorly applied and maintained fireproofing could have played a role in the collapses.

Only the cores of the twin towers, which held the elevators and escape stairwells, were built like traditional high-rises, with clusters of relatively heavy steel columns and beams linked together in a cagelike matrix. Beyond that, the 110 floors in each tower contained roughly an acre of open space each, uncluttered by vertical support columns.

Floor supports called trusses ran like bridges from the core to a dense palisade of columns within the towers' facades — 59 columns, each with relatively thin steel, per side of each tower. The trusses, a web of narrow steel bars and other components, were stouter versions of the supports used in the ceilings of many warehouses, supermarkets and sports installations like indoor tennis courts.

Spray-on fireproofing replaced the use of heavier materials, like terra-cotta blocks, after World War II, and became extremely common in the 1960's, when the World Trade Center went up. The fireproofing used on the trade center trusses was a mixture of mineral fibers and cement-like materials called binders.

Investigators at the Building and Fire Research Laboratory recreated the formula used at the trade center and applied it to mock-ups of the trusses in their laboratories. Dried and in place on the truss bars, the material is friable, even dusty to the touch. It tends to crumble under the slightest pressure.

Perhaps not surprising, there is extensive evidence that the trade center's fireproofing was missing in places. "We were looking at a lot of pictures of the World Trade Center, especially of the trusses," said Kuldeep Prasad, the investigator whose computer simulations produced the results on heat flow last month. "What we noticed was that there were gaps in the insulation. For some reason the insulation had just fallen off."

Investigators have also found that no fireproofing at all was applied to the sandwiches of metal and rubbery glue, called viscoelastic dampers, because the trade center plans did not call for it. The dampers were connected to the outer edges of the trusses, where they connected to the perimeter columns. The dampers, about 10,000 in each tower, acted like shock absorbers to reduce the sway of the buildings in the wind.

The bare dampers "provide a heat input" to surrounding components, said Dr. John Gross, the leader of the structures group at the Building and Fire Research Laboratory. "It's steel that can heat up, connected directly to steel that is protected."

Even worse, investigators have found, there are indications that because workers had orders to avoid getting fireproofing on the dampers, they skimped when spraying it on portions of the steel trusses in the same areas. Dr. Gross said that investigators were still trying to assess contradictory evidence about whether damaged and missing fireproofing was fixed.

In any event, Dr. Prasad decided to examine the effect of variations in the thickness of the fireproofing. His calculations showed that even random thickness variations of 20 percent in the fireproofing could cut in half the time it takes heavy vertical core columns to heat up to the point where they lose roughly half their strength and are prone to collapse.

On lighter members, like the thin steel bars of the trusses, gaps as narrow as an inch in the fireproofing could have catastrophic consequences, Dr. Prasad found.

"That bare steel gets hot very quickly," he said. "And when I say quickly, I mean a few minutes. Then, once it gets hot, it starts seeping energy in both directions."

As the intact fireproofing around the gap keeps the heat from radiating from the bar, he said, the heat travels even farther, compromising more and more of the steel.

Another fire expert, Philip J. Di- Nenno, president of Hughes Associates in Baltimore, cautioned against assuming that fireproofing gaps in ordinary buildings posed dangers before additional calculations and inspections have been completed.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

May 11th, 2004, 10:50 PM
May 11, 2004

City learning from WTC disaster


The City Council is expected to vote next week on the building safety legislation stemming from the city's technical inquiry into the World Trade Center collapses.

Councilwoman Madeline Provenzano (D-Bronx), chairwoman of the housing and buildings committee, said the latest version of the bill, which requires high-rise building owners to install emergency signage, sprinklers and other safety measures, will pass committee and come to a full council vote next Wednesday.

"I think it's a good starting point," Provenzano said, adding it is likely the bill will pass.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster introduced the bill in September, capping an effort that began two years ago. The bill incorporates 13 of 21 original recommendations from a panel of experts appointed by the city.

"It's good news, but it's only been almost two years," said Sally Reganhard, a 911 advocate who lost her firefighter son, Christian, on Sept. 11, 2001.

Under the bill's provisions, owners of existing buildings will have 15 years — through 2019 — to add sprinklers or come up with a plan to do so. "I originally thought that 15 years was a long time, but most of the industry folks and the commissioner thought 15 years was the way to go, so they could do it as units vacate," Provenzano said.

"The city has been very reasonable with granting a long compliance period," said Glenn Corbett, professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and a expert panel member. "In my opinion, there shouldn't be any waivers. It's that important."

The bill also requires building owners to install evacuation measures, such as glow-in-the-dark signs and arrows within two years. There are also a range of requirements for new buildings.

Provenzano said the committee will next take up the effort to set aside the city's current code and adopt the widely used model building code. "We're hopeful in the fall that we will introduce the first part of that," she said.

Copyright 2004 Newsday, Inc.

May 17th, 2004, 05:49 AM
May 17, 2004

City Reshaping Building Codes to U.S. Model


Graphic: New Codes, From the Ground Up (http://graphics7.nytimes.com/images/2004/05/17/nyregion/20040517_CODE_GRAPH.gif)

New York City has embarked on the most comprehensive rewriting of its building, fire, plumbing and electrical codes since they were first adopted more than a century ago.

This quiet revolution will alter the city's inner landscape, from life-and-death details like fire sprinklers and the lighting in emergency stairways to mundane matters like allowing homeowners to save money by using plastic pipes for toilets and sinks.

The revisions — the most important of which are now being drafted behind closed doors by 13 committees of engineers, safety experts and real estate developers appointed by the Bloomberg administration — are not expected to make a radical difference in the way buildings are constructed. But because the codes have effectively been the city's DNA, shaping its appearance and its workings, the changes are likely to affect all the places in which New Yorkers live and work in myriad ways, big and small.

Stairwells in new high-rise buildings would have to be pressurized to keep them from becoming chimneys during a fire, under one possible change, while another — opposed by many families of 9/11 victims — would sharply reduce the amount of fireproofing required in many buildings. New precautions against earthquake damage could force developers in certain parts of the city where the soil is soft to build stronger, more expensive structures.

At bottom, though, the most surprising change is that New York is abandoning many of the intricate restrictions, carefully tailored to its quirks and jealously defended over the decades, that have made its codes a byzantine patchwork and have made the city one of the most difficult and expensive in which to put up a building. The city, in fact, is tossing out all of those codes, adopting standard codes in effect across the nation, then adding back pieces of the old rules as needed. And those additions have become the crux of sometimes fierce debate.

"This is a landmark turning point in the city's history as far as codes go," said Glenn P. Corbett, an assistant professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a member of the committee reviewing fire-protection rules. "New York City is preparing to give up its own homegrown codes, which are too expensive to maintain on our own and have left us way behind the rest of the country."

The city's fire code would be drastically revised, with potential consequences for everything from how merchandise is stacked in warehouse-style stores to how much propane a hot dog vendor can store on his cart.

New kitchens will be required to have special electrical outlets to prevent electrocution, under a provision already passed into law. The way underground plumbing is laid out for new buildings may change, and even some urinals may look different.

The choices now being made by the committees, which require the approval of the City Council and the mayor, will be felt in New Yorkers' pocketbooks, both as savings and as new costs. They could influence how many lives are lost each year to fires and other calamities, and may even affect how many people are killed or injured the next time a terrorist strikes.

The city has already approved a new electrical code, which went into effect last year. The committees are expected to come up with recommendations for the building and plumbing codes in June, and a new fire code in the next year to 18 months.

So far, the effort has played out largely in closed meetings of about 400 panel members, as the Bloomberg administration tries to address disagreements early and in private. In interviews, committee members and others involved in the process said many of those disputes have come down to a clash between two typically antithetical goals: cutting building costs and increasing safety.

The Impact of 9/11

The move to revise the city's ground rules for building construction and maintenance began two years ago, prompted by a nationwide push to simplify and standardize building codes and to recognize new materials and technologies.

Many parts of these uniform codes, like the International Building Code and the International Fire Code, are less stringent and less costly than New York's. Adopting a so-called model code is expected to save New York builders tens of millions of dollars, from the town house where bathrooms will cost hundreds less because plastic pipe can be used instead of copper or brass, to the department store that state officials say now costs about $1.75 million less, on average, to build elsewhere in the state since Albany adopted the International Building Code in 2002.

Yet the other big thrust behind the city's effort came after Sept. 11, 2001, when safety experts and victims' families began a crusade to make New York's fire and building codes more stringent. An April 2002 explosion in a Chelsea sign shop that injured 36 people added to the urgency; federal investigators concluded that the fire code was so out of date that it did not prohibit the mixing of incompatible chemicals.

Already, powerful groups representing both camps - developers and city officials who want to lower building costs and those who say there is no better time to tighten safety measures - are lobbying to ensure that their views prevail. And the process has become politicized in even more complex ways because of all the other interests represented on the 13 committees: those of unions, architects, environmentalists, disabled people and advocates for the construction of low- and moderate-income housing.

Most everyone involved agrees that the old codes are too unwieldy and expensive to keep up to date. But many people want to retain some of their idiosyncratic provisions, which they say embody the lessons learned in an unusually dense, vertical city that little resembles the rest of the nation.

"The code reflects the experience that has been accumulated in New York City over a century," said W. Gene Corley, a structural engineer who led a federal investigation into the World Trade Center collapse. "It has codified those things that are needed to provide the safety the public expects."

But as the panels weigh which parts of the old code to preserve, through hundreds of proposed amendments, some members are concerned that an overreaction to 9/11 may compromise the effort to streamline and modernize the codes.

"It can't be knee-jerk, or we'll have to build bunkers," said the city's buildings commissioner, Patricia J. Lancaster, an architect whose agency initiated the code revision. "We can't do that, or people won't come. So it's up to us to balance safety and economic development."

Reshaping New York

Restrictions on building materials and techniques go back to New York's earliest days; in 1648, the Dutch ordered the removal of wooden chimneys to reduce fire hazards. But the city's modern fire and building codes were not written until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, after devastating fires like the 1911 blaze at the Triangle shirtwaist factory in Greenwich Village, which killed 146 workers.

Major code revisions were made in the years since, most notably in 1937 and 1968, incorporating more radical changes than are now contemplated - rules that reshaped New York, from its water towers and fretwork of fire escapes to the creation of the "postwar" building, with its lighter-weight, less expensive walls and floors.

But never has New York rewritten all of its basic regulations on buildings at the same time. Once the model codes are adopted, they will be updated every couple of years based on advice from the national experts who wrote the model codes.

The most critical, and intensely debated, aspects of any building code are those meant to save lives. Given the enormous loss of life at the World Trade Center, much of the focus is now on finding ways to allow more people to quickly and safely evacuate buildings.

The Buildings Department, not wanting to wait until the code revision is completed, has asked the City Council to require that exit doors and stairs in all high-rise office buildings have photoluminescent markings and backup power for lights so that workers are not caught in the dark as they are trying to get out. More robust, impact-resistant walls would also have to be built into the stairwells of new buildings, to prevent all exits from being cut off in an explosion.

Yet one of the most disputed parts of the International Building Code would allow developers of many new buildings to use less fireproofing than is now required - a change that would save developers considerable sums of money. The rationale is that if a new building must have sprinklers, as most tall office buildings in New York City are now required to, it should not need as much fireproofing.

"Obviously the New York City code offers more protection," said Roland W. Hall, government relations manager for the International Code Council, a Virginia-based nonprofit group established by regional code-writing associations a decade ago to create a single national standard for building, fire, electrical and plumbing codes. "The question people have to decide is if it is appropriate to provide that additional margin. In our organization's opinion, the slightly lesser standard provides adequate protection for life safety."

Others say it is essential to have overlapping safety features, or what firefighters call a "belts and suspenders" strategy, particularly because sprinklers have sometimes failed. They point out that the standard for fireproofing has already been rolled back since the 1930's - from a requirement that structural columns in high-rises, for instance, withstand fire for four hours to the current rule that they stay strong for two. The model code would keep that threshold in tall buildings, but if it is not amended by the city, it would reduce fire-resistance requirements for corridors and walls separating tenants.

"That is, like, the dumbest thing I have ever heard," said Monica Gabrielle, co-chairwoman of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, a group formed after the trade center collapse, in which her husband, Richard, was killed. "If nothing else, Sept. 11th showed us you need more time to get out, not less time."

A Focus on Safety

The debate over safety extends even to matters like the array of new construction materials, including plastic pipe, that the national codes allow. Just as garbage disposals were banned in New York City until 1997 for environmental reasons, plastic pipe, used nationwide for 30 years or so, has been forbidden in New York buildings taller than three stories.

Some firefighters point out that the pipe gives off toxic fumes when it burns, while the local plumbers' union says that glues used to assemble it might pose a health hazard. But Julius A. Ballanco, an engineer and code consultant, countered at one Buildings Department hearing that the pipe was safe and that its opponents' underlying worry was that "plastic pipe typically takes less labor to install and is often less costly."

Another proposed code change would force developers to hire an additional structural engineering firm to provide a second opinion for buildings with particularly innovative designs. If the International Fire Code is adopted in its entirety, the storage and handling of chemicals will be far more restricted.

But the changes will go far beyond matters of safety. Environmental groups like Earth Pledge want the new code to include provisions that explicitly permit so-called green roofs, rooftops covered with dirt or vegetation that reduce a building's energy consumption by lowering cooling costs. One manufacturer is trying to get permission for buildings to install new waterless urinals that it says would each save an estimated 40,000 gallons of water per year by using an oil-and-alcohol-based drainage system.

Many building owners and developers on the committees support a handful of code changes that would increase their expenses, like requiring sprinklers in the 200 to 400 high-rise office buildings that do not have them. But they are also looking for savings in other areas.

"We are not ashamed to say we are interested in the dollar," said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York. "One of the reasons we have a hard time finding commercial tenants and building affordable housing is the high cost of doing construction. And that is clearly tied in part to the current code."

To test just what cost differences the new codes might make, city officials are studying building projects now in progress to compare prices under the old and model codes, said Ms. Lancaster, the buildings commissioner. If a certain part of the model code turns out to be significantly costlier, she said, the city will reconsider that provision.

Despite the focus on the bottom line, she said, "I am committed to ensuring that the new code is as safe or safer than the code today."


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

August 5th, 2004, 05:46 AM
August 5, 2004

Evacuation Plans Due for High Rises in New York City


While trade center workers made their way down on 9/11, a firefighter ran up the stairs in the north tower.

More than 11 years after terrorists first struck at the World Trade Center, the city is still struggling to complete guidelines for evacuating high-rise buildings where thousands of workers would face vital questions of what to do if their skyscraper were to come under attack.

Under a new city law that takes effect at the end of September, though, the Fire Department is, for the first time, drafting rules for evacuations of large commercial buildings in case of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. The purpose of the rules, officials say, is to require owners of big buildings to at last prepare detailed plans, train staff members and conduct full evacuation drills of the building every three years.

Until now, owners of tall office buildings in New York and most major cities in the United States had been required to do little more than organize fire drills. Tenants usually did not leave the buildings, or in many cases, even their floors. "This is a dramatic change in how we view getting people out of buildings that have fires but also non-fire-related emergencies, like explosions, biological and chemical releases, any hazardous materials," said Nicholas Scoppetta, the fire commissioner.

Yet the new drills - which gained yet another jolt of urgency with this week's terror alerts focused on landmark buildings in the city - will continue to put heavy emphasis on what the real estate industry is calling "invacuations." In those situations, tenants would not move outside the building, but simply a few floors away from the hazard or to a designated refuge.

That strategy, which dates to the early 1970's, is based on considerations of both safety and practicality, officials say. The stairways in a building or the streets outside could be more dangerous than staying put. Moreover, many New York skyscrapers built since 1968 simply do not have enough stairways to allow all the occupants to go down at the same time when emergency workers are coming up.

Even so, all those involved acknowledge that persuading people to remain inside a building that has been attacked or threatened has become much harder after the collapse of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Since 9/11, a lot of people have made the decision to self-evacuate, for whatever reason," said Roberta M. McGowan, the executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater New York.

Vincent Dunn, a retired fire chief and an authority on high-rise fire safety, said the rapid collapse of the trade center's towers undermined the public's faith that such buildings could resist and contain fire. "On 9/11, the people who did not follow instructions to stay put were the ones who survived," Mr. Dunn said. "The people who followed the instructions did not survive."

In testimony before the national commission investigating the attacks, Alan Reiss, who had overseen the trade center for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey until shortly before Sept. 11, also said that the standard advice no longer carried weight.

"No one is going to listen to a fire safety director making an announcement that says 'stay and let the other people evacuate first,' " Mr. Reiss told the panel in May. "Everyone, including myself, and we have had a couple of fires in the building that I am now a tenant in - that fire alarm goes off and you smell smoke, everyone is down the stairs instantaneously."

That impulse can lead people into more serious problems, officials agree, and underscores the need for specific, convincing and enforceable rules to be adopted by the city.

Donald P. Bliss, director of the National Center for Infrastructure Expertise, said: "One thing you don't want to happen is evacuate people into a worse situation. If there's a secondary device, or some type of biohazard or other problem, you want people to stay sheltered in the building."

In the case of a car or truck bomb, shards of glass would be a devastating hazard, said Jack J. Murphy, the director of the Fire Safety Directors Association. A biological or chemical attack could make the stairs or lobbies dangerous. Part of the new emergency planning will require people familiar with building ventilation systems, who can make sure that ducts are shut off to prevent the spread of contamination, Mr. Murphy said.

The new plans could include the use of elevators - generally ruled out in fires - to move people who could not negotiate stairs. However, said Desmond J. Burke, who studied the emergency planning issues for the Buildings Owners and Managers Association, elevators serve as pistons that push air through shafts throughout a building.

The new evacuation plans are the first requirements under a law signed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in June, following a study of the events of Sept. 11 led by Patricia J. Lancaster, the commissioner of the City Buildings Department.

Other changes will come at a decidedly slower pace, including a requirement for backup power for stairway lights and exit signs, sprinklers and luminescent paint for stairwells. These will be made mandatory in office buildings between 2006 and 2019.

These improvements had been made inside the trade center after the 1993 bombing, and they were generally regarded as being helpful during the evacuation in 2001. In fact, some of these changes were originally recommended by a city task force in 1993, after the first attack on the trade center, but were not acted on until this year, after legislation proposed by the mayor passed the City Council.

A number of changes urged by Ms. Lancaster's task force were viewed with skepticism by the real estate industry, including wider staircases and special "fire tower stairs" used in older skyscrapers. She noted that the space devoted to staircases meant less rentable space on each floor. "One inch on every staircase in every high rise is hundreds of thousands of dollars," Ms. Lancaster said.

The city building code adopted in 1968 drastically curtailed the number of stairways required for skyscrapers, making it hard, if not impossible, for everyone in a tall building to leave at the same time, particularly if rescuers are trying to come up. According to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the 1968 code effectively permitted the Port Authority to decrease the number of stairwells in the trade center from six to three in each of the towers - a change sought by the real estate industry so that more space on each floor would be available for rent. (The Empire State Building, which opened in 1931, has nine staircases at its base.)

That code also eliminated another evacuation feature that the real industry felt ate up too much valuable space: the fire tower stairs, a stairway protected by four inches of concrete that was entered through a kind of air lock that protected the stairway from smoke.

The availability of staircases at the trade center was a matter of life and death. Many people survived the initial impact of the plane crashes, but were unable to find a way downstairs, as five of the six stairways in the two towers became impassable.

The city task force decided that it would wait for the final report from the standards and technology agency before acting on recommendations to require more stairway space and fire towers in new construction, Ms. Lancaster said. She noted that computer models now are able to predict fine details on how many people can move through a staircase. One major financial company, while building a new headquarters, used a computer model to study how many of its employees would able to evacuate if three bombs were exploded inside 20 minutes on different floors, according to Ms. Lancaster. The plans showed that many employees would still be able to escape.

"You have to balance safety and stimulate economic development," Ms. Lancaster said. "If New York City wants to keep being the world's second home, we need its occupants to feel safe."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

April 22nd, 2008, 05:22 AM
For Buildings Official, Criticism Comes to a Boil

By CHARLES V. BAGLI (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/charles_v_bagli/index.html?inline=nyt-per) and DIANE CARDWELL (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/diane_cardwell/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
Published: April 22, 2008

The sleek glass tower at 51st Street and Second Avenue, where a crane collapse last month killed seven, rises 18 stories, nearly halfway to its promise of 43 stories, 180 luxury apartments and panoramic views of the city.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/04/22/nyregion/22lancaster_650.jpgDavid Goldman for The New York Times
Patricia J. Lancaster, the buildings commissioner, said she had done much to reform the department since taking over in 2002.

But with work stopped at the site, the city now says that the building’s design violated four local zoning regulations and that the Buildings Department should never have issued the original permits in the first place.

Those problems came as no surprise to a group of local residents and politicians: they said they raised questions about the tower’s height several times over the past 18 months. But the department did not investigate until January, after the developer’s own lender asked for a letter reaffirming city approval.

“You have a Buildings Department that seems more interested in preserving the rights of developers at the expense of citizens and the community,” said Bruce Silberblatt, a retired contractor and a member of the Turtle Bay Association who was among the first to complain.

The problems with the building, 303 East 51st Street, come as the Buildings Department is under fire for a spike in fatal construction accidents this year and other high-profile problems. To the department’s critics, the mishandled permits also raise sharp new questions about Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster, an architect hired by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/michael_r_bloomberg/index.html?inline=nyt-per) to modernize the 1,286-person agency.

On Monday, Mayor Bloomberg did little to quell the criticism of Ms. Lancaster, breaking with his customary habit of staunchly defending his commissioners from public criticism.

“I don’t think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Department of Buildings’ performance,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Whether somebody could have done a better job — I’m trying to — whether they could have done a better job I just don’t know,” he continued, groping for words.

Saying he understood the dangers of construction work and the complexities of regulating the city’s thousands of construction sites, he added: “But that’s not an excuse.”

The city is not threatening to tear down the 51st Street building, and the developer asserts that the zoning problems can be resolved through negotiations. But city officials said some changes to the design were possible.

In a telephone interview, Ms. Lancaster, 54, defended her record, saying that she had modernized the department in the midst of an unprecedented building boom, imposed integrity standards, hired and trained hundreds of employees and made records accessible to the public. Last year, the department issued 9,929 full or partial stop-work orders at construction sites for safety-related problems.

“In order to enact reforms, you have to lay a foundation,” she said during the interview. “In order to be able to enforce or bring court cases, you have to have lawyers. You can’t have vacancies and no training. And so, we’ve been building that foundation, as well as getting increased penalties.”

In 2002, Ms. Lancaster inherited a department where older records were stored above ceiling tiles, 19 of 24 plumbing inspectors had been arrested on corruption charges, the computers at its Staten Island office crashed almost daily at 3 p.m. and more than 250 positions went unfilled.

Even her fiercest critics say that Ms. Lancaster has had some success in turning around a long-neglected department, putting public records on the Internet, overhauling the city’s often confusing and outdated building code, and instituting measures to ensure the integrity of its reviews. But those critics say that the administration has starved the department of resources and focused on spurring construction as part of the economic development, at the expense of safety.

“She has done many things to make the department more effective,” said James F. Brennan, a Brooklyn assemblyman who has been critical of the department and is planning a hearing on regulation and enforcement of construction and development for Thursday. “But in relation to what’s happening in construction, the department was always behind the curve, and the overriding interest was development.”

A spate of fatal accidents has highlighted the department’s challenge. This year, there have been 13 fatalities at construction sites in the city, including the seven on Second Avenue, compared with 12 during all of 2007. The victims included a window installer who fell from a condominium tower in Queens when a safety strap failed and a construction worker who fell 42 stories from the Trump SoHo condominium hotel in January.

In another case, investigators found after the 2007 fire at the former Deutsche Bank building (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/d/deutsche_bank_building_130_liberty_street_nyc/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier) near ground zero that building inspectors had failed to detect numerous violations, including the dismantling of a standpipe that would have carried water to firefighters at the top of the building.

The tower on East 51st Street was largely unknown to New Yorkers until March 15, when a 22-story crane collapsed on the site, killing seven and injuring 24 others, while forcing the evacuation of hundreds from their homes.

The planned tower had already been the subject of complaints by local residents and officials. Under questioning last week at a City Council hearing concerning crane safety, Ms. Lancaster stunned critics, community activists and officials with a new revelation: The tower under construction on 51st Street was too tall for its location.

“Wow,” responded Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, who represents the neighborhood and whose question triggered the response. “You’re telling me this building should never have been approved in the first place.”
“That is correct,” the commissioner replied.

At the same hearing, the commissioner was dismissive of complaints about the tower from local residents. “I think the community doesn’t want the building at all,” she said. “In fact, that property owner has property rights like anybody else who owns property and can build a building there.”

Ms. Lappin was surprised and disappointed, she said, because residents had been raising questions about the height of the tower for some time. In December, a community group, the Turtle Bay Association, received only perfunctory responses to two letters it sent to the Buildings Department raising questions about the zoning, as well as balconies and affordable housing.

Ms. Lappin and Assemblyman Jonathan L. Bing then arranged for a Feb. 19 meeting with Christopher Santulli, the Buildings Department official in charge of Manhattan. Mr. Santulli promised to get back to them and to provide them with the developer’s building plans. They are still waiting.

Now, Ms. Lappin said the Buildings Department appeared to be agreeing with the residents. But in an interview on Friday, Phyllis Arnold, the department’s deputy commissioner for legal affairs, said that the department had reviewed the zoning and building permits for the project earlier this year in response to a request from the developer’s lenders, not the local officials or the community group.

Ms. Arnold said that the zoning for the site allowed for a 33-story tower atop a broad base, not the sheer, 43-story tower for which the developer received approval. In addition, the tower was found to be too close to an adjoining four-story building owned by the developer.

To resolve those issues, she said, the department told the developer, James P. Kennelly, that he must include a space for community use, like a school, clinic or doctor’s office, to bring the tower into compliance with the zoning.

He was also required to reduce the size of the small buildings that sit in front of the tower on Second Avenue, which are owned by a separate company related to the developer.

Mr. Kennelly said he submitted his initial plans for a full review and received a building permit last October. In response to the department’s review in February, he said he submitted a new set of plans by early March.

But, Mr. Kennelly said, he knew nothing about another issue raised by Ms. Arnold: the balconies on his tower intrude over an adjoining property. “At no point did anyone from Buildings have a question or a quandary about balconies,” he said.

Ms. Lappin said she had been saddened by the whole affair.

“I’m not sure why D.O.B. is bending over backwards to find every which way for him to build what he wants, as opposed to building what is legal and appropriate” she said.

For her part, Ms. Lancaster said she thought she would be given enough time to finish reforming her department.

“I serve at the pleasure of the mayor, and I have a lot of work to do in the next 619 days,” she said. “I took this job to make a difference to the city, and I’m pretty clear that I’m still focused on that.”

Copyright 2008 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

April 22nd, 2008, 01:38 PM
I guess someone had to get thrown under the bus.

April 22nd, 2008, 02:16 PM
Update: Lancaster Resigned.

April 22nd, 2008, 02:43 PM
Zoning is not the problem.

They are looking at something that had nothing to do with the collapse and using the collapse to get it gutted.

I do not like some of the allowances that they give for building in the city, but some of the setbacks and other restrictions make it difficult to build anything viable in a lot of locations, especially reclamations.

I think that we should focus more on safety, and on upholding a certain aesthetic standard for the industry rather than focusing so hard on setbacks, corner distances, public use, heights and others. Those regulations should be adjustable with certain conciliations.

April 22nd, 2008, 02:53 PM
Safety I agree with.

Aethetics are the realm of the property owner.

April 22nd, 2008, 05:13 PM
Mike, they are and they arent.

Go to the village to find that out for yourself! ;)

April 22nd, 2008, 06:39 PM
New York Buildings Chief Resigns

By CHARLES V. BAGLI (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/charles_v_bagli/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
Published: April 23, 2008

Facing a loss of support at City Hall and growing criticism for an increase in construction accidents, Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster resigned on Tuesday.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/04/22/nyregion/lancaster-large.jpgChang W. Lee/The New York Times
Patricia J. Lancaster, the mayor’s buildings commissioner, at a press conference about the crane collapse accident in March.

In accepting her resignation, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/michael_r_bloomberg/index.html?inline=nyt-per) said she had moved the Buildings Department “a long way forward by fighting corruption, strengthening inspections and oversight, increasing the public’s access to information, and bringing increased levels of professionalism and integrity to all levels of her agency.”

For more than six years, Ms. Lancaster, a 54-year-old architect, has labored to overhaul an antiquated agency with a history of corruption, inefficiency and missing records, while coping with a building boom that stretched the department to the limits of its resources.

In her own statement, Ms. Lancaster said she had been honored to serve in the Bloomberg administration, urging her “talented and capable” agency of 1,286 workers to “keep up the hard work: you’ve made so much important progress.”

Ms. Lancaster, the first woman to lead the troubled agency and one of the only commissioners to leave the administration under a cloud, is leaving after a series of bureaucratic snafus and high-profile accidents cast a shadow over her achievements.

Those achievements included rewriting the city’s much-maligned Building Code.

The Bloomberg administration had made it a priority to reform the Buildings Department, making it more efficient and streamlining its procedures to make development easier. But that task clashed with the enforcement of safety procedures in a city where construction cranes were everywhere on the skyline.

“She did a terrific job in getting the department back on track,” said the developer Douglas Durst (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/d/douglas_durst/index.html?inline=nyt-per).

But clearly, Mayor Bloomberg was unhappy. This week, after Ms. Lancaster revealed that the East Side building — the scene of a fatal crane accident last month — should not have received building permits, Mr. Bloomberg expressed dismay. “I don’t think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Department of Buildings’ performance,” he said.

In January, after the departure of Daniel L. Doctoroff (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/d/daniel_l_doctoroff/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, Mr. Bloomberg moved the department to the group of public safety and infrastructure agencies like police, fire, sanitation, transportation and emergency management that report to Edward Skyler, the deputy mayor for operations to redefine the agencies’ missions.

“Your job is to save lives,” he told staff members at an agencywide meeting in February. “That means that it’s your duty to make sure that anyone reporting to any construction job, anywhere in the five boroughs, shouldn’t have to worry about going home safely that night. And let me make it as clear as I can: Simply shrugging your shoulders and saying, ‘Well, after all, construction work is a dangerous occupation,’ is behavior that will not be tolerated from anyone.”

Copyright 2008 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

April 24th, 2008, 04:52 AM
City Orders Safety Check of ‘High Risk’ Building Sites

By CHARLES V. BAGLI (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/charles_v_bagli/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
Published: April 24, 2008

A day after the resignation of the city’s embattled buildings commissioner, the Bloomberg administration announced a $4 million plan Wednesday to hire specialized engineers to inspect “high risk” construction sites citywide and develop new procedures to make the work safer.

In his first official announcement as acting buildings commissioner, Robert D. LiMandri, the former deputy, said a team of about 20 engineers would assess excavations, crane operations and high-rise concrete operations during a sweep through construction sites around the city.

The engineers, he said, would also be asked to review the Buildings Department’s current inspection procedures to identify any potential changes to ensure safety.

“This year we have seen an increase in accidents and injuries related to high-risk construction activities, and we must make sure that as construction activity in the city continues to increase, the department’s ability to hold the construction industry to higher safety standards keeps pace,” Mr. LiMandri said in a statement. “This investment is about identifying ways in which the department and the construction industry can make high-risk activities safer.”

The Bloomberg administration is keen on rebuilding public confidence after an embarrassing jump in the number of fatal construction accidents this year. Those deaths were a major reason that the previous buildings commissioner,

Patricia J. Lancaster, resigned on Tuesday.

Ms. Lancaster, the first woman to hold the post, was credited with modernizing the department and developing a new building code, but was facing growing criticism not only for the fatalities but also for embarrassing mistakes on construction permits and inspection oversights.

In light of the accidents, the City Council held a hearing last week about construction safety, and plans another on May 6. In addition, two state assemblymen, James F. Brennan and Vito J. Lopez, are holding a hearing Thursday at 250 Broadway.

After the city announced the $4 million safety program, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/q/christine_c_quinn/index.html?inline=nyt-per) praised the mayor for “a much needed investment in the long-term future” of the Buildings Department. But, she added, “The best way to restore the public’s trust in the agency and ensure that all who live and work around construction sites are as safe as possible is to hire an adequate force of well-trained, professional inspectors.”

But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/michael_r_bloomberg/index.html?inline=nyt-per) dismissed calls for hiring additional inspectors.

“You can always look at every agency and think that they could do more and that they could use more people,” he said on Wednesday. “The reality of the world is that every agency is probably understaffed, and the taxpayer is probably overtaxed.”

The mayor offered a different approach, suggesting that inspectors could “show up at different times, unexpectedly. You change your methods of inspection, of permitting, and there are ways to statistically do an awful lot with a relatively few number of people. The Buildings Department actually does have an awful lot of inspectors.”

The department temporarily shut down 8 of the 29 tower cranes in use at construction sites in the city during an inspection sweep that began shortly after the March 15 collapse of a crane on 51st Street at Second Avenue that left seven people dead. Inspectors are now checking the 220 mobile cranes in use in the city.

The results of those checks, the city said, “made clear that a thorough review of crane operations and oversight is needed.”

The job of running the department, which has stubbornly resisted fixing for more than a century, seems particularly unappealing at the moment, those in development and government circles say, given the string of deaths, accidents and mistakes, and the fact that Mr. Bloomberg is approaching the end of his term.

Administration officials are seeking to end the requirement that the commissioner be an architect or engineer in the hope of broadening the applicant pool; the change would also make the acting commissioner, Mr. LiMandri, eligible to continue in the post.

Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged the challenge of finding a successor for Ms. Lancaster in his remarks on Wednesday.

“Being a commissioner in the city of New York is a really challenging job,” the mayor said, and there are people who enjoy taking on what may seem like “an insurmountable problem,” he said. “Those are the people who take it to the next level.”

Diane Cardwell contributed reporting.


Copyright 2008 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)