Communication Breakdown

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Warning bells had been sounding for months. [Twenty complaints] about the shell of the former Deutsche Bank had been logged against the building since February, when its floor-by-floor demolition began.

On April 12, the building was cited for “bad house keeping” when it was discovered that plywood was being stored on external scaffolding and was in danger of falling. On May 17, a 15-foot metal pipe fell from the 35th floor through the roof of the firehouse across the street. On August 1, a stop work order was issued because the construction workers were storing combustible materials four floors away from a torching operation. That order was lifted, and then on August 3rd, another stop work order was issued because the site’s FDNY-issued permit to store combustible materials had expired.

Despite the premonitions, when a seven-alarm fire broke out on the 17th floor of the vacant skyscraper on Saturday, killing responding firefighters Joe Graffagnino and Robert Beddia of Ladder 5, there was no communication system in place to relay information to residents. [Neighbors were unsure] whether the building would collapse, whether the air was safe to breathe, whether to evacuate.  

“You’d think that after six years, we would have learned something, but when this fire broke out, there was no notification system in place and the people who live around here didn’t know what to do,” said Patricia L. Moore, who lives at 125 Cedar Street.
“Some of us left the building and some of us stayed, but we’re all concerned.”

Borough President Scott Stringer held a press conference today at Church and Cedar Streets, calling for an improved public information system that would provide residents of lower Manhattan with up to date information via text message, email and automated phone calls, in the event of another emergency. He pointed to California's Emergency Digital Information Service, which provides emergency bulletins to residents by allowing residents to sign up online, as a model.

"In this day and age, with the technology we have available, it is no longer acceptable for residents to be without answers,” Stringer said. “These residents were misled and lied to by the federal government after 9/11 and immediately establishing an efficient method of communication between responding agencies and the public is crucial to our public safety and paramount to restoring the public's trust in those who represent them.”

Photo courtesy of [Dietrich on Flickr]

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