Volume 20, Number 32 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 21 - 27, 2007

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Construction crash tests Downtown’s new emergency system

By Julie Shapiro

Downtowners didn’t have to wait long to see the city’s brand-new emergency notification system in action. Notify N.Y.C., launched Dec. 10, got its first test last Friday after a construction accident at the Goldman Sachs building.

Shortly before 11 a.m., a sling snapped at the 200 Murray St. construction site, sending building materials crashing down on several trailers, seriously injuring an architect. Robert Woo was trapped in a construction trailer by the falling beams, and the Fire Department had to extricate him. He was transported to St. Vincent’s hospital.

On Sunday, the Daily News reported that Woo, 39, has a spinal injury and may never walk again. As of Wednesday, he was in stable condition, St. Vincent’s said.

At 11:46 on the morning of the accident, the first notification went out by e-mail and text message to the thousands of people signed up for the Lower Manhattan pilot. The initial message misstated the accident location as 200 Vesey St. Two additional messages over the next hour and a half corrected the location, mentioned the injury and warned of traffic delays.

On the whole, Downtowners are pleased with the new system — at least those who have been able to sign up.

“It was a pilot program, so we anticipated glitches,” said Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1 and a driving force behind the notification plan. “We’re on our way to getting the community notification system we need and demand Downtown.”

The registration process impeded residents who were trying to sign up, Menin said. After filling out the online registration form, people have to click on a link in a confirmation e-mail to officially enroll in the program.

“A lot of people did not do that, so they did not receive [the notifications],” Menin said.

The city is streamlining the registration process to make it clearer, said Jason Post, a spokesperson for the mayor. The registration form will have fewer questions, and the optional questions will be more clearly marked, Post said. Also, the city will send reminder e-mails to those who have not yet confirmed their registration.

As of Dec. 10, 2,400 people had signed up for Lower Manhattan notifications, Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler told C.B. 1 last week. The city is not releasing the number of people currently signed up, but “Registration is more robust in Lower Manhattan than other areas [of the pilot program],” Post said.

Pat Moore, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Quality of Life Committee, signed up but did not get a notification. She also tried to register her husband’s cell phone using her e-mail address, but the system would not allow that. Moore plans to call the city to rectify her problems and provide feedback.

“I’m not upset,” Moore said. “I’m happy that it’s up and running.”

Barry Skolnick, a C.B. 1 member, is advocating for a live person to answer phone calls about Notify N.Y.C. registration. “The [Office of Emergency Management] is thinking about it,” he said.

For Bill Love, another C.B. 1 member, registration proved impossible. After he didn’t receive the Goldman Sachs notification, Love tried to re-register, but was told his e-mail address was already in use. Then he tried to log into his account using the password he’d chosen, but was told his password was incorrect. As his “last desperate act,” Love asked the system to e-mail him a new password. “No e-mail ever arrived,” Love said. He’s going to call the city for help.

Menin found the notifications helpful last Friday, as events unfolded at the Goldman Sachs building.

“The best way to allay [people’s] fears is through accurate and expeditious information,” Menin said. “This is exactly the kind of information we have been asking for.”

Construction has resumed on the Goldman Sachs building, with the exception of crane operations, said Carly Sullivan, spokesperson for the Department of Buildings. The D.O.B. issued four violations to Tishman Construction Corp., the general contractor. Tishman is still resolving two of the violations, for unsafe hoisting operations and failure to safeguard the public and property during construction operations. The D.O.B. also issued a violation to DCM Erectors, Inc., the crane operator, for unsafe hoisting operations.

The D.O.B. is investigating the cause of the accident, Sullivan said.

The project was one of the few that Bob Harvey, acting executive director of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, recently hailed as moving forward on schedule. Before the accident, the building was projected to be complete in 2009, and it is not clear how the accident could affect that date. Goldman Sachs deferred questions about construction to Tishman, where representatives did not reply to requests for comment.

The second event to trigger a Lower Manhattan notification was a forecasted Nor’easter. The message, sent late Saturday afternoon, warned of mixed precipitation and strong winds on Sunday.

When Skyler presented the notification plan to the C.B. 1 World Trade Center Committee last week, he noted that the definition of an emergency can be subjective.

“What we don’t want to become is 1010 WINS or the Weather Channel,” Skyler told the committee. “It’s not ‘The B.Q.E. is bumper-to-bumper, so try another way.’”

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