After last year's blackout, it dawned on me that New York City has actually faced five major crises in the last three years: 9/11, the anthrax scare, the Presidents Day blizzard of ’03, the blackout, and, of course, the marriage of Liza Minnelli and David Gest.
My apartment building had absolutely no plan for how to respond in an emergency. During the blackout, neither the staff or the super or the coop board members had the slightest clue about what to do. So I decided that somebody should draw a plan up and implement it. That person turned out to be me.
So here's my jayday "good deed" for the year. I organized my coop's Building Emergency Preparedness Program. (Yes, that acronymn is "BERP!)
I live in a 17-story, 217 unit coop/rental building in Chelsea.
In the blackout of August 2003, most of the residents scurried up the dark stairwells with their hastily purchased emergency supplies, locked their doors, and waited for the crisis to pass.
Unfortunately, we had many senior citizens and people with disabilities in the building who could barely walk, let alone scurry, so most of them remained in their apartments without access to supplies or information. One woman in her eighties gave her last liquid (which was actually fruit juice) to her dog. Some elderly or frightened residents were trapped in the lobby as the stairwell lighting quickly failed and they could not reach the upper floors.
A neighbor and I simultaneously cracked open our doors and ventured out into the darkened hallway. We have lived across the hall from each other for TWENTY YEARS and had never said anything to each other except “mumble mumble, hello, mumble” at the elevator. I said “This seems like an opportune moment to introduce myself. I’m Steve.”
“Hi, I’m Virginia,” she said. Quick handshakes were exchanged. “I was about to go down to the lobby to see if I could help.”
I said, “That’s what I was going to do, too. Let’s do it together!” And down we went, eight stories, to the lobby to see what needed to be done.
The doorman on duty was totally overwhelmed. Virginia and I and several other residents hiked up and down the stairwells, ferrying medications, knocking on doors – even finding a first floor bathroom for an old lady with Crohn’s disease. (Trust me, you don’t even want to KNOW about this part!)
After the crisis had passed, it suddenly dawned on me: New York City has had FIVE major crises in the last three years: 9/11, the anthrax scare, the Presidents Day blizzard of ’03, the blackout, and, of course, the marriage of Liza Minnelli and David Gest. It occurred to me that “catastrophes” had become a little too frequent for comfort and somebody in our building needed to organize a safety program. So I decided to start one.
No group can exist without an acronym. I wanted one that wasn’t too scary. So I called it the Building Emergency Response Program, or “BERP,” for short. I even adapted a pilfered logo off the web and adapted it as a suitably fun, squishy symbol for our merry band of berpers.
As I said earlier, we’ve purchased safety supplies for the doormen, distributed safety leaflets to every apartment, enlisted floor captains, invited residents to provide information on how to contact their loved ones or doctors in case of emergency, and even sold pre-assembled “go bags” with emergency supplies.
I’m sure there are many commercial buildings with safety programs like this, but I doubt that any residential building has done so, because management doesn’t want to put in the effort or doesn’t want to assume the liability. So I’ve taken matters into my own volunteer hands.
Stay safe, berp frequently!