By Holly Dutton
Three months after Hurricane Sandy battered the city, New York building managers are now fighting with insurance companies to get what they’re owed.
That’s the finding of a new survey from the Building Owners & Managers Association of Greater New York (BOMA) that was unveiled during a panel discussion yesterday (Tuesday).
“All hell is breaking loose,” said lawyer John Osborn, a member of a special BOMA task force set up to analyze what went wrong during the hurricane and what went right.
“The world has changed,” Osborn told the audience. “I’m sorry, but right now you’re going to have to learn about insurance. You must know your role and responsibility in the insurance process. People are realizing they weren’t as covered as they thought.”
In fact, 40 percent of survey respondents said they didn’t know if their knowledge of insurance was adequate for the recovery effort. 47 percent said yes, and 13 percent said no.
A statement of loss is due 60 days after a claim is filed, said Osborn. Writing “flooding” rather than “Sandy” in paperwork could negatively affect your outcome since flooding is not always covered, and having environmental coverage would cover contaminated water.
After the storm, 56 percent of respondents said they began contacting their insurance companies, and some started journals and took photos.
“During a storm, you want to take a good record of when damage happened and where,” said John Brandstetter, managing director of the Brandstetter Group, which deals with emergency planning, strategies and recovery.
Having a good relationship with your insurance company before an incident is also key, Brandstetter added, noting that knowledge of labor rates and what vendors they’ll allow will help fast track a building into getting back up and running.
Pre-planning and communication proved to be the most important keys to handling a crisis in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, according to the survey.
Some of the most telling statistics dealt with damage to buildings, with 44 percent of respondents from the owner/manager survey reporting that they suffered physical damage from the storm.
Of those, 47 percent experienced flooding, 33 percent wind damage and 20 percent other.
Ronald Zeccardi, vice president of property management at The Moinian Group, said buildings were affected from the ground up.
“What we learned is that buildings had complete failures of systems,” he said. Many buildings’ critical electrical systems in the basement were flooded due to the storm surge.
In a taped interview that was played at the meeting, one building manager described the pressure of the water rushing into his building as being so strong, it twisted a steel door “like a pretzel.”
“Once power is lost, securing the building becomes a manual operation,” said Louis Trimboli, senior real estate manager at CBRE.
One of the biggest problems after the storm hit was communication between co-workers and employees.
According to the surveys, before the storm, 78 percent of building managers communicated storm-related information to their tenants by email, and 18 percent communicated by cell phone.
After the storm, 69 percent of managers communicated by email, and 44 percent by cell phone.
Panelists stressed the importance of keeping emergency contact lists on file in multiple places, so managers can get in touch with staff and tenants if power is lost and files are unable to be accessed.
“Employees were showing up to buildings that were cold and dark,” said Zeccardi.
Many building managers reported not having internal up-to-date communications in the survey, he added.
Moving forward, building owners and managers will no doubt make changes in the way they prepare for a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy.
Developing a business continuity checklist is an “absolute necessity,” said Trimboli.
“How they were shut down is just as important as how they go back up,” he said of critical systems.
He added that you have to assess utilities, have a checklist for restoration of power, get life safety and fire suppression systems on board as well as elevators and HVAC, and have pre-event relationships with providers.
“This is going to happen again,” said Sylvester Giustino, director of legislative affairs for BOMA-NY. He added that taking a post-incident survey and collecting information is a must.