Disaster planning expert warns of another attack

Grim. There's no other way to describe those words voiced by Curtis Massey, president and CEO of Massey Enterprises Inc., whose expertise is helping commercial real estate owners nationwide develop disaster plans for their buildings. “These [terrorists] are very methodical. The contact I have within the FBI Urban Terrorism Task Force believes that the next attack is going to be even bigger than the World Trade Center (WTC) attack, which is mind-boggling.”

Despite threats of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, too many owners of high-profile properties have lapsed into complacency on the disaster-planning front and are unwilling to invest the time and money needed to prepare their buildings for large-scale fire department operations, says Massey.

Given his experience and what he's witnessed firsthand, I'd hardly call Massey an alarmist. A former firefighter who launched his Virginia Beach, Va.-based company in 1986, Massey was stationed at the Ground Zero command post four hours after the towers were destroyed on Sept. 11 and remained there for the next 10 days.

On the day of the attack, Massey was assigned the task of acquiring the drawings of the six below-ground levels of the WTC for the rescue crews. It took him six days just to locate a surviving set of documents across the river in Jersey City. “When I got them back to the command post, the drawings were so complicated that nobody could read or understand them given the fact that it's 15 million sq. ft. on 16 acres,” Massey recalls.

Consequently, Massey brought in his own team to analyze the original drawings and recreate them in the form of color-coded graphics that were used by the search and rescue teams on days 7, 8 and 9. “Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. By that point, we were clearly moving into a recovery, not a rescue operation.”

Ironically, Massey Enterprises had been in talks with the WTC's owners to develop a disaster plan for the complex in early 2001, but that effort stalled when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey decided to place the towers on the selling block.

He cites Brookfield Properties' buildings in Lower Manhattan as the model for disaster preparedness on 9-11. The detailed diagrams of their building layouts (from the Massey disaster plans) were used extensively by local and federal rescue teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during search operations. “They [Brookfield] evacuated their buildings in record time, and the staff members performed admirably under emergency conditions. Their buildings performed by leaps and bounds better than any others in Lower Manhattan because they were prepared and trained, and all their buildings had been pre-planned,” emphasizes Massey.

Massey Enterprises has developed response plans for several trophy properties. Other disaster-planning assignments under the company's belt include the Empire State Building in New York, Aon Center and the John Hancock Center in Chicago, the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and Library Tower in Los Angeles.

“Pre-planning the building for the fire department's operations is the most important element of a building's disaster-preparedness program — not concrete barriers, security guards or turnstiles,” says Massey. “The more information you provide the emergency responders, the more apt they are to make sensible decisions to bring the situation under control.”

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