Here in New York City, those of us who lived through Superstorm Sandy tend to be more than a bit nervous about hurricanes. You don’t quite understand the magnitude of what can happen until you experience a storm like that, and have to deal with the aftermath. Since hurricane season is coming around again, we want to address a topic that’s a big concern here in Manhattan: hurricane preparedness for high rise buildings.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find helpful information about this topic, because most cities don’t have nearly as many high rise buildings as New York City does. While we might not be as likely to be struck by a hurricane as a city like Miami, we all know now that it can happen and probably will happen again.
NYC highrise buildings house many families as well as commercial businesses. While business owners are more likely to have a disaster plan in place, homeowners in New York City may not think about hurricane preparedness until a storm is headed our way.
If you have no disaster plan in place, this helpful guide can get you started: HVAC Emergency Preparedness Checklist.
Hurricanes and high rise buildings: what you need to know
You may be wondering, how safe are high rise buildings in hurricanes? How much wind can a high rise withstand?
Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to these questions. So much depends on the storm and the construction of the building. However, if you want to know if it is safe to be in a high rise during a hurricane, it’s helpful to understand the following:
- The risk of wind damage gets greater as you go higher up in the building. So if you live in a top floor apartment, hurricane damage from high winds is much more likely (especially in buildings higher than 10 stories) than in ground level apartments. In fact, FEMA says that if you must shelter on place in a high rise apartment, you should stay just above flood water or storm surge level and avoid going higher in the building.
Here’s another fact to keep in mind: if your apartment is 20 stories or more above ground level, winds can easily be a full category stronger than on the ground. For example, a Category 3 storm will be more like Category 4.
Also, if your building loses power, there will be no AC and elevators will not be operating. This alone is a good reason to evacuate so you’re not stuck having to walk down 35 flights in a super-hot stairwell!
- Flooding can be even more destructive than wind damage. As we know from Sandy, many parts of New York City are susceptible to flooding and storm surge. Don’t forget, many building systems are located in the basement. Even if you’re in a top floor apartment in a hurricane, flooding can still happen because of roof damage and broken windows. Also, if you’re stuck 35 flights up in a flooded area, it could be hard for help to reach you.
- Electrical damage is a real possibility. When lightning strikes or power lines go down in a hurricane, power surges can hit your building’s electrical system and cause damage. In a highrise, power surges are a common cause of damage to HVAC systems as well as other electronics.
New York City hurricane preparedness for highrises: tips for home & business owners
With these hurricane emergency preparedness tips, you can protect your property and prevent some types of damage.
IMPORTANT: Hurricane preparedness for highrises should start with your building management. Always check to make sure you understand what you’re required (and allowed) to do when a major storm is headed your way.
Check if your building’s windows are impact-resistant. If not, you may want to find out if you are allowed to install them. If not or if there is no time, taping windows in an X pattern may provide some protection. Of course, make sure all windows are tightly closed.
When your area is under a hurricane or tropical storm watch, remove everything from outdoor balconies. You don’t want to wait for the storm to arrive (when you might not have the time to do so). If you are not at home when a storm hits, your building management might enter and remove balcony items to protect the building from damage.
If you’re lucky enough to have a penthouse apartment with roof access, follow the same guidelines as for balconies. If you can’t move furniture, tie it down with hurricane straps.
With a storm on the way, you’ll want to charge mobile phones and tablets, as well as backup power cells. However, if you need to evacuate, it’s a good idea to unplug electronics before you leave, to prevent damage from power surges.
Like other electronics, make sure to turn off power to your air conditioner before evacuating. That means powering down the AC unit, not just turning down the thermostat. If you’re in a penthouse and the AC is on the roof, make sure it is properly secured with hurricane straps.
IMPORTANT POST-STORM HVAC TIP: Even if your AC looks ok after a hurricane or major storm, DON’T turn it back on right away! Exposure to moisture can cause damage that’s not visible. If you turn it on, you could fry the compressor. Get the unit inspected by a professional before starting it up.
Are your service providers prepared for an emergency?
Even though hurricane preparedness for highrises can help minimize damage, you may still find yourself needing repairs after the storm passes.
To get back on your feet quickly after a major storm, you’ll need repairs completed quickly.
Think about that: if a storm inflicts a lot of damage throughout the city, service providers will be inundated with work. Will your home or business be a priority? Not if you don’t have established relationships with the right service providers. It’s a fact and one we can speak to from decades of experience servicing HVAC customers in all kinds of emergency situations.
Of course, in the event of an emergency we want to help as many homeowners and business owners as possible. And we have taken our own hurricane preparedness steps to make sure we can do so. For example:
- Establishing redundant communication systems so customers can always reach us
- Training employees on communication protocols
- Maintaining points of contact in the city for information about road closures, power availability, and access to affected areas
- Establishing protocols for coordinating with law enforcement, fire officials, utility companies and other emergency responders
- Placing trucks in strategic locations throughout the city so they can respond quickly where help is needed most
- Maintaining relationships with parts suppliers in multiple locations for redundancy
- Storing customer data in cloud-based systems
However, if we’re swamped with requests for HVAC emergency services, our long-time loyal customers get priority over someone who calls for the first time.
Here’s my tip for you: plan ahead now and establish a relationship with an HVAC service provider who will be there for you in the event of a major storm or other emergency.
If you don’t already have one, get a maintenance agreement. This does so much more than build a relationship with a service provider! Regular HVAC maintenance reduces your energy bills, prevents breakdowns and prolongs the life of your equipment.