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COMMUNICATING in a Crisis BY JOHN SALUSTRI T his past July, there was what the local news me- dia in New York City reported as a volcano-like pipe explosion in the Flatiron District of Manhat- tan. Fear of asbestos and other toxins flooding the air, as well as disruptions to building systems, kept local businesses and homes shuttered for days. “We heard people on TV saying they didn’t know what to do, that they had no contact with authorities and didn’t know when they would be able to return to the area,” says Louis Trimboli, who co-chairs BOMA/New York’s Emergency Preparedness Committee. Avoiding this sort of confusion is something the committee is hard at work trying to prevent. “It’s part of crisis communication, making sure your tenants are safe and informed when disaster strikes,” he adds. It’s a responsibility that seems to be growing, according to Trimboli, who also is senior real estate manager for CBRE, overseeing the 600,000-square-foot 825 Third Avenue in Manhattan. “When I started out in this business,” he notes, “we had garden-variety robberies or fires to deal with. Now, we have to concern ourselves with active shooters, suicide bombers, white powder in the mailroom and all sorts of things we never even thought of.” A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD A rock-solid communications program has to address all of these outside threats. It also has to take into account the modern nature of communications, which has changed since 20  BOMA MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER | OCTOBER 2018 Trimboli first started his career. When access to social media is as near as the smartphone in one’s pocket, infor- mation—including false information—can travel quickly. “Awhile back,” Trimboli recalls, “a train was pulling into a subway station on the Upper West Side and struck a tool a workman had left behind. It hit the third rail and created a huge pop and spark. The train came to a halt and people began running off the train. “Within a few seconds, someone on the train began texting that it was a bomb,” he continues. “The first responders hadn’t even gotten there yet.” When people are frightened and don’t know what’s happening, they often assume the worst. “If there’s a communication vacuum, it will be filled,” says P. Marc Fischer, BOMA Fellow, CCIM, CPM, LEED Green Associate, RPA, president and CEO of InspiRE Commercial Real Estate Services in Baltimore. And, as the aforemen- tioned story indicates, it won’t always be filled by the most reliable voices. “In the absence of clear information coming from an authoritative source, Twitter begins to fill the void with information that might—or might not—be factual,” cautions Fischer. So, what is a property manager—caught between easing the fears of a shaken tenancy and communicating proper, accurate information—to do? An emergency preparedness strategy is crucial, and communication figures heavily into that equation.