Government Case Study: Ready To Respond

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the August 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Elliott Kaufman Photography (Photo: Elliott Kaufman Photography)


TheOffice of Emergency Management (OEM) in New York City is the centralpoint of coordination for emergencies and other events that occur inthe city. With its roots going back to 1941 (when President Franklin D.Roosevelt established the federal Office of Civilian Defense with NewYork City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia as director), OEM has had numerousincarnations. In 1996, it was given its current name and established asa mayoral office. Presently, OEM is a city department, a status grantedin November 2001 after the tragic events of 9/11.

At thattime, OEM was headquartered at 7 World Trade Center in Manhattan, andits facility was a casualty that day when its offices on the 23rd floorwere destroyed. OEM immediately established operations in a temporaryfacility, and the department then operated from locations in Manhattanand Brooklyn for five years while planning for a new, permanentheadquarters.

In October 2006, OEM personnel moved into anewly renovated 62,000 square foot facility in Brooklyn. Henry Jackson,deputy commissioner for technology and facilities with OEM, recalls thesense of renewal: “It meant a lot to our agency. We were literallybombed out of our own building and were homeless for a number of years.It was part of the agency’s recovery process to really get back inbusiness.”

Seeking A Site

The search for a new location began almost immediately after 9/11. “Welooked at locations that were accessible, securable, and sited awayfrom any potential natural hazards,” says Jackson. A larger space wasalso required, because staff had increased by about 30% since 2001.

“Weconducted an extensive search around the city,” explains Jackson.“Eventually, the American Red Cross, which is a close partner of ours,let us know about a facility it had in Brooklyn. The site wasunderutilized, and the Red Cross was considering various options forits use.” As it turns out, the building was located on city land, andthe Red Cross’ lease had provisions for OEM to use the property.


Withthe site decision made, OEM and the architects and engineers met toidentify the goals of the project. Having designed the OEM headquarterspreviously for the World Trade Center 7 location, the New York Cityoffice of Swanke Hayden Connell Architects (SHCA) was retained by thecity’s Department of Design and Construction to create the new facility.

JosephAliotta, AIA, managing principal at SHCA, says, “Once we determined theneeds of OEM and the budget, we turned our attention to the site. Wewanted to determine the best approach in terms of building orientation,security, and whether the existing building should be demolished or ifit could be adaptively re-used to meet the program requirements.”

Theexisting structure had been built in 1954, and extensive work wasrequired to transform it into a facility equipped for the intensiveoperations of OEM.

“A two-part decision was made—one on thebasis of economics and the other on the basis of sustainable design,”explains Aliotta. “It was decided that we would strip the building toits existing concrete structure and modify it as opposed to demolishingthe entire building. This accomplished two things; it allowed us tosave money, and it enabled us to use less landfill space.”

Emergency Operations Center Staff members work in the Emergency Operations Center to monitor events as they unfold. (Photo: Elliott Kaufman Photography)

The Facility In Focus

In planning the building program, the team decided to move the existingcore from its central location to the south side of the structure. Thecore contained stairwells and other necessities, and this set up wouldnot be ideal for OEM.

AsAliotta explains, “It wasn’t workable for the large emergencyoperations center OEM needed. The proposal was to demolish the core andcreate a side core.” The 8,000 square foot addition would contain firestairs, elevators, and restrooms, while the mechanical equipment wouldbe located in the basement.

Situated on the third floor, theemergency operations center (EOC) is the hub of OEM activity during anemergency event. The open space contains 136 seats from which workerscoordinate services and communication. Equipped with technology linkingit to television, radio, and Internet channels, the EOC provides accessto information as it develops.

In order to bring the structureup to par with OEM requirements, the space needed an overhaul. “Theexisting building had a relatively low floor to floor height at alittle over 11′,” says Aliotta. “This was not sufficient for the needsof an emergency operations center. So the next step was figuring out‘how to raise the roof,’ so to speak. We demolished a portion of theroof and built a new structure on top. This raised the roof to about21′ above floor level.”

Maximizing the space of the EOC andproviding an accommodating environment was very important. At any giventime, approximately 60 staff members could be working in the EOC; thisnumber might increase to about 100 people during emergency conditionsand up to 300 during an extreme crisis.

“We wanted tomaximize the number of seats in the EOC, given the space and what isreasonable for a person to work in during a 12-hour shift,” saysJackson. “We were able to increase seats [compared to the previousfacility] by 30%, with 116 seats on the floor and 20 on the podium.”

Alsolocated on the third floor of the facility is a conference “situationroom” for the mayor to use during an emergency, as well as a WatchCommand Center, which operates 24/7. (In July of this year, MayorMichael Bloomberg worked from his dedicated space at OEM for two weekswhile City Hall underwent some renovation work.)

OEM building The lobby in the OEM building features daylighting and open space. (Photo: Elliott Kaufman Photography)

Below the EOC, the administrative headquarters of OEM arelocated on the second floor. The department’s commissioner and deputycommissioners have their offices there. Additionally, conference roomsand other administrative spaces are on the second floor.

Thefirst floor of the building houses public spaces. The main entranceopens into a daylit lobby where reception and security staff arelocated. There is also a press briefing room on that level, along witha training room and conference room.

To make the most of thefacility space, the mechanical rooms were relocated from the centralcore to the basement. Storage, an exercise area, and a reprographicsroom were also sited underground.

Linked Up And Powered Up

Millions of people depend on OEM, so the quality of its communicationand planning resources are crucial. With the support of city governmentand collaboration with the architects and engineers on the job, Jacksonand his team aimed to create a state of the art facility upon whichcity residents could depend. Secure and redundant power and datasystems were central to this mission.

Jacksonnotes that designing the facility from the ground up enabled his teamto implement the best technology available. “The ability to upgrade thetechnology was a great advantage,” he says. “A lot of the capabilitieshad changed since we built 7 World Trade Center.”

Redundanciesin power supply were crucial to the planning. “That’s a corerequirement for us,” says Jackson. “It is always crucial in the designof our facilities to have generation capabilities throughout. We testour backup power system every week to make sure it’s operational at alltimes. During the blackout of 2003, for instance, our facility was litup like a Christmas tree.”

To achieve the level ofdependability required, building systems were designed with 2N and N+2design redundancies. These approaches were applied to services andutilities; uninterrupted power supply; emergency generators; andelectrical and telecommunication distribution systems.

A 2Nsystem is comprised of two independent systems to provide two sourcesof power to each piece of equipment. The N+2 design architectureconsists of the “main” piece of equipment, as well as two back upsources. This approach means that when one item (i.e. a generator) isdown for service, its duplicate can take up normal operations, whilethe third piece stands by in case of a failure.

Going For Green

In March 2007, the building was certified LEED for New Construction 2.1Silver and is the first headquarters building in the city to earn thedesignation. “It was an interesting process,” says Jackson of his firstLEED endeavor, “not just for OEM, but for the city as a whole to gothrough the process and understand its requirements and the nuancesinvolved.”

Thedecision to pursue LEED was made after some design work had beencompleted. Therefore, some strategies used were necessarily those thathad minimal impact on the earlier design.

OEM building The Watch Command Center is constantly in operation. (Photo: Elliott Kaufman Photography)

The sustainable approach included energy and waterconservation measures. Indoor air quality was addressed by specifyinglow off-gassing materials and preventing contamination of the airduring construction. Carbon monoxide sensors were installed throughout,which could also provide the benefit of increasing occupant alertnesswhen many people are working in the facility due to more fresh airbeing provided by the HVAC system.

The project also earnedcredits toward certification through material conservation. This wasachieved by avoiding demolition of the existing Red Cross building andusing many of its floors and column structures. Additionally, 90% ofdemolition and construction waste was recycled.

At The Ready

Moving into a new facility successfully takes careful planning andcoordination. The 24/7 operating requirement of OEM required no less.

Jacksonexplains, “We needed to shift about 150 people into the facilitywithout allowing any downtime. We moved on a Friday night and kept theWatch Command Center in the old space operating. At 8:00 a.m. the nextday, the next shift began operations in the new building. Switching thephones was the most complicated thing…to get the ring to go from onelocation to the other. It was a long weekend, but it worked out well.”

Inreflecting on the project, Aliotta remarks, “It was the Phoenix risingfrom the ashes. Taking a building that was obsolete and turning it intothis state of the art operations center was very satisfying. I think itis a pretty impressive achievement for everyone that was involved.”

Asthey have since 9/11 and before, OEM staff members continue to workaround the clock to monitor potential threats to New York City and itsoccupants. The difference from the past five years is that they arelocated in a permanent, modern facility designed to allow them to workas effectively as possible in identifying and mitigating whatever eventmay come their way.

This article was based on an interview with Aliotta ( and Jackson (

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Project Information:

Project: New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM).

Type of Facility: Existing.

Function of Facility: To coordinate all critical city, state, and federal agencies in case of an emergency.

Location: Brooklyn, NY.

Square Footage: 62,000.

Owner: City of New York.

Manager: Henry Jackson, deputy commissioner, OEM.

Project Management Team: Joseph J. Aliotta, AIA; Juan M. Mejia, RA.

Funding Provider: New York City.

Construction Timetable: May 2005 to October 2006.

Budget: $49 million total; $41 million for construction.

Cost Per Square Foot: $790, total; $661, construction.

Architect: Swanke Hayden Connell Architects.

Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Jaros Baum and Bolles, Consulting Engineers.

Structural Engineer: Weidlinger Associates Inc. Consulting Engineers.

General Contractor/Construction Manager: Bovis Lend Lease.

Architectural Lighting Design: Hillman DiBernardo Leiter Castelli.

Landscape Architect: Philip Habib and Associates Inc.

Sustainability Consultant: Steven Winter Associates, Inc.

Product Information:

Furniture: Herman Miller; Geiger; Nienkamper.

Wallcoverings: Maharam.

Flooring System: Tate Access Floors.

Carpet: Carpet Tile and Broadloom by Shaw Contract.

Ceilings: USG.

Fabrics/Textiles/Upholstery: Herman Miller; HBF Textiles; Luna Textiles; Unika Vaev; Knoll.

Light Fixtures: Kurt Versen; Lightolier; Neoray; Winona.

Surfacing: Roppe.

Acoustics/Sound Masking: DFB (acoustical fabric wrapped panels).

Movable Walls: Modernfold.

Window Treatments: DFB (solar and blackout shades).

Restroom Fixtures: Kohler; Sloan.

Storage: Spacesaver.

Office Equipment: Meridian.

Security System: AMAG Technology; Bosch.

CCTV: Bosch.

Door Locks: Schlage.

Smart Cards: HID.

Alarms: AMAG.

Sensors: Siemens.

HVAC Equipment: AAON (air conditioners); Smith (boilers); Greenheck(fans); Anemostat (air distribution devices); Bell & Gossett(pumps).

Building Management System: Siemens.

Power Supply Equipment: Electro Service Equipment Co., using Siemens equipment.

Roofing System: Henry (inverted liquid membrane roof system).

Lighting Control Products: Lutron (dimmer systems); Tork (time clocks); Novetic (motion sensors).

Exit Signs: Atlite.

Wayfinding: Design 360, Inc., an affiliate of Swanke Hayden Connell Architects (for design).

Telecommunications: Motorola; Nortel.

Network Equipment: Cisco.

IT Infrastructure: Hewlett-Packard; Cisco.

Restroom Equipment/Supplies: Bobrick.

Windows: Kawneer.

Glazing: Oldcastle.

Elevators: Noble.


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