January 08, 2007

Whoever smelt it, dealt it

As I entered the office today at Rockefeller Center, there was a distinct odor of natural gas in the air. By the time I was at my desk, I was hearing that the Concourse as well as other buildings in the complex were also filled with the smell. For a brief period of time we were concerned about a gas leak under us, and were considering evacuating, when a quick check of the internet informed us that it wasn't just Rock Center, but that much of Manhattan was suffering under the same fog.

Knowing the gas wasn't internal to the building it was immediately apparent to me that being inside was vastly superior to being outside, as the gas - or whatever it happened to be - was coming in from the outside. This insight was lost on many of my co-workers however, who given permission to leave "if they felt they needed to" promptly left. Some went home, and many just wanted to get out of the building into the fresh air, because there were parts of the building that the gas odor was oppressive.

The irony, of course, is that many of them went outside for fresh air and immediately lit up cigarettes. The added double-plus irony being that lighting cigarettes as a stress-response to a gas leak is an ill-considered strategy at best.

It wasn't long before folks were attributing the smell to a gas leak in Jersey City. However that was followed shortly by the mayor of Jersey City stating that it was a leak emanating from Chelsea. I checked the New York City Office of Emergency Management website a good 90 minutes after the leak began being reported on the major news outlets, to be met with wonderful suggestions for a healthy and safe New Year's eve, and some suggested New Year's resolutions. Nice to know they're on top of things.

It was interesting to see the impact of post-9/11 thinking on building management. As a duly deputized representative of "the man" I was in on several of the discussions happening at a high level regarding whether we should send employees home or no. Following the horribly ill-fated decisions made in the World Trade Center, no one wants to be responsible for making that particular call one way or the other. On the one hand if we keep everyone inside, we all know what happens if something goes horribly wrong. On the other hand it's very well understood that except for the recent notable exception, it's nearly always better for people to stay put during an office building emergency than to wander aimlessly outside.

Today we were much better off inside the building with the ventilators off than outside sucking down whatever was in the air. And sending folks home downtown or perhaps to Jersey City if the leak was actually coming from either location would have been an even poorer plan. But knowing what we know now, who can make that decision for another person? So responsibility is abrogated and you get "go if you feel you need to" instead. In our post-9/11 urban experience no guidance is better than incorrect guidance, and so we'll leave it to employees to make the best decision for themselves. So some did leave, and some didn't, as they best saw fit.

There's no moral of the story. It's just one of those things we deal with now.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home