Theaters and City to Close Curtain on Evacuation Problems Exposed During Times Square Bomb Scare

December 7, 2010

As covered by today's Wall Street Journal and WNYC, Assembly Members Rory Lancman (D-Queens) and RoAnn Destito (D-Utica), lead a roundtable discussion on emergency preparedness in New York City's Theater District on Monday December 6, 2010. The roundtable examined the effectiveness of the laws and procedures in place to prepare employees in the NYC theater district in case of an emergency. The May 1, 2010 attempted car bomb in Times Square highlighted the need to examine emergency preparedness plans and procedures in the area. Theater district employees have complained that many theaters do not run proper fire or evacuation drills either before or at the commencement of a new production.

The roundtable was attended by Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan) and representatives of Assembly Members Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), Susan John (D-Rochester) and Grace Meng (D-Queens); the New York City Office of Emergency Management; New York City Fire Department; US Department of Labor – Occupational Safety and Health Administration; several theater owners, including the Shubert Organization, Nederlandder Producing Company of America, and Jujamcyn Theaters; and industry union representatives, including the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 1, Actors’ Equity, IATSE Local 798, United Scenic Artists Local 829, IATSE Local 764, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

Topics of discussion included the Occupational Safety and Health Act requirement for theaters to have Emergency Action Plans and how often these plans are inspected by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); the Fire Safety and Evacuation Plans required for theaters by the 2007 version of the New York City Fire Code and the enforcement of the plans by the Fire Department; and the effectiveness of regular "life safety" training hosted by theater owners at the start of each production and annually.

Several recommendations were made at the roundtable to improve emergency preparedness in theaters. These recommendations include, that theaters conduct one hour of mandatory, paid employee "life safety training" every six months; during inspections OSHA will make sure theaters have accurate and up-to-date Emergency Action Plans in place; in continuing to develop and enforce the NYC Fire Code, the Fire Department will consider emergency preparedness concerns addressed at the roundtable and the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety will be involved in the process of adopting the new Fire Code, ensuring that employees’ workplace safety concerns are considered; the Office of Emergency Management will look into ways to allow for better communication between theaters in case of an emergency situation; and the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety will propose through either union contract or legislation that a formal task force be created between all theater stakeholders to address the concerns regarding emergency preparedness.