New York’s Finest

Midtown Manhattan is a madhouse this week. Both the opening session of the 62nd UN General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative are in town and bring with them both an unprecedented group of world leaders and a complex security situation. As I shuttle back and forth between the two events, I am struck by the competence of the New York Police Department. I can’t even imagine the intricacies involved in securing an area this large and vulnerable, but they have every appearance of having it under control. I’m confident at least.

This is an apropos moment to bring up the UN’s Capital Master Plan, a plan to renovate the UN Headquarters in New York City, which has not happened since the complex was built in 1950, and bring the building up to current safety and security codes.The existing conditions of the United Nations headquarters in New York pose serious safety and security problems, and waste a tremendous amount of resources. The headquarters were designed to accommodate 70 Member States. UN membership currently stands at 191 Member States.

The UN building no longer complies with U.S. and New York City fire and safety codes, and a considerable amount of energy is wasted as a result of archaic appliances. Problems include asbestos, electromagnetic fields, an inadequate fire alarm system, the lack of sprinklers in high rise buildings, poor or no fire separation between buildings, the possibility of high pressure steam line explosions, falling ceilings, and leaks.

As a high-profile building located in New York and a gathering point for world leaders, the UN is unfortunately a target for a terrorist attack. And it lacks basic security requirements such as shatterproof glass windows. In the event of an incident, first responders — like NY’s finest — would be put in an unacceptable amount of danger.

I have heard at least one person on CNN in the last couple of days talking about the cost to the city of maintaining security this week. New York, as the seat of UN headquarters, plays host to the world and receives untold benefits from acting as such. Aside from the political- and prestige-related benefits, this week alone hotels throughout midtown are sold out and restaurants are packed.

The first step of being a good host is ensuring the security of your guests. The NY Police department is doing its part. It’s time that the Capital Master Plan move forward.

In 1998-99, a team of architects and engineers thoroughly examined the condition of U.N. Headquarter complex. The study concluded that despite the high quality of the original construction, many building elements have deteriorated due to age, or do not meet current standards of safety and energy efficiency. The study concluded “The current condition of the headquarters’ complex is unacceptable for continued use over the long term.”

To address this situation, the Secretary-General presented the Capital Master Plan to renovate the UN headquarters in July 2000. Since that time, a commission has been appointed to determine a budget; complete an overall implementation schedule; select contractors through competitive-bidding; consolidate existing space; secure swing space; and design plans for financing the project. The total cost of the Capital Master Plan is $1.2 billion over period of eight years.