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How safe are New York's high rise buildings?

While just 305 square miles, according to the U.S. Census Department, New York City is home to nearly 8.5 million people. Given the geography of the city, rather than build out, city planners have been forced to build up and the city's landscape is dominated by skyscrapers and high rise buildings. With so many people living in such a small area and literally on top of one another, it's critical that the city's infrastructure and buildings be properly constructed and maintained.

In 1979, a college student was killed when she was struck by a window cornice that came loose from a high rise building. In response, new laws were enacted to ensure that buildings in the city that are six stories or taller be inspected every five years. Some argue, however, that these inspections aren't thorough enough and may fail to uncover or discover flaws and defects in the facades of many buildings.

The shortcomings of the city's building inspection codes came to light last Sunday "when a piece of decorative terra-cotta windowsill broke free," from the eighth story of a luxury high rise nursing home. As the piece fell, it struck a 60-year-old grandmother and her two-year-old granddaughter. Tragically, the young girl died from injuries she suffered from the falling debris.

Records indicate that the building was last inspected in 2011. At the time, the building passed inspection although reports indicate that no maintenance or repair work had been completed on its facade in years. In an effort to prevent further debris from falling and injuring others, protective scaffolding has been erected around the building.

The Buildings Department notes that from 2009 to 2014, a total of "250 incidents of falling objects were reported to the department." From the height of six or more stories, even a relatively small piece of stone or masonry would likely cause an individual to suffer severe injury. Building owners are legally responsible to ensure that their properties are safe and maintained. In cases where a building’s owner fails to meet legal obligations to ensure for the health and safety of the public, legal action may be taken.

Source: The New York Times, "Girl, 2, Dies After Being Struck by Falling Piece of Windowsill in Manhattan," Matt A. V. Chaban and Rick Rojas, May 18, 2015

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