The scene at Ground Zero has now shifted from rescue to recovery, and many trades are working together to clear the scene.
“Everybody’s estimate right now is that it might be a year before that site is cleared,” said Joseph D’Angelo, chapter manager for the New York City chapter of NECA.
While other trades, such as iron workers, are more in demand at Ground Zero, electricians are contributing to the effort by powering buildings in lower Manhattan, N.Y.
“We have a number of electricians doing work in area buildings trying to get power back on,” D’Angelo said. “There are some communications buildings down there for Verizon and AT&T, and I think that’s where a majority of them are.”
Robert McInerney, president of Kleinknecht Electric Co., New York, N.Y., said his company sent supplies and manpower to assist with the recovery effort.
“It’s a very pensive time,” he said. “We’re trying to do the best we can to work with the people that need space, complete our existing projects on time and do anything we can to assist the city. In the buildings that weren’t devastated, our electricians are assisting certain clients and putting together power.”
E-J Electric Installation Co., the Long Island City, N.Y., contractor that built and maintained the security system for the World Trade Center, also assigned electricians to projects near Ground Zero. “We are doing a small bit of work down there with temporary lighting,” said Chairman Bob Mann of E-J Electric. “We are working on one of the buildings that was semi-wrecked.”
Some of the buildings surrounding Ground Zero are still running on temporary power, said Jim Cammarata, president of Lobello Electric, Bronx, N.Y.
“Con Edison, the utility company in New York, is rerouting cables as best they can,” Cammarata said. “They’re even running them in the street down at that point because they can’t get to all the manholes and the cable lines that fed the towers. They really have to isolate everything. From what I understand, they’re still running on generators down there in a couple of the buildings.”
Cammarata, who has been the president of Lobello Electric for 13 years, said he and his electricians often travel from the Bronx to lower Manhattan for jobs. A week after the Sept. 11 tragedy, his electricians assisted clients in office buildings about 15 to 20 blocks from Ground Zero.
“We weren’t down there that particular day, but we had to work there right after,” he said. “We had to wait about a week until things settled a little bit because there was still confusion down there.” NECA’s D’Angelo said many of the electricians have to go through security checks to enter the site.
“There’s security clearances to get within the Zone,” he said. “They have to be credentialed to get through and they need photo ID. Both the FBI and the New York City Police Department are still treating it as a crime scene. You can’t just walk on to the site.” Tightened security has not only affected construction projects close to Ground Zero, but has also slowed them down throughout the entire city, D’Angelo said.
“Trucks entering the city are going through some security checks so there’s been delays in getting materials to job sites,” he said. “It’s affected a lot of jobs in the area. Getting anything into lower Manhattan has become a problem.”
Electricians for Lobello Electric came across checkpoints on their way down to their jobs in lower Manhattan, Cammarata said.
“After you reach a certain point south of Canal Street, there was a checkpoint where we had to show our driver’s licenses and they had to look inside our work vans,” he said. “Our vans basically have no windows and are filled up with tools. They wanted to make sure that we weren’t carrying anything.”
Cammarata said traveling to job sites has been a major issue since the Sept. 11 tragedy.
“It can take anywhere from twice the amount of time to sometimes even more,” he said. “Normally to get to lower Manhattan from the Bronx, it would take about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Right after the incident, forget it. It would take two or three hours.” Cammarata and his electricians now need to carefully plan their appointments and their driving routes to avoid any major delays.
“Every day, I have to plan which way I’m going to go and which ways my guys are going to go,” he said. “Everything has to be well planned. It just takes time and traveling no matter where you are going within the metropolitan area.”
While some electrical contractors are working in close proximity to Ground Zero, others are assigned to renovation projects in other parts of the city. McInerney said his company is helping to renovate buildings to house the companies who formerly worked in the Twin Towers.
“It’s been such a calamity that they’re just trying to dig out from the rubble downtown,” he said. “In Midtown and Uptown, there’s a lot of renovation going on because of the need for office space.” Some World Trade Center tenants are working out of New York City hotels, which do not have full occupancy due to the dramatic drop in tourism.
“A lot of the hotels have a lot of empty space, so they are taking temporary leases for like two months for different small companies that were relocated because of what happened down there,” Cammarata said.
Many of the other tenants are also taking advantage of the office vacancies from the now defunct dot-coms.
“They moved into the old dot-com spaces and they are trying now to figure out what they are going to do,” E-J’s Mann said. “In another three weeks, there should be some plans, but nothing is really happening yet. No one knows really what the companies want, and I don’t expect anything to happen for awhile.”
Mann of E-J Electric described the once bustling construction scene in Manhattan as “very slow.”
“There isn’t much going on in lower Manhattan,” Mann said. “People are still trying to figure out what they are going to do. There’s been a lot of talk, but nothing is really happening. It’s really very quiet. We’re amazed, but that’s the way it is right now.”
While many World Trade Center tenants are able to pick up the pieces and stay in business, others lost everything in the tragedy, Cammarata said.
“The ones that were seriously affected were the contractors who had contracts within the Twin Towers,” he said. “One contractor alone could have a contract with just a few floors and just run a business that way. I heard a story about a guy that had a Tropicana route in one of the buildings and that’s it. His business was completely gone.”
The Sept. 11 tragedy also affected construction projects throughout New York City and nationwide. Some large-scale projects have been postponed or cancelled due to the current economic conditions following the attack. As a smaller contractor, however, Lobello Electric is keeping busy with its renovation, residential and datacom projects. Cammarata said his company will step in and help when the city starts to rebuild.
“A lot of the bigger companies are going to be very busy and a lot of the other smaller work that they may be doing, they may not be able to handle,” Cammarata said. “When they rebuild, all the big electrical contractors that do work throughout the city will be on board working in the high rises that are going to be built. I expect to get the overflow.”
Rebuilding the World Trade Center in some form or another will be a strong symbol of America’s resolve, Cammarata said.
“Everyone is trying to get back to normal as much as possible,” he said. “The quicker they rebuild the better off everyone is going to be.”
D’Angelo said New Yorkers are also still in a state of mourning because of the tragedy. “There’s a sense of loss by everybody in New York City,” he said. “This doesn’t solely pertain to the electricians, but everyone you talk to is carrying around some grief and concern.”
Kleinknecht’s McInerney said despite the horrific tragedy, New York will come back stronger than ever.
“I feel very confident in New York,” he said. “I think we’ll rebuild and get through this tragedy. New York still is and will be the greatest city in the world.”