How secure are construction cranes during Sandy?

Hurricane Sandy has already claimed one significant casualty in New York City: the boom on the roughly 700-foot-tall crane at the luxury One57 tower in Midtown Manhattan.

With the worst of the storm still to come, the World wanted to know: how are the rest of the city’s cranes likely to fare? How do operators go about securing their equipment hundreds of feet above the ground? And what does the city do to ensure the safety of construction sites?

Crane just after its collapse on West 57th Street. Photo: Nathaniel Herz

Most tower cranes like the one at One57 are built to endure severe weather, according to Jay Shapiro, a vice president at the construction safety firm Howard I. Shapiro & Associates, in Lynbrook.

“Because you can’t just put them away when the wind’s going to blow, they’re designed to withstand storm winds,” he said.

Each crane, Shapiro added, is assembled according to formulas that account for manufacturer specifications and tower height. For example, the cranes atop the new 1,400-foot-tall 1 World Trade Center building would be designed to be more resilient than those at work on the roughly 1,000-foot-tall One57.

In addition to height, the crane designs also factor in a region’s weather patterns, Shapiro said.

“Just like there are tables of where the water goes in a 100-year flood, there are similar maps that show maximum wind speeds,” he said.

Gusts from Sandy could run as high as 80 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. But Shapiro said that the numbers he’s seeing are all significantly less than the loads that could be handled by the cranes his company works with — roughly 80 percent of the maximum, he estimated.

“This storm is supposed to be much less intense than the design parameters than are used in New York,” he said.

Depending on their design, cranes can either be locked in position during a storm, with the boom positioned to reduce structural stress, or they can be “weather-vaned” — essentially, left to swing freely, according to Peter Amato, who runs a construction consulting firm called Site Safety LLC.

In advance of a storm like Sandy, the city typically issues a stop-work order, Amato said, which Department of Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri did at at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The Department of Buildings did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Records show that the permit for the One57 crane was valid through next September. However, its operator paid a $1,600 fine after city inspectors in late August issued a violation for leaking hydraulic fluid, and was also cited when it couldn’t produce inspection and maintenance records.

As for the damaged crane’s future, Shapiro — who said his firm is advising on the recovery — said that the hanging boom will first have to be brought under control before it can be taken apart.

“It’s a matter of securing it until it can be dismantled,” he said.

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