Condos Can Shut Off Power During a Forced Evacuation
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Some condominium buildings shut down their power as Hurricane Dorian approached the town, forcing residents to either evacuate or endure miserable conditions.
One elderly resident was so desperate, he pulled the fire alarm in his building, even though there was no fire, so Palm Beach Fire-Rescue would come to his aid, Fire Chief Darrel Donatto said. The man couldn’t get down the stairs to exit the building without help.
“Imagine you elected to stay in your building,” Donatto told a Town Council committee Monday. “You find yourself shuttered in, with no air conditioning and no elevator. Conditions deteriorate pretty quickly inside those locations.”
It was one of two calls fire-rescue received from residents asking for help because the condominium association in their building had shut off the power.
As Hurricane Dorian threatened the area, Palm Beach County issued a mandatory evacuation order for the barrier islands, including Palm Beach, at 1 p.m. Sept. 1. It was lifted at 4 p.m. the following day.
Once an evacuation order has been issued, a state law allows condominium associations to shut off power, elevators, water and sewer. The association can’t force residents to leave their own homes but they can make conditions difficult for them if they stay. Residents remaining for the storm do so at their own risk.
“It absolves the condominium association of [responsibility for] anything that should occur if they stay,” Donatto said of the law.
He said fire-rescue is concerned that some buildings may have turned off their power generators as well. He said fire-rescue told the condo associations that they cannot disable essential life-safety systems.
“We are concerned about the generator part of it because it affects lighting the stairs and hallways to get you out of your building,” he said. “We are telling them, ‘you can’t shut off your emergency generator. It’s a critical component of your life-safety system.’”
The subject is “generating a lot of public dialogue,” he said. The town has asked Town Attorney John Randolph to look into it.
Councilwoman Julie Araskog, one of two council members who sit on the Public Safety Committee, suggested soliciting a legal opinion from the Florida attorney general’s office. But Donatto said it needs to go through Randolph first. “We are proceeding in that direction,” he said.
Councilwoman Margaret Zeidman, who chairs the committee, discouraged any further comment until the council hears from Randolph.
“It’s already in the hands of our attorney,” she said. “Instead of speculating how this is going to work out, we should wait for Mr. Randolph, instead of having too much public discussion about it.”
© 2019 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), William Kelly. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.