Michael Alacha thought he was prepared for Superstorm Sandy. Days before the storm, the assistant commissioner for New York City's Dept. of Buildings made sure the agency issued wind advisories, even going so far as to require crane users to inspect their machines to ensure they were shut down properly for high winds.
Still, on Oct. 29 as Sandy blew in, the unthinkable happened. Winds near 100 mph buffeted a 1,000-ft-tall skyscraper under construction on Manhattan's West 57th Street, flipping over the jib of a tower crane like a wet noodle. Tens of thousands of pounds of limp steel, wire rope and other debris dangled precariously over midtown Manhattan.
Stationed at his office's emergency response center, Alacha, 54, witnessed the event on television and raced to the scene. "My concern was the crane's connection to the building, specifically the top tie," Alacha recalls. "If that was compromised, with the storm still halfway through, the entire mast may have collapsed."
Alacha met with Tim Lynch, a city forensic engineer, and a safety expert with Lend Lease, the building's construction manager. The three men took an elevator to the 20th floor. From there, they made a long climb to the top of the building—up to the 75th floor—to inspect the crane.
The noise and pressure from the wind was overwhelming. "I felt something fly by my eyes," Alacha recalls. "Seconds later, I realized they were my glasses."
In a few days, the crane was secure and nearby buildings re-opened. His quick thinking made a difference. The damaged rig is due to be replaced by March.
"I think Mike Alacha handled the situation very well," says Peter Stroh, who engineered the original crane ties. "He kept a very calm head."