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In Pictures: The Red X, Explained

By Samantha Abernethy in News on Aug 7, 2013 7:40PM

You may have noticed these signs popping up on buildings in Chicago: It's flat and metal, white with a reflective red "X." So what is it?

The sign is a signal for first responders, indicating the building is both abandoned and structurally unsound. The "X" warns them not to enter the building (unless there is expressed evidence someone is inside) because it could collapse. Photographer Gabriel X. Michael has documented dozens of these buildings and has given us permission to use his photos here.

It doesn't necessarily mean the building will be torn down, but it does mean that it isn't up to code, and it probably should be. The 120-year-old building in North Kenwood that Blues legend Muddy Waters' called home sadly wears the "X" as it awaits demolition, or perhaps a rescuer to bring it into compliance.

City Council approved the 2-foot-by-2-foot signs in 2012, allotting $675,000 to add signs to buildings. The measure also banned anyone, including a building's owner, from entering the building. Part of the reason for the measure is a December 2010 tragedy in which two Chicago firefighters were killed and 17 others were injured when responding to a South Shore fire. They entered an abandoned building to look for people, and the building collapsed. “Had our guys been able to see that there was a structural instability in the building, our tactics would have been much different,” said Richard Ford II of the Chicago Fire Department.

“While the first priority of the Chicago Fire Department is saving lives, we must do all we can to protect firefighters, paramedics and those we are helping from harm,” said Fire Commissioner Jose A. Santiago in a June 2012 release. “Making sure we properly identify and mark dangerous buildings supports our goal of having all of our members go home safely at the end of each shift.”

The signs started appearing in the spring of 2013, and Chicago Fire Department's Richard Ford told Fox Chicago in April that up to 1,800 dangerous buildings will be marked.

Want to report an abandoned building? You can do so on the City of Chicago website.