How 9-11 changed security

The Sept. 11 terror attacks have undoubtedly had a significant impact on the importance people place on security. The extent to which the events of that fateful day have impacted the industry more than nine years later was a topic discussed by a panel of security directors during a seminar held last week at ASIS 2010.

"It is important to take a look back at why we do what we do today," said Carlos Villarreal, senior vice president of Whelan Security. "Those events changed with way we do security, not just in the U.S., but around the world."

Villarreal was joined on the panel by Alan Snow, director of safety and security for Boston Properties, Mark Wright, director of security for Brookfield Properties, and Keith Kambic, director of security for the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) in Chicago.

Though there has not been an attack of the magnitude of Sept. 11 on U.S. soil since that day, Villarreal says that doesn't mean that terrorists have given up, but rather changed their plan of attack.

"The attempts have not been very large-scale... but they are smaller-scale, easier to execute," he said. "The threats are real and they keep coming at us."

Reflecting on their memories of where they were and what they were doing on 9/11, most of the panel members knew immediately that things were going to change radically for the security industry.

"We quickly realized our business was about to change," said Kambic, who was working for a different employer at the time. "We knew we would be doing a lot of risk analysis."

Snow said one of the things he realized was going to be a big challenge in the immediate aftermath of the attacks would be making people feel safe in a high-rise building.

"A lot of what we did was counseling," said Snow. "It really was about how are we going to make people feel good about coming into an office building?"

Wright said that even as far south as Houston, many people were wondering if their facilities were a target.

"It was a day that lead to meeting people in conference rooms, helping them understand the threats they face and how to mitigate it," he said.

Villarreal, who was director of security for the Sears Tower at the time, said that his experience in the immediate aftermath of the attacks was similar to Snow's in that he and his security staff spent a lot of time reassuring tenants and staff about the safety of the building.

Snow said some people even asked about such preposterous notions as mounting anti-aircraft guns on top of buildings after the attacks.

While most organizations made security a priority following 9/11, there was still some reluctance among a few businesses, according to the panel, due either to the costs of implementing new security technologies or the culture or the area.

Since that time, however, Wright said that he has seen big changes in how organizations communicate during an emergency situation, deploying advanced mass notification technology that not only makes people in a building aware of what is going on and what to do, but can also send them text message and e-mail alerts.

Kambic said that good communication during an emergency is "key," adding that the Willis Tower has prescribed public address announcements for up to 10 different emergency situations. He also said that the training that security staff receive now is much more advanced than before 9/11. According to Kambic, security officers at the Willis Tower are trained by the Transportation Security Administration on how to spot explosive devices and in behavior detection analysis.

"The amount of training is incredible," he said.

Snow said that he has seen improvement by companies in three areas since 9/11 including situational awareness (training all employees, not just security staff on what to look out for), perception (improving how security staff is viewed by the public, such as making their uniforms more professional looking) and emergency preparedness (minimizing the impact an incident can have on an organization's ability to respond).

According to the panel, the key for security professionals moving forward is being prepared for the absolute worst case scenario and getting the public and your security staff to remain vigilant.