At the Frontline: Willis Tower Director of Security Keith Kambic

Kambic discusses the challenges behind keeping one of the world's landmark high-rises safe


For years, Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower), has stood as one of the world's tallest and most well known buildings. As such, security at the landmark Chicago facility requires the best in security personnel and technology.

For the past six years, Keith Kambic, who has more than 25 years experience in the security industry, has been charged with keeping the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere safe. Kambic, who previously served as director of security and life safety at the Aon Center in Chicago, was recently named "Security Professional of the Year," by The Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago.

In this "At the Frontline," Kambic discusses the security initiatives that he has enacted at Willis Tower and some of the challenges that are involved in securing one of the world's architectural marvels.

What are some of the unique challenges involved in managing security for a landmark building like Willis Tower?

I think not only unique, but one of the most fun challenges is dealing with all of our different businesses. So many people that manage high-rises, that's what they manage is a high-rise. Where here in our building, we're a lot different in that we are a high-rise location, we have over 10,000 tenants and probably some of the most prestigious firms in the city housed out of the building and they have their own requirements with regards to access control and customer service. But, at the same time, we have one of the top tourist attractions in the world at the top of the building with the observation deck and that is a real unique and fun challenge because you're dealing with a whole different group of people, who have a whole different level of expectations. That's where my officers have to become customer service (representatives), almost like greeters because people coming here aren't necessarily familiar with Chicago and they have a lot of questions about the city and the building. With that comes photographing and being able to recognize between the different types of photographs.

In addition to that, we run a world-class broadcasting service out of here, which is a 24-hour, 365 day-type of operation that is challenging. Because on a daily basis, we may have 20,000 people enter the building, we have a whole host of retailers, shops, our own post office, and that has another set of security and life safety concerns with it. So I think if you look at the whole picture, we're really dealing with four or five different types of businesses and that is probably one of the most unique things (about our security program) because our security officers interchange between all those positions and all those responsibilities and they have to be trained on a variety of things to deal with those different types of business groups.

What types of security technologies do you utilize at Willis Tower and how do you integrate them?

Well, naturally we have access control, CCTV, we have both analog and IP. We've gone into full digital recording with the algorithms and intelligent recording to help us control some of our perimeter areas and we integrate all that together on one big platform so our control room operators can easily understand it. We also integrate access control from a turnstile standpoint to control our core of the building. From a visitor standpoint, we use an online visitor management system... and it integrates directly into our access control system both forward and backward. They are all pre-registered guests and that is a unique challenge because last year we checked in approximately 300,000 visitors into the office. We basically integrate that altogether in addition to the usual bollards and planters; it's all tied together nicely so that the control room and our supervision can do their job effectively.

In a building the size and scope of Willis Tower, what kind of preparation goes into planning for and responding to a potential terror attack?

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