At the Frontline: Willis Tower Director of Security Keith Kambic

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?

We plan for all emergencies here at the building. Day-to-day emergencies are more likely to happen, such as medical emergencies, trip-and-falls, small fires, evacuations and bad weather. We train for approximately 12 different scenarios, not just security staff, but also with our engineering staff. For the tourism side, we also train with the sky deck staff. Last year, my entire (security) force was trained for an additional 1,400 hours and that includes emergency evacuation, customer service and surveillance detection. A lot of that training is done in-house, but we also utilize the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Fire Department, the TSA and ATF. We'll use our federal and local partners to come in and help supplement our training. Every year for the last five years, we do a real live scenario with the Chicago Fire Department where we simulate a fire on one of our vacant floors, we put the system into alarm, we respond to it as we normally would and we bring in the fire department. We simulate everything. We simulate having the media here, we simulate having medial emergencies; we take all of that into account so that we can evaluate it in a training exercise, learn from our mistakes and move forward.

What steps have you taken to harden Willis Tower against terror threats?

We employ really good customer service and I think a lot of people just forget that. In addition to those physical controls, which I personally believe a lot of places have (implemented), if you don't have the human element to back those physical controls, that's all they are, they're just a bollard, they're just a camera. Your security staff... is customer service, getting into somebody's space, finding out why they're here, what they're doing, kind of doing that one minute assessment and that's where really good customer service comes into play. Yes, we are being friendly and greeting, but at the same time we're also making an assessment.

With so many different people coming into the building including tenants, tourists and workers, how do handle credentialing for such a vast amount of people?

From a building standpoint, we let our access control system do its job. We credential anyone that's going to be in our building for any length of time, be it a contractor or tenant. We constantly go through our access control system and we utilize a report that shows, based upon our criteria, when a card hasn't been used. That can go for anybody... and if that card hasn't been used for a certain period of time and the tenant doesn't tell us to keep it active, we delete it. So, that keeps our database very clean. Obviously, from a delivery standpoint, we have the online visitor system. So, we have an authorized list of our regular deliveries that come in by tenant, so we know those people coming in are supposed to be here. From a tourism side, that is just dealt with in a totally different way. We bring our tourists in through a different entrance and we screen them in a different procedure, then we bring them up as short-term visitors and they are out after that.

In a world where mail scares and bomb threats have become routinely against various landmarks, how do you handle these types of threats that are levied against Willis Tower?

We take steps up front so hopefully, we don't have those issues. Typically in a high-rise like our building, we've gone to a lot of messenger services or couriers... so a lot of that stuff comes in through a bonded service and it is X-rayed as it is brought in and delivered up to the tenants. On the larger, delivery side, we do a much more extensive check, not only from the point where we queue them on the side of the building, but also checking shipping manifests and all those steps that go along with that. We also do X-ray down there and we use a company... to help us monitor our systems, so we're taking care of it from both ends. We also worked last year with the post office and we gave training sessions to our tenants, specifically on recognizing suspicious mail and suspicious packages and how to handle those types of things. We're kind of taking a multi-layered approach to it.

How have the role and perception of security at buildings like Willis Towers and the company's who own them changed over the last 10 years?

I think that the public is a lot more aware of the surroundings that they're in and I think it has made a lot of security directors, stand up, take notice and really perform in ways that they never had to before. I truly believe a lot of it is market driven. What you see in New York and what you see here in Chicago is certainly not the same thing you're going to see in Atlanta. With the turnstiles and visitor management systems that came into this building... we were one of the very first buildings to put it in along with the other tall buildings. But if you were to go through a lot of the smaller buildings now, you're going to find the exact same controls in our market.