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


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.