High-Rise Security Remains in the Spotlight

Old concerns and new NIST recommendations make skyscrapers tough customers for security.


High-rises have been and continue to be the subjects of dynamic regulatory processes. Building code revisions have often followed disasters such as the deadly 1980 fire in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the 9-11 tragedy at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the Cook County Administration Building fire in Chicago in October 2003.

In that most recent disaster, six employees perished because they had been trapped behind locked stairwell doors and unable to exit the building. Three weeks after the fires, the city of Chicago adopted new standards for high-rises that mandated stairway re-entry either through a fail-safe electronic lock release system or through a policy of keeping stairwell doors unlocked.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) unveiled a 10,000-page report in June on the collapse of the Twin Towers, which is chock full of recommendations for building and safety code changes for skyscrapers.

Undoubtedly, the primary reason for all this regulation is the sheer magnitude of the high-rise building, coupled with its inherent characteristics—multiple floors and, most often, multiple tenants. These lead to special access control and other security challenges.

Quick and Thorough Access
The challenges begin in the building lobby. With large numbers of individuals arriving during the morning rush hour, access control needs to be thorough, but convenient and quick for employees entering the building. One solution that is gaining popularity in high-rises is the use of optical turnstiles. Turnstiles enable quick access; some offer throughput of 45 to 60 people per minute per unit. Many work with a variety of access control technologies.

The units provide the ability to ensure that each person is identified by either a card, a biometric or a PIN as he or she comes through the lane. Because turnstiles allow only one person through at a time, they help to safeguard against piggybacking—an authorized card holder opening the door for someone they know. Turnstiles may also offer anti-passback capability, which prohibits users from using the same card for multiple successive entries.

While most people think of turnstiles as metal bars that flip downward when pushed (such as those used in train or subway stations and ballparks), they actually come in several styles. Some are open lanes that don’t use barriers (such as optical turnstiles), others use wing-style retractable barriers, and still others use glass barriers that open and close for each person. When installing any type of turnstile, one must consider applicable codes and ADA requirements as well as a method for visitor control.

Visitor Management
In addition to access control devices, most high-rise buildings have uniformed security guards in the lobby to control visitor access. Some companies have instituted visitor management systems, many of which enable companies to electronically scan a visitor’s ID (driver’s license or business card) to acquire relevant information about the guest and store it in a database. Many such systems can produce high-quality visitor ID badges for guests. Some also allow companies to maintain an exclusion list of photos and names of individuals not welcome at the organization, and these can often link to national watch list databases.

The Ups and Downs of Elevators
Electronic access control for elevators is a good companion to other forms of security access measures. Using a programmable card reader, businesses can designate exactly which floors employees or visitors will be able to access via the elevator. This comes in particularly handy in multi-tenant buildings, where several businesses may be housed on each floor.

Employees using the elevator present their card to a card reader pre-programmed to allow them access only to their company’s floor. If they push a button to go to a different floor, the elevator will not respond. In the case of visitors, temporary cards can be issued by lobby personnel enabling access only to a specific area.

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