The Evolution of High-Rise Security

The security requirements of any building are driven by two major factors: the assets at risk and the threats to those assets.

The assets are broadly defined as anything that helps the profitability of the business. For the building owner and/or manager, that includes the structure, the infrastructure (e.g., HVAC, telecom), image, building operations and operations staff. For the occupier or tenant, the assets include employees, their valuables, the infrastructure (particularly IT), intellectual property, office equipment, corporate image and other valuables (e.g., cash, art, negotiables).

The Evolution of the Asset and Threat
Assets have changed over the years as commerce and commercial processes have evolved. Personal computers have replaced typewriters and calculators, and digital archives have replaced record storage centers.

The threats, too, have changed in recent years. Information is king, and corporate espionage (the acquisition of competitive information) is rife with kingmakers. Financial theft, also, has evolved from a mask and a machine gun, or a drill and explosives, to the hacker, the trader or the broker sitting in an air-conditioned, high-tech environment, distant from the asset location.

However, the physical threat of terrorism has emerged as one of the most significant evolving threats to high-rise buildings over the last few years.

We have always known about terrorism. It was something that, for the most part, happened overseas. The United States has suffered domestic terrorist acts perpetrated by political groups, animal and environmental activists, and an occasional loner, such as the Unabomber. Despite these acts, unless a given facility or business was identified as a direct target, its management gave little credence to terrorism as a general threat, and little hard currency was spent in implementing protective measures.

A Single Event
Enter stage left: Terrorism, now with a capital T. The bombing, in 1993, of the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City was a wake-up call. The WTC implemented immediate restrictions on vehicle parking and started a screening program for all delivery vehicles. For a few weeks, sales of guard hours in New York City doubled and private vehicle parking was severely restricted.

A number of studies were performed on the advisability of having parking lots underneath tall buildings. But the demand for parking in urban areas remains extremely high despite public transportation, so commercial considerations eventually prevailed and business returned to normal. Long before there was time to design any new security systems solutions, the wake-up call was characterized as a single event and, since you cannot extrapolate from a single point, most people and companies hit the snooze button and went back to their daily lives.

Lessons From the Murrah Building
The truck bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 had a considerably greater impact on society and on the security industry. The attack required no access to the building or to parking under the building. Structural damage, as well as injuries to people and structures from flying glass, extended for many city blocks.

The federal government launched extensive studies of parking near to and under its office buildings. They looked at the ability of their buildings to withstand bomb blasts and developed mitigation concepts for window glass subjected to blasts. They also implemented tighter building access controls for employees and visitors. Some commercial high-rise buildings placed additional restrictions on access to their underground parking lots, and many studied, but few implemented, "closed" office buildings, that is, required identification and validation of employees and visitors prior to entry into lobby-level elevator banks.

The glass problem was the most worrisome to the owners and managers of these structures. They recognized that they faced considerable potential damage, both physically and in litigation, even if they were blocks from the intended target of a bombing. However, once it became clear that the costs of blast-protection systems for glazing were huge, only a few commercial buildings, such as high-profile corporate headquarters, could afford to bite the bullet. Many high-sensitivity federal buildings have since implemented glass protection and have helped to further the state of the technology and reduce costs.

Consider also that the Murrah bombing was a domestic terrorist incident with no identified connection to the WTC bombing. Once again, you cannot extrapolate between two points if they do not have even the remotest connection. Since the attack was perpetrated on a federal building, the commercial real estate world did not believe that its rating as a potential target had been increased by a single notch.

The Impact of 9/11
The series of incidents on September 11, 2001, overshadows the two others described above. That level of physical destruction and human carnage over a few short hours still remains difficult to grasp. As the World Trade Center towers collapsed, they took with them some of our faith in such tall buildings. The anthrax attacks that followed continued to break down the public's sense of security. Although the death toll was low in comparison to 9/11, the specter of the terrorist use of biological and chemical weapons generated much concern, particularly related to the crippling effect these incidents had on the recoverability of contaminated facilities.

Obviously, 9/11 and anthrax attacks have pushed to the front a number of high-rise building security issues and have forced the evolution of the discipline to a new level. Below are described some of the security community's responses to some of these issues, in particular to the ones that can be, and have been, addressed in the short term. Others require more extensive research and, in some cases, the development of new technology before meaningful solutions can be implemented.

? Many more commercial high-rise buildings have implemented closed building concepts. Tenant employees are typically identified by a building pass or automated card-reading system, and visitors seeking access must be validated by their host and must have their identity verified by government-issued photographic identification.

? In high-profile and iconic buildings, potentially higher-priority targets for terrorists, visitors and sometimes regular occupants are subject to airport-type security screening?walk-through metal detectors and package X-ray.

? Risk assessment surveys now seriously consider the threat of terrorism. The result of analysis may place this threat low, or even insignificant, in likelihood for a specific building, but it can no longer be ignored.

? Quantitative approaches to risk assessment have been developed for, and are being applied to, commercial use. The General Security Risk Assessment Guideline, published by ASIS International, and the Risk Assessment Methodology SM, developed by Sandia National Laboratories, are important starts to the evolution of the security discipline from an art to a science.

? Evacuation planning and testing have become priorities in the high-rise office occupant's mind. Before 9/11, fire drills were greeted with jeers; now everyone wants to understand and experience the evacuation process.

? Some emergencies call for the concept of sheltering-in, that is, it may be more dangerous to leave the building than to remain inside. Many building managers are struggling with difficult policies and procedures as well as testing of these plans.

? Mail X-ray equipment has been in use for a number of years, but many owner occupiers and corporate headquarters facilities are implementing such screening for the first time. Detection of some chemical/biological contaminants in mail and packages is a reality, but most systems are still very expensive and time consuming and subject to unacceptable error rates. However, necessity, being the mother of invention, is boosting the funding that is being poured into this field.

? Similarly, detectors and neutralizers of chemical/biological contaminants in air intake structures have become high-priority technologies. Of special importance is the need to detect contaminants quickly enough to stop or decontaminate the flow of air before it permeates a building's HVAC system. The cost and delays in decontaminating the Hart Building after one of the anthrax incidents bring sweat to the brows of all building managers.

Task Force Recommendations
New York City's post-9/11 Building Code Task Force recently published their recommendations for enhancements to high-rise office buildings. Listed below are some of the recommendations the security professional may wish to review. Many of the recommendations may eventually become law and will likely spread to other urban communities.

? Encourage the use of impact-resistant materials for stair and elevator shafts
? Encourage more and wider stairwells
? Improve egress path markings and lighting
? Mandate evacuation plans
? Mandate protected elevator lobby vestibules
? All high-rise buildings to have sprinklers within 15 years
? Enhance fire department emergency response communications
? Provide additional training for fire safety directors
? Require air intakes to be at least 20 feet above grade and away from air discharges and loading bays
? Require controlled inspections of HVAC fire dampers
? Encourage NYC buildings subject to other authorities having jurisdiction to comply with NYC Building Code

Security directors of high-rises nationwide would do well to consider the above list as they examine their own facilities.

Our evolution to a higher level of security is not a natural process, but it's a process that is forced upon us by the unfortunate evolution of crime and terrorism. Let's hope the process can be reversed when the need for such security is no longer on our shores.

David G. Aggleton, CPP, is president and principal consultant at Aggleton & Associates Inc., a security consulting and systems design firm in New York City. During his career in the security industry, Mr. Aggleton has developed security solutions for more than 100 high-rise office buildings. He can be reached at