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...


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.

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