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 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.