Interest Lagging in Building Security Technology

Report from real estate investors says security interest cooling now, six years after 9/11

The 9/11 attacks in Manhattan and Washington, D.C. led many building owners and managers to upgrade their security protocols and systems. Surveillance cameras, lobby turnstiles and other high-tech security measures became commonplace features within many large properties.

Yet while experts generally agree that U.S. buildings are safer than they were before 9/11, they also warn that many building owners and managers have grown complacent on security issues since the attacks. That's particularly disturbing in light of a recent warning from the federal government that al-Qaeda remains bent on carrying out "visually dramatic mass-casualty attacks" against domestic targets.

But a vague threat seems to have triggered a vague response: Many building owners and managers are taking a wait-and-see attitude on costly security upgrades, says Lauris Freidenfelds, vice president of Chicago-based security consulting firm Sako & Associates Inc. In fact, Jon Schmidt, director of antiterrorism services at construction services firm Burns & McDonnell Inc. in Kansas City, Mo. and a board member of the Building Security Council, says he thinks it will take another U.S. attack to once again grab the attention of the country's $5 trillion commercial real estate sector.

Richard Kadzis, special projects director for corporate real estate group CoreNet Global, points out that building security measures are "only as good as the public infrastructure that complements them." Kadzis says it's probably not so surprising that building owners and managers still are trying to meet 9/11 security challenges. "It's only six years later," he says. "We're still adjusting."

Future adjustments, however, may not include high-tech security measures. "With regard to 9/11, I think that building managers have identified that technology will have little or no benefit in deterring a terrorist event. Therefore, building managers are reluctant to invest in equipment that will have nominal effects," says Sean Ahrens, senior security consultant at Schirmer Engineering Corp. in Deerfield, Ill.

Cosmetics also play a role, as some businesses fear that their workplaces will resemble fortified bunkers with the addition of these systems, says Donald Young, vice president of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) in Houston.

But some owners and managers are still in the market for security technology, and vendors keep rolling out more sophisticated products to serve this market. According to the Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), spending on all types of security in private buildings climbed from 49 cents per sq. ft. in 2002 to 63 cents in 2007.

Among the vendors seeking to capitalize on that additional spending are Kastle Systems International LLC of Culver City, Calif. and Smarter Security Systems Ltd. of Austin, Texas.

Recently, Kastle Systems introduced Visitor Link, a system that lets tenants and building managers preauthorize guests by registering them on a central database over the Internet. Registered visitors can check in at a self-service kiosk or a security desk. A visitor's driver license or credit card is scanned, then an ID badge is printed. The badge can be used in conjunction with building access technology to activate turnstiles, open doors and operate elevators.

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