Insecurity Measures: Building Security Six Months After Sept. 11

Immediately following the events of 9/11, many workplaces rushed to implement new, increased security measures. Six months later, one expert is asking, "Are these measures effective?"

Immediately following the events of 9/11, many workplaces rushed to implement new, increased security measures. Six months later, a number of questions regarding the reality vs. the fantasy surrounding building security loom, says J. Paul Beitler, president of the Beitler Co., a commercial real estate firm.

While Beitler acknowledges the fear of further attacks experienced by many Americans following the events of 9/11, he questions whether commercial buildings and workplaces are merely providing the illusion of safety by adding additional security measures without monitoring their effectiveness.

"There is a sense of [building owners and employers] protecting the buildings without the sense of what they''re trying to protect it from," says Beitler. He said building and business owners are taking measures to protect buildings from outsiders when in reality, most crimes are committed by insiders, by employees and in some cases, security personnel.

"This is an amateurish, futile attempt to give the impression that their buildings are safe," believes Beitler. "The truth is, nothing [the owners or managers of the World Trade Center could have done] would have prevented 9/11."

He says that despite good intentions, inconsistency in security approaches abound, with some companies taking a very lax approach, while others make employees feel they are crossing the border into unfriendly territory.

"We need to find a reasoned, balanced response to the times we live in, and determine what, if any, security measures will truly be effective," cautions Beitler. "It goes much further than placing a ''rent-a-cop'' in the lobby. Certainly, I''m sensitive to people wanting to feel safe, but I don''t want to waste my tenants'' dollars to merely give them the illusion of safety with window-dressing security measures that have no real teeth."

Beitler , who has 32 years in the commercial real estate industry, having developed over 10 million square feet and managed more than 30 million square feet of property, says that "rather than turning buildings into bunkers to save ourselves from missiles and building stronger bunkers, we need to find out who''s launching the missiles."

He makes several suggestions for improving building security and employee safety:

  • Place greater emphasis on back-of-the-house security rather than lobby security. Who''s making deliveries in trucks to your buildings? Who has access to basements and attached parking garages? "No one person can carry enough explosives into your building to do collateral damage," says Beitler, "but that dumpster backed up to the side of building could hold enough C4 explosive to do some damage."
  • In the case where several tenants share a building or high rise, make it clear that building owners are not responsible for safety, that security personnel are there only to to call in "the professionals" - fire, rescue and police departments - in the event of an emergency and coordinate their arrival. "If a company wants to post an armed guard, then let them do it on their floor, not force it on other tenants," suggests Beitler. He also suggests that companies perform security and pre-employment checks on their personnel and, especially, on their security personnel. "In my buildings, I''ve found that 95 percent of the theft that occurs is done by another tenant or by security staff, not cleaning staff, security staff. If you find people are felons or have unsavory backgrounds, don''t hire them."
  • Do the fundamentals to help employees help themselves in the event of an emergency. "Employees need to be educated to take fire drills and emergency evacuation drills seriously," he counsels. "Evacuations are a coordinated effort. Employees need to know what to do, where to go, how long it will take them to get out of the building. People think they can just run down the stairs in the event of an emergency. You can''t, not when you''ve got thousands of other people trying to get down the stairwell. It''s like entering a busy freeway. People need to know how to do it."

He says the public and business owners are fooling themselves into thinking that new security measures are actually increasing safety.

"Right now, many office buildings have a security presence in their lobbies - but is it safe to assume that security personnel, some of whom are highly trained and some of whom are barely trained, are actually deterring society''s malcontents or intimidating determined terrorists from inflicting harm?" he questions. "It''s hard to imagine that a security person who only glances through briefcases is actually stopping anyone from carrying in dangerous elements that can cause mayhem."

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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