Secure Workplaces: Beyond Lip Service


Uniformed guards now rove through your office building. Shortcuts to the street though the loading dock are verboten. Presenting your driver's license each time you park in the basement garage is required. Welcome to yet another workplace change wrought by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: Office buildings countrywide are quickly putting new security measures into effect or belatedly enforcing old ones.

Get ready for more of that. Corporate security and safety experts have been fielding calls from employers and building operators seeking advice on everything from the proper training of workplace fire captains (employees charged with spreading the alarm) to installing windows that are less likely to shatter in an explosion.

It should come as little surprise that at Chicago's landmark 110-story Sears Tower, employees now have their identification cards scrutinized before they enter, guests are stopped by guards and logged in, and bags are randomly checked. A less-noticed fact is that the building's manager and co-owner, TrizecHahn Office Properties, is taking similar precautions in the seven lower-profile office complexes it operates in the New York and New Jersey area. A spokesman adds that the company has instituted other security measures that it won't disclose. "It's not going back to the way it was before," says the spokesman -- who asks that he not be named. "We all understand that things have changed."

TAKING PAINS. In just 20 days, the number of companies contacting corporate security giant Kroll Inc. for assistance has quintupled, and that's "maybe understating it," says Jeffrey Schlanger, chief operating officer of security services at the New York-based company. Building operators are taking particular pains to limit who and what gets into the premises. In many cases, Schlanger says, shipping and receiving areas can no longer be used as backdoor exits. Some companies with garages are ordering inspections of car trunks. Some are training surveillance cameras on key points in building ventilation systems.

Dennis Dalton, president of Dalton Affiliates, a security-management consulting company in Auburn, Calif., lists a potpourri of other steps. Those include "roving patrols" of guards throughout the building, at least doubling a building's security staff, and making employees go to the lobby to greet guests.

The new emphasis on security represents an abrupt about-face from life as usual over the past several decades. Until the attack on America, says Marc Bradshaw, president of the International Association of Professional Security Consultants, "executives wouldn't have entertained a discussion [of terrorism] with any seriousness." In the wake of Sept. 11, he adds, "business has taken a deep breath, and is reevaluating security programs."

SMART DOORS. Indeed, 56% of the 5,700 human resources professionals polled by the Society for Human Resource Management a week after the attack said they believed employers would strengthen security. Industry consultants say many recent steps are stop-gaps to buy companies time to install new security equipment. Among the gadgets soon to arrive, says Bradshaw, are revolving doors with detection devices that allow access only to those bearing an identification card that can be "read" by the door.

Employers are also taking a fresh look at employees' ability to escape swiftly and safely in case of a disaster, says George Toth, senior vice-president of RJA Group, a large fire-protection and security consultant based in Chicago. "The focus of late is evacuation plans," he says. Companies are asking "does the existing plan address sufficiently evacuating this building? If it doesn't, fix it. And in any case, let's train our people." That's likely to translate into employee fire captains learning new lessons in how to keep their charges safe -- and insisting that employees participate in fire drills that, pre-Sept. 11, many simply ignored.

Employers are also looking at architectural and engineering strategies for making buildings safer. Consider a client of Ronald Libengood, president of Pittsburgh-based security consultant SecuraComm. The client, a financial institution that Libengood declines to identify, is building new offices in Washington, D.C. Last year, it rejected Libengood's suggestion that it install near its front entrance concrete planters that could block "vehicle penetration." Shortly after Sept. 11, the client asked Libengood "not only to go back to that plan, but also to look at bomb blast protection on the first and second floors."

NOT MUCH HELP. The building is likely to end up with first- and second-story windows set at an unconventional angle believed to make them more resistant to explosions. The panes could also be lined with a plastic film that inhibits massive splintering if the glass is broken, Libengood says.

Often, employees are paying a price for the new security: Increased surveillance and restricted movement. More sobering is that none of the protective measures Corporate America has taken would have mitigated assaults such as those of Sept. 11, when airliners manned by suicidal hijackers became flying bombs.

It might well be technically possible to construct a skyscraper to withstand such an attack, says structural engineer Ronald Klemencic, chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat, a nonprofit organization based at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. The problem is that it would "look worse than a fortress," with tiny windows and concrete walls four feet thick. They would be, he says, "bunkers in the sky." By Pamela Mendels in New York


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