Howard Safir isn't alone. Like many Americans, the former New York City police commissioner is convinced that terrorists will launch another attack on U.S. soil. Ever since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned that terrorists are plotting another attack timed to disrupt the November presidential election, the apprehension has only grown.
“They will certainly hit us again, and there are so many soft targets here,” says Safir, chairman and CEO of Manhattan-based corporate security firm SafirRosetti. Safir served as New York City police commissioner from 1996 to 2000 — during which time there was a 38% reduction in crime — and now works primarily with corporate real estate owners and tenants as a security consultant. “There are owners who take this very seriously and others who will do the minimum. Security is all across the board,” he says.
Safir believes that many office buildings simply don't have the best possible security personnel and systems in place. The veteran law enforcement officer should know. He has personally surveyed dozens of prominent U.S. office buildings, and in doing so observed that visitors frequently can enter buildings without so much as being stopped at a checkpoint. Even an attack aimed at a neighboring building could inflict collateral damage on a property, Safir says, so it's necessary for all owners and managers to be vigilant about security.
Aside from the obvious reasons landlords would want to protect their tenants, there's also a liability issue. With lawsuits still pending against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Silverstein Properties, the lesson from 9/11 is that owners and managers must fulfill their obligation to protect their tenants. It's no longer possible for them to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to security.
So, what's the solution? Safir urges property owners and managers to consider a united front that melds state-of-the-art technology with well-trained security guards. High-tech building access systems and guards trained in counter-terrorism are excellent deterrents. “You can't eliminate the human factor entirely, but you can minimize it,” says Safir. “The greatest thing about technology is that it doesn't eat, it doesn't sleep, and from a labor relations standpoint it doesn't sue you.”
But developing the optimal security plan is no simple task. Every office property is unique, so a security plan must factor in variables such as location, iconic value and tenant mix, among other elements.
Tools of the Trade
Access control portals such as metal detectors and turnstiles can reduce the security guard headcount by as much as 70%, says Safir. A guard post must be manned 24 hours a day by several guards and can cost around $115,000 per year for a Class-A office building.
Safir recommends an access control device known as a Rapor, which costs approximately $75,000 per year to operate. This rapid-access portal closes only when an unauthorized person attempts to pass through. (Safir is chairman of GVI, which owns the Rapor brand.)
The device resembles a metal detector with a door on one side of the unit. The advantage with this system is that it moves people through a lobby much faster than turnstiles and only stops people without the proper identification, according to Safir. That person then exits through a side-door to meet with the security guard.
The Rapor technology is now being used at two office buildings in Connecticut. In one of the buildings, an employee went on a violent rampage through the Connecticut State Lottery headquarters in 1998, killing four people. That Stamford office building now has the Rapor technology in its lobby.
There are other security options beyond the Rapor. Biometric systems (the science of using biological properties such as fingerprints or voice recognition to identify people) and facial recognition software are available, says Safir. Fingerprint scanners and other biometric devices can cost as much as $100,000 to install and operate for one year.
The good news is that prices will fall as more technology firms enter the market, Safir predicts.
Training Is Paramount
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for a security officer in Washington, D.C. is $11.96 per hour. This figure includes officers at government buildings where wages are much higher. Safir pegs the average hourly wage for security guards at approximately $8 per hour. What's worse, many of these guards are poorly trained.
It's an industry-wide problem, say sources. Competition is so fierce that guard firms typically low-ball their bids to owners as a way to snag the assignment. That makes it a volume business plagued by high turnover. It's common for a security guard firm to experience 100% to 200% annual turnover with its staff, Safir says. That means the guard business has one of the highest turnover rates of any industry in the United States.
The federal government is keenly aware of the problem. In April, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced federal legislation that would mandate training for the security guards who protect all office buildings. Norton, a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, believes that improved training and wages will better protect the federal agencies and other tenants that lease space in office buildings.
The legislation — which is still in the embryonic stage — would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue a manual on training standards. Another piece of the legislation requires added training for the security guards who are paid to protect shopping centers and apartments.
Gary Green, CEO at Classic Security, a Manhattan-based security guard firm with more than 500 guards posted at 40 Manhattan office buildings, acknowledges improper training is a widespread issue throughout his industry. New York State, for example, requires security guards to pass an exam that takes eight hours to complete.
At Classic Security, says Green, guards receive in-house training in fire safety and emergency procedures in addition to their New York State certification. Bomb threat procedures and crime prevention also are part of the training.
Green says his firm charges $15 per hour for highly-trained security guards, but many owners balk at the price. The Class-A office buildings located along major avenues in Manhattan are paying for better protection, “but many of the side street buildings are paying much less,” he says.
When it comes to high-tech security installations, Green believes that technology is merely an extension of a well-trained security guard force. The latter also relies heavily on experience, which is why Green asks many of his guards to enroll in counter-terrorism workshops and other specialized courses. “Turnstiles in the lobby just don't stop terrorists,” says Green. “A system just cannot match the eyes and ears of a good security guard.”
The Cost of Security
Though building security expenditures have risen over the past three years, the costs at government-owned and leased buildings have climbed much more dramatically. Not surprisingly, the biggest jump occurred immediately after 9/11. A survey conducted by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International shows that security spending by the government increased from $0.87 per sq. ft. in 2001 to $1.26 per sq. ft. in 2003 (see chart, pg. 20).
In contrast, security spending at private-sector office buildings during the same period rose from $0.49 per sq. ft. to $0.55 per sq. ft. — less than half of what the government expended.
Most office leases are structured to allow landlords to pass the expense of security on to their tenants, including the cost of security guards' salaries. In many cases, however, tenants are not legally obligated to pick up the tab on other expenditures such as lobby turnstiles or card-reading systems.
“The government spent an extraordinary amount of money on building security after 9/11,” says Ron Burton, vice president of advocacy and research at BOMA. Burton acknowledges that security standards at most privately owned buildings aren't as high, which explains why their security costs are comparatively lower. He sees this as a reflection of demand. “The real estate industry is driven by tenants, so in places where tenants aren't worried about terrorism, they aren't willing to pay for the added security.”
Jones Lang LaSalle, the nation's second-largest commercial property manager with 100 million sq. ft. of domestic office space in its management portfolio, examined all of its managed properties following the 9/11 attacks. As a result, the Chicago-based firm boosted its security spending by 37% between 2001 and 2002.
Michael Lee, senior vice president at JLL, says the increase in security-related operating expenses included costs for new security cameras and additional guards at certain properties.
While cost figures on a square foot basis are not available, Lee believes that overall security expenses for the JLL portfolio would exceed the BOMA average of $0.55 per sq. ft. “Many of our buildings are Class-A, trophy assets in CBD areas, so I'd expect our average per square foot to be higher,” he says.
Between 2002 and 2003, however, security spending in the JLL portfolio increased only 5%, according to Lee. The reason? Many of the charges for new technologies were non-recurring, with the majority of the spending occurring immediately after the 9/11 attacks.
Both tenants and owners have provided JLL with input on security measures since 9/11, but ultimately market forces determine how much will be spent on security, says Lee. “It's a marketing strength now to have good security. If other buildings have it and you don't, that can hurt you when the tenant goes to renew its lease.”
Training is also a cornerstone of security. At Trizec Properties, which manages 42 million sq. ft. of office space, Carlos Villarreal, national director of security and life safety at the Chicago-based real estate investment trust (REIT), frequently meets with building managers and establishes alliances with some of the nation's best security consulting firms.
One of Villarreal's training methods is referred to as “the one-minute challenge.” This approach involves quizzing his employees with a series of high-pressure emergency-related questions. The employee must answer the questions correctly in one minute.
“This method ensures that our emergency planning procedures and training can be put into practice immediately upon detecting an emergency,” Villarreal says. He also introduced new technologies to his buildings, ranging from closed-circuit cameras to Internet connections that enable Trizec management to communicate with tenants more easily.
Another of Villarreal's measures is decidedly low-tech, but practical due to emergencies such as last summer's massive East Coast blackout. Trizec now includes analog telephone lines in every building. As Villarreal notes, many office buildings were without telephone service last summer because their phones required electricity to function.
In the final analysis, there is no foolproof plan to thwarting terrorist attacks on office buildings. But a two-pronged approach is considered by most security experts to be the best defense.
“Landlords must understand that a well-trained guard is better than a machine at spotting a suspicious person,” says David Aggleton, president of Manhattan-based security consulting firm Aggleton & Associates. “But there are other things that technology does better than guards.”
SECURITY EXPENSES ON THE RISE
The U.S. government spent more than twice as much as private-sector owners to secure its properties in 2003, according to a recent study by BOMA International. The study examined 3,426 private-sector office buildings and 837 office buildings either leased or owned by the U.S. government.