A blueprint to enhance building security

WHILE THE TRADITIONAL CONCERNS OF THE property manager — asset planning, acquisition and maintenance — are as important as ever, security is now near the top of the priority list. To address security issues the right way, property managers now must fill an additional role as security and communications manager.

When considering new security options, many property managers are surprised to find that the choices are far from simple. The vast majority of office buildings in the U.S. operate as “open buildings,” ones with public access. But the trend, particularly in the Northeast, is toward 24-hour access control. While there are countless safeguards a security contractor can provide, there are also just as many price tags. In this case, the options can be overwhelming.

To develop smart security guidelines and manage the costs associated with new safeguards, property managers need to understand their property's target profile and know the degree of security their tenants want before they attempt to revamp security.

Conduct a risk assessment

One of the first steps a property manager should take to enhance the security of a building is to assess its risk of being a potential target. A risk assessment starts with answering the following questions:

  • Is my property a national or local landmark?

  • Is my property a tourist attraction?

  • Are some of our tenants, such as corporations with close government ties, more vulnerable than others to possible acts of terrorism?

  • Is my property a highly populated building?

If a property has one or more of these characteristics, it assumes more risk, and it will need tighter security than properties that don't fit this profile.

Following the risk assessment, a property manager can begin to shop for a security provider. The only security providers to consider are those that have extensive training programs in place that focus on security enforcement, access control, customer service and non-violent crisis intervention.

A way to gauge whether a company specializes in this type of training is to find out if the security contractor in question has a dedicated “Director of Training” in the closest branch office. If not, a property manager should think twice about working with that firm.

Using common sense is the first tool in managing building security. Encouraging tenants to tighten up their personal security policies is an often-overlooked first step to security improvement. Also, given the current security climate, all buildings should have updated emergency procedures that address non-fire-related emergencies.

Listen to your tenants

Safety is the driving force behind every security decision, and for that reason tenants need to be involved in the process. Property managers need to ask their tenants, “How much security is enough? How much is too much?” Choosing not to sit down with tenants to discuss concerns and explain security options and their costs inevitably leads to a lack of consensus about a property's needs. This lack of consensus can cause conflict, not only between tenants and management, but also among the tenants themselves.

The best way to initiate feedback from tenants is through meetings. I suggest that property managers ask tenants to designate a representative who will attend a weekly or monthly meeting to voice concerns, debate differing opinions, and reach a consensus that property managers can implement. If meetings are impractical, e-mail affords property managers a fast, inexpensive way to ask questions and get feedback.

After the tragedy of Sept. 11, Americans are acutely aware that real threats to their security exist, and they are more alert and knowledgeable than ever about security needs in office buildings. Likewise, property managers who have analyzed their properties' security risks, educated themselves on new security options, and taken the time to communicate with their tenants are in an ideal position to make preventive decisions that will benefit the people and communities they serve.

The end result? Property managers will be known as leaders in their buildings because, in our new office environment, security begins with them. (For more information on the expanded role of today's property manager, please see page 105.)

Prentice Robertson is senior vice president of national sales and marketing for Atlanta-based Barton Protective Services Inc.

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