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There Is No Silver Bullet When It Comes to Security

Whenever we publish an article on terrorism, we run the risk of being labeled as sensationalists trying to peddle magazines. Yet when New York City's former police commissioner, Howard Safir, states bluntly that many high-profile office buildings around the country remain vulnerable to a terrorist attack, his message is worth listening to because he is such a credible source. Safir, now a security consultant, recognizes that most security guards are underpaid and inadequately trained, and that technology needs to play a larger role in building safety.

Because nearly 40% of our readers are owners and managers — many with Class-A trophy properties in major cities in their portfolios — we've elected to tackle the sensitive topic in this month's cover story by addressing the problem with a sense of proportion. I use the word “proportion” because the vast majority of office buildings are not susceptible to a terrorist attack. The challenge for all owners is to weigh the potential threat and determine the appropriate level of security for each building. There is no silver bullet.

Research by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) reveals that owners are thoroughly assessing their needs. In 2003, for example, security costs among government-owned and leased office buildings were double that of privately owned buildings on a square foot basis: $1.26 vs. $0.55. “The rationalization is that most government offices perceive themselves as potential targets,” says Henry Garcia, vice president with Kroll, Schiff & Associates, a Chicago-based security consultant. “Consequently, they have committed to spending more money on security to try and mitigate that potential risk.”

Hiring well-trained security guards is one way to mitigate that risk, so why then is their overall skill level so roundly criticized by security experts? “We have made improvements in terms of conducting criminal background checks and hiring better quality officers, but in terms of training and overall upgrade of performance, my thoughts are that it hasn't changed a great deal since 9/11,” says Garcia.

The marketplace will eventually solve the guard problem over the long term, Garcia believes. The salaries of security guards will rise as tenants and landlords place greater demands on them. “You are going to get better trained individuals, more interested individuals and people looking at this as an acceptable career alternative.”

The good news is that owners are far more knowledgeable today about building safety than three years ago, and they recognize that security plays a vital role in maintaining their tenant base. Shortly after 9/11, Garcia made a presentation to a group of REIT executives to explain his company's services, which include performing risk assessments for facilities and implementing recommendations. “They were stunned that these services could be carried out in such an objective and comprehensive manner.” Translation: Prior to 9/11 security did not rank high on the priority list of most office owners.

Ultimately, the best defense, Garcia says, is to combine good management and sound procedures with trained security officers and adequate technology. As we were putting this issue to bed, the 9/11 Commission released its final report on the tragedy, the events leading up to it, and the aftermath. On the issue of preparedness, the report summed up the issue perfectly: “Defenses cannot achieve perfect safety,” according to the 9/11 Commission. “Just increasing the attacker's odds of failure may make the difference between a plan attempted, or a plan discarded.”

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