Security Overload at Office Buildings?

Chicago real estate executive Paul Beitler contends many of the security measures implemented in high-rise office buildings nationwide in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center are ineffective, costly and onerous. The proliferation of equipment such as metal detectors and turnstiles in building lobbies, Beitler adds, is a knee-jerk reaction that disrupts commerce by restricting the mobility of tenants and visitors.

“None of the security measures that's been introduced on the part of building owners would have prevented 9-11,” says the outspoken Beitler, president of the The Beitler Co., whose firm specializes in tenant representation and is the asset manager for more than 1.5 million sq. ft. of downtown Chicago office buildings owned by Credit Suisse First Boston. “You don't see these kinds of security measures at department stores, hotels and convention centers, so why office buildings?”

In most instances, tenants aren't even requesting that additional safety measures such as bag screening be implemented, says Beitler. “Everybody just assumes that because the World Trade Center towers were attacked, all office buildings are now the target of terrorism. We haven't had an office building in this country that's been blown up by somebody walking through the revolving doors with a bomb,” says Beitler.

Beitler claims security costs in some Chicago office buildings have jumped from 30 cents to $3 per sq. ft. over the past year, outraging some tenants. However, NREI was unable to verify whether costs have skyrocketed to that extent. Stephen Budorick, senior vice president of New York-based Trizec Properties Inc., which manages the 110-story Sears Tower, one of the most high-profile buildings in the country, says that security costs for that particular high-rise range from $1.20 per sq. ft. to $1.30 per sq. ft., up from 75 cents a year ago. The increase to tenants of the Sears Tower will be capped at 5%, thanks to economies of scale throughout the Trizec portfolio, which contains 50 million sq. ft. of owned and managed properties nationwide, he says.

“Three dollars per sq. ft. is an enormous amount of money. I can tell you that even post 9-11, we don't spend anywhere near that amount on security at Sears Tower. That number is egregious,” adds Budorick, who works in Trizec's Chicago office. A typical 20-story Chicago building might incur costs of 56 cents per sq. ft. for security, up from 49 cents last year, he says.

Curtis Massey, president and CEO of Massey Enterprises, a disaster planning firm in Virginia Beach, Va., points out that about $150 million was invested to upgrade security at the WTC following the bombing in 1993. “Absolutely none of that made a difference on 9-11,” he says.

But none of the experts is advocating that security be eliminated. Beitler proposes that more security efforts be aimed at freight elevators, loading docks and parking lots, places vulnerable to placement of explosives. He encourages higher pay, first-aid training and thorough background checks on security personnel as part of the job interviewing process to ensure they're not convicted felons.

Preparing for a terrorist attack is a more realistic approach than attempting to prevent one, Massey believes. He recommends employee training to prepare the staff to interact with the fire department during an emergency.

“To some extent, Mr. Beitler is correct,” concludes Budorick. “The same Pentagon-style security program is not feasible, practical or necessary everywhere that people choose to do business in the U.S. You really have to look at it on a case-by-case basis.”

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