Skip navigation

Battening Down the Hatches

Fingerprint scanners and optical turnstile technology may sound like a scene from “Mission Impossible,” but these new technologies could be headed for an office lobby near you in the not-too-distant future.

“In the past, we have secured the building against crime, property damage, theft and injury. Now we are securing buildings for other things like anthrax and terrorist attacks,” says Larry Conlon, director of asset services for Cushman & Wakefield in New York. “Those scenarios will mandate that we bring the level of security up a couple of notches.” Cushman & Wakefield managers are implementing measures such as card access systems, photo imaging card access systems and turnstiles to restrict access at its high-profile office buildings.

Property owners are investing substantially more money to increase the security level in their building, says John Combs, president of U.S. Property Services at Insignia/ESG in Newport Beach, Calif. In fact, the security budgets at Insignia/ESG have doubled in the past 12 months as the company beefs up all aspects of building security from enhanced camera surveillance to industrial X-ray machines that scan mail and packages.

The goal is to get authorized personnel and visitors into the building quickly and efficiently, while still maintaining a Class-A environment. “We have introduced all kinds of software and hardware to streamline that process,” Combs says.

For example, Insignia/ESG has installed photo imaging card access systems in its high-profile buildings. Tenants use ID cards to pass through turnstiles, and their photos automatically appear on a screen at the guard desk. “Some of those systems are designed to be upgradable, so that the cards can go to a bio identifier such as a fingerprint or retina scan,” explains Gregg Popkin, an executive director at Insignia/ESG in New York. Most of the biometric systems currently available on the market are not fast enough to process the volume of people in a large, multi-tenant office building, but that is the direction the industry is headed, Popkin says.

Prudent Approach

Today's office building managers have a variety of high-tech gizmos from which to choose. But owners and managers are weighing the risks associated with building type, location and tenant mix before spending what amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars on new systems.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sent office building owners and managers scrambling for security measures that ranged from guards to concrete barriers. However, these fortifications are now being scaled back as terrorist anxiety eases, says Larry Soehren, president of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International. “People threw money at all kinds of technology in the beginning. Then they went back and said, ‘Let's look at the building and what's prudent,’” Soehren says.

Now, the industry is planning more permanent security measures. A key strategy for owners such as Trizec Properties Inc. has been tightening building access, says Carlos Villarreal, executive security director in the Chicago office of Trizec, whose portfolio includes Chicago's Sears Tower. Traditionally, high-rise Class-A office buildings offered open access to the public during normal business hours. It was only after hours that access cards or a security desk check-in were required to gain entry to a particular floor.

Now, Trizec limits building access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at its high-profile properties. Card access turnstiles through which both employees and visitors must pass have been added to the lobby of the Sears Tower.

Access Control

Since 9-11, multi-tenant buildings have moved to various levels of access control, ranging from card keys to physical barrier turnstiles to optical turnstiles. Prior to 9-11, barrier and optical turnstiles were available but the mechanisms typically were used in high-security buildings, such as institutional banks or government offices.

Although the concept of a turnstiles usually conjures up images of subways and amusement parks, the commercial office variety have been adapted to their upscale environments. The turnstiles are more aesthetically pleasing, and customized units can be designed to blend into a lobby. Some units feature granite finishes, for example, while others include discreet glass doors that swing from side to side. Turnstiles range in price from $7,500 to as high as $20,000 each for high-end finishes such as granite veneer and brass finishes.

Deciding which barrier system to use often depends on owner preference, the type of building and its tenant roster. The barrier turnstiles provide a physical barrier that does not release until the user's card is recognized — a good choice for buildings with limited physical security, Conlon notes. Owners who are seeking a less obtrusive system favor the optical systems, which have barriers that emerge if the card reader denies access to an individual.

A third option is a hybrid between a barrier and optical turnstile that features a breakaway barrier. “Tenants can blow through them with some level of force, but it provides enough of a psychological barrier that it slows you down,” Popkin says.

An Added Expense

In a 1 million sq. ft. multi-tenant building, a security card access control system with photo imaging capability runs about $250,000. The system encompasses multiple security access points and includes the computer, software, card readers and monitors, miscellaneous alarm devices and a badge system for visitors.

The addition of the turnstiles can more than double the cost. Architecturally designed, high-end turnstiles can run about $35,000 each, and a large building with multiple entrances and a high volume of traffic might require 10 units. That means the total cost of a building access system for a 1 million sq. ft. structure could be as much as $600,000, or roughly $1.65 per sq. ft.

Although the expense is substantial, Conlon notes that the tenants in Class-A properties expect Class-A operations. “Security is a consideration when a tenant is looking for space, and since 9-11 the bar has been raised,” Conlon says. “A lone security guard greeting people as they walk into the building is not security.”

Monitoring Visitors

Building owners and managers also face a significant challenge when it comes to monitoring the building's daily traffic. It is not unusual for a high-rise office building in Manhattan, for example, to receive 1,700 to 2,000 visitors per day, says Richard Ruben, founder and chairman of Workspeed Inc., a provider of Web-based building management software.

Prior to 9-11, check-in systems for visitors were often limited to a sign-in sheet in the building lobby. Now office buildings are introducing systems to control or monitor who is in the building, when they arrived, when they left and who invited them. “The era of the open office building is gone,” Ruben says. “A Class-A building is expected to have some type of system to screen people coming of the street to see if they belong there.”

Card Access System to operate system $0.25 to $0.50 per sq. ft.
Turnstiles $35,000 each
Visitor Security Workstations $1,250 each per year, plus one-time installation fee of $5,000 to $10,000
X-Ray Machines (typically rental units) $40,000 to $50,000/yr.

Some landlords are turning to Web-based check-in systems that allow tenants to pre-register guests online, which automates check-in with the guard or lobby attendant. Visitors must still sign in and show a photo ID, but the pre-registration system expedites the process.

After experiencing a surge in demand for visitor security tools after 9-11, Workspeed released its Workspeed Visitor Security application in October 2001. The system now is utilized at 28 office buildings around the country, including the General Motors building in New York. Office tenants use the system to communicate with building management or lobby personnel to authorize visitors and deliveries.

The cost of Workspeed's Visitor Security system is based on a monthly subscription fee, which runs about $500 per workstation. A large high-rise might require five stations, which can amount to about $1,250 per year with multi-station discounts. However, the cost of the Web-based system is a fraction of paying for an additional guard, Ruben adds. Implementation costs range from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the building's size and number of tenants, visitors and guards.

More Features, Service

Vendors have seen an enormous increase in business because tenants are demanding superior systems, says Gene Samburg, president of Arlington, Va.-based Kastle Systems, which provides a variety of software and computer-controlled security applications. Systems include optional functions ranging from photo imaging of card access holders to monitoring of fire and life safety alarms. Kastle Systems also has the capability to integrate the latest technologies ranging from biometrics to closed-circuit television (CCTV) into its systems, according to Samburg.

“The trend is for the owner of the building to put in the most user-friendly, most flexible system because it attracts tenants,” Samburg says. Over the past 18 months, the number of new systems installed by Kastle has increased by nearly 20%. In addition, the firm's card business has more than doubled as existing clients expand their use of card readers.

Due to the increasing complexity of the security systems, more owners also are opting to outsource the ongoing operation of their security systems. Kastle, for example, offers turnkey services that include not only the design and installation, but also programming, operations, monitoring, administration, maintenance and changes and upgrades.

“Unfortunately, the whole placement of a security system is greatly misunderstood,” Samburg says. Most building owners and managers believe that the biggest challenge is designing and installing a system. “The hard part comes when you have to operate it on an ongoing basis.”

The typical cost of installing a card access system, including all of the hardware and software, is about $0.25 to $0.50 per sq. ft. In addition, Kastle charges $0.12 per sq. ft. for the ongoing operations, compared with a cost of $0.25 to $0.50 per sq. ft. if the building owner operates the system independently, Samburg notes.

Finding a Balance

Building managers continue to struggle with the challenges of limited access to their offices, while encouraging traffic flow to the building's public areas such as retail space. “Some owners don't want anyone in the lobby, so people can only access retail from the street side,” Conlon says. Another option is to increase the presence of security guards at entrances that open into retail areas.

The constant flow of deliveries is another challenge — everyone from FedEx delivery workers to bike messengers needs to gain access to building tenants. Many buildings funnel deliveries to one central station, and either distribute packages to tenants or require tenants to collect their packages.

Buildings also are adding X-ray machines to both lobbies and receiving areas for mail and packages. The X-ray machines are typically rental units, and cost between $40,000 and $50,000 per year.

The future of building security lies in finding middle ground between safety and maintaining a welcoming environment, according to Soehren. “People need to feel safe,” he explains, “but the American public also does not want to be restricted.”

Beth Mattson-Teig is a Minneapolis-based writer.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.