|Posted on Monday, October 14, 2002|
We Mean Business. Illinois Business.
Architects analyze security strengths and weaknesses from the inside out
Even before Sept. 11, 2001, designing and constructing buildings that could withstand physical threats was a top priority for U.S. companies.
Now, a year after the terrorist attacks - and amidst a still sluggish economy - architects are working with executives to draw plans that are both effective and affordable, when it comes to protection against natural and man-made agents of destruction.
Architectural firm HOK is seeing a noticeable increase in the number of private clients seeking to either redesign the company's headquarters or design a completely new building, arming the structure and its perimeter to make it stronger and less vulnerable to threats.
"Security has always been an integral part of the work we do with our clients," said Everett Medling, HOK group vice president. "For U.S. Embassies and other public sector clients, this emphasis was not uncommon. But today we're involved with security ramifications and provisions for a good percentage of our private clients, too."
When architects think in terms of potential attack, Medling said, they think visually in terms of concentric circles.
"The greatest need (for security) is in the middle of the structure, and then it radiates outward," he said. "Threats to a facility fall into two general categories: external threats such as bombs and internal threats such as contracted services, employees and maintenance. The most important and first step we take with clients is to ask them to identify their perception of the threats their company faces."
Security is based on perception, Medling said, and since security-related efforts and features can quickly become costly propositions, the client needs to prioritize what and where the weak spots are before HOK can begin the mitigation process.
"It can be very difficult for clients to identify specific issues such as electronic threats, physical intrusion possibilities and potential employee-related threats," he said. "There are three issues to address globally in defining a protection system for a client: protecting employees, protecting the physical facilities and protecting the company's information."
Although the fear of airplanes crashing into high-rise buildings was an immediate corporate concern directly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Medling said companies' concerns over the threats of biological and chemical weapons are clearly more far-reaching.
"Probably the larger threats clients are concerned about are chemical and biological," he said. "One of the issues of terrorism is that it can be an individual event or a group event. It is very difficult to predict an individual event, and it is reasonably difficult to predict a group event. Terrorism falls into a completely different category than the standard threats companies prepare for because it is a surprise event."
Types of fences, barricades and security cameras are examples of specifics that often comprise the list of security options clients agree are important, Medling said. "These security items all have to do with the site's perimeter, which is the company's first line of defense," he said.
Next, HOK typically discusses incoming roadways into the corporate complex - the means through which employees, visitors and delivery persons enter the property - and this typically blossoms into a discussion of multiple issue surrounding entrance and exit requirements.
"Once people are on site, the issue of where each group is allowed to go can be a complex one," Medling said. "On a corporate campus with several buildings and secondary parking, this becomes a detailed discussion. Every client is unique."
Standback issues - such as setbacks, or the distance away from the structure where emergency vehicles, fire and police are allowed to park - dominate the security analysis, too.
"Literally some of our clients are thinking about relocating away from urban settings because of this issue," Medling said. "Public and private clients are looking at this closely, particularly over the past 12 months. Many are asking us to reassess their current site."
Urban clients - such as a public governmental building located in a downtown area - are looking at issues such as restricted access, via elevator codes, to particular floors of the multi-story office building. Both urban and more rural corporate office settings are beefing up their physical security guard forces, too, Medling said.
"Clients are looking at all their systems, not just their security systems, because security overlaps with so many other areas such as human resources," he said. "The issue of training of security guards - and whether they should be armed - is another facet of the discussion and threat assessment."
Communication between employees, law enforcement personnel and other emergency responders is key, Medling said, not only from the standpoint of evacuating a building safely but also from emergency procedures needed in responding safely and quickly to other potential workplace threats.
"We see many clients who, although they're conscious of the cost of added security, they're committed to it," he said. "We try to help them prioritize the threats and vulnerabilities and then decide how many of those safeguards they are able to afford to implement. It's not unusual for a company to come up with 40 to 50 security-related needs."
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