Washington, D.C. - On Sept. 11, 2001, our jobs as real estate practitioners
became even more difficult. The real estate industry must examine the changing
nature of real estate's role in providing safe and secure places to live, shop,
We have all heard countless stories on the news of the heroic feats of the
New York City rescue workers. However, we have not heard much about the countless
efforts of building managers, engineering personnel, and all of the other real
estate professionals who helped set up emergency facilities and data centers,
and most importantly, evacuated buildings and put their own lives in jeopardy
to save others. As horrific as that day was, it would undoubtedly have been
much worse without trained and experienced building staff armed with responsible
security and evacuation procedures in place.
Immediately following the attacks, representatives of the major real estate
trade associations came together to talk about how real estate could - and should
- unite to address common security needs and what the "best practices"
from today forward would entail. BOMA International was asked to take a role
in leading this industry-wide task force on security matters.
First, as an industry, we must come together and share information on how we
can best protect the people who use our buildings. It seems like every day a
new threat emerges. We will never be able to envision every possible scenario,
but now we have some very real new threats, such as protecting our mailrooms
and HVAC systems from biological attacks. Best practices will undoubtedly emerge,
but we need to ensure that the real estate industry guides these efforts, not
Second, we must continue to communicate with tenants and the users of our properties
that they are safe and share with them our security and evacuation procedures.
Tenants and their employees across America are concerned about working in the
upper floors of high-rise and "trophy" buildings. These workers need
to know what is being done to ensure their safety.
Third, local, state, and federal policymakers will all address whether stricter
safety and security measures need to be imposed. While BOMA and other real estate
groups welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue on the issues with all legislators,
regulators, and code officials, any new mandates must not be knee-jerk reactions.
Solutions must be balanced, reasonable, and achievable.
Fourth, the real estate industry needs to take the lead in working with communities
to provide more effective emergency planning. Building personnel, EMS workers,
police and fire departments, and local officials must all be apprised of security
and evacuation plans for the city.
Fifth, the real estate, business, and insurance industries must work with the
Bush Administration and Congress to ensure that property and business owners
are able to secure insurance for any future acts of terrorism. While insurers
have publicly stated that they will be able to honor claims resulting from the
events of September 11, executives of the reinsurance and insurance industries
testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee
on Sept. 26, 2001, that, absent intervention by the federal government, new
policies are likely to exclude both terrorists acts and acts of war.
The real estate industry must also learn from what went wrong. Communicating
with anyone - inside or outside our buildings - was tough, if not impossible.
How can we improve our communications infrastructure? How redundant is redundant
enough? Should we be assisting our tenants find off-site servers and data storage
outside of the leased space? The list of questions will only grow longer.
It is imperative that the real estate industry is united and speaks loudly
about the role the industry must play in key debates on security, insurance
issues, and protecting our workplaces from terrorist attacks. Real estate professionals
must continue to be proactive to ensure that the courts, insurance, and security
companies, as well as state, local, and national policymakers do not impose
unworkable solutions. The events of September 11 have caused us to imagine the
unthinkable, but we must be able to find a balance between prudent measures
of building security, maintaining the sense of freedom that this country was
built on, and providing work and living spaces that allow tenants and their
employees to achieve their full potential.
For more information about the issues discussed in this column, visit BOMA
International's website (www.boma.org).