United We Stand

Dec. 5, 2001
BOMA International examines the future of real estate and the challenges yet to come

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, and work.

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 others.

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).

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