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9 Keys to Building Security

Aug. 25, 2016

Effective building security requires these key techniques. Does your building use all nine?

A building security program has many components. In fact, security directors must apply at least nine key techniques – some may even require more.

Security directors must research risks and create a comprehensive program. They must define their own role as security director and determine whether to employ security officers on staff or to outsource security to a third party company.

Then come the specifics. People, technology or both must be implemented at all of the building’s entry points for access control. Policies for interior common area doors are also necessary. Parking facilities need close attention too. What about the elevators? How will you manage them? What policies will you implement to manage the flow of visitors?

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Finally, consider the logistics of enforcing the building’s security policies. Security officers must patrol the grounds regularly, greeting and assisting tenants and visitors as well as deterring trouble – and stopping it when it arises. How will they get around?

Here’s a look at how Robert Thomas, director of security for the Baltimore-based Harbor East Management Group, LLC, applies these security techniques to an eight-building portfolio that stretches along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

1) Planning a Security Program

Thomas signed on at Harbor East 11 years ago, bringing 28 years of experience as a police officer. “As a former policeman, I had quite a bit of experience handling situations and protecting people and assets,” he says.

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His assignment is to apply what he has learned about law enforcement and crime over the course of his career to building a security program that protects people and property.

Thomas developed a plan that began with a call for a security assessment to analyze the existing security program, identify new problems created by the changing nature of the city neighborhood over the years and develop a plan to bring the program up to date.

The plan would start with the most pressing security needs and move ahead as the budget allowed. He has implemented the plan with an eye to hiring and training security officers and applying technology to areas where the officers need support.

2) Determining Whether to Outsource Security

Thomas doesn’t employ a security staff. Instead, he manages a contract with a security firm that provides on-site officers and supervisors.

Why outsource? It eliminates the time required to hire and manage personnel. If a patrol or station officer isn’t performing, Thomas need only request a different officer from the supervisor. Replacing an in-house officer would likely be time-consuming and expensive.

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Outsource companies can also call in more officers to meet situational problems. Downtown Baltimore, for instance, has recently seen a number of protest marches, and Thomas has called upon his security firm to staff up on those days to ensure safety.

Of course, in-house security organizations have benefits, too. Staff security officers, for example, have a direct relationship with the company. Often, that inspires greater levels of commitment from security officers.

3) Identifying Responsibilities for the Security Director

Different buildings require different security programs. The first responsibility of a security director is to commission an assessment and use the results to tailor a security program to the needs of the tenants and the building.

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What resources will be required in terms of security officers, vehicles, radios, access control and video technology, uniforms, weapons and so on? Will the building be better off retaining an outsource security firm or hiring its own people and buying its own technology?

Next, the security director must determine how to deploy resources. What routes will officers patrol? How often will they patrol? What will the cameras watch? Which doors will require card access? Which will offer uncontrolled access at the beginning and end of the day? Where will the security stations be?

Finally, the security director must monitor and manage all of these tasks.

4) Mobility

Security officers must move around the property, when on patrol as well as when responding to incidents. Depending on the size and layout of the property, officers will travel on foot, in cars or SUVs, or on bicycles or Segways – motorized scooters that officers ride standing up.

“Our officers are on foot and on three-wheel Segways,” Thomas says. “They move about for two reasons. First, their presence and the fact that they can move from place to place quickly deters crime. Second, it enables them to find tourists and visitors to the building that might need help. We view our officers not solely as security guards but also as ambassadors that provide information and help. People often approach officers on Segways and ask directions to the Inner Harbor Aquarium or one of the other attractions in the area.”

5) Access Control

Originally, building security at Harbor East employed conventional card access control. Thomas wanted to tighten that, so he has been installing waist-high turnstiles with physical barriers to control access in newer buildings. Older buildings receive upgrades to turnstiles as existing card access systems reach the end of their useful life.  

A security director must choose from several kinds of turnstiles. Full-height models completely wall off restricted areas with bars. Waist-height turnstiles with retracting panels may provide less security – an intruder might be able to hop over them – but they will at least slow an intruder and enable nearby security officers to react and contain the situation. Other kinds of turnstiles use laser beams instead of hard physical barriers.

6) Visitor Management

Visitors typically must acquire access cards when visiting a high-rise. Harbor East facilitates this with visitor management software. A tenant uses the software to register a visitor before the visit by entering the visitor’s name, date of the visit, the time of the appointment and the contact person’s name.

“When the visitor arrives, he or she checks in at the lobby desk,” Thomas says. “The officer checks the visitor registry in the computer, pulls up the person’s name and verifies the information.

“The visitor also signs the visitor guest log with a pen. The officer checks with the person being visited to make sure the meeting is still on. If so, the officer provides a visitor card and sends the individual up.”

Why does the visitor have to sign a pen and paper log, too? “That may seem redundant,” Thomas explains. “But if there were an emergency and the electricity failed, we would likely lose the electronic visitor log. We would need the paper log to understand who might still be in the building. It’s an important safety measure.”

For visitors that have not been registered, the lobby officer asks who the visitor wants to see and calls to ask if the individual wants the visitor to come up.

7) Elevators

Another very important aspect of access control security is managing the elevators, says Thomas. Some tenants want to allow elevator access to visitors. Some do not. Managing these preferences is part of a building’s visitor management policy.

The elevators can be configured to allow free access to certain floors while restricting access to others. In some cases, tenants will send a company representative to the lobby to escort a visitor up to the office.

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Card access to elevators also helps manage terminated employees. Since access cards can be managed electronically, they can be disabled when an employee is terminated, preventing a possibly disgruntled employee from entering an office unsupervised.

8) Interior Doors

While building security manages access to doors throughout the common areas of a high-rise, tenants are responsible for managing doors within their leased spaces. “Some tenants do not use access control within their suites,” Thomas says. “We recommend that they do. I always think the more security, the better.

“Some tenants use the same access control system and cameras that we use for the base building. I find it very helpful for everyone to work off the same platform. It’s efficient for the tenant and for property management.”

9) Parking Security

The Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that 11% of property crimes and more than 7% of violent attacks occur in parking facilities. Any building with a parking facility must pay strict attention to parking security.

Parking facilities should undergo a formal security assessment that looks at the surrounding neighborhood, crime statistics and patterns of use. Recommended security features might include intercoms at entrances and exits as well as on the walls near elevators. Experts recommend adding emergency call stations too, as it can be difficult for cellphones to communicate through a concrete parking structure.

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Video cameras can scan the parking areas and today’s improved intelligent video systems can monitor for signs of trouble. Of course, building access cards can be configured to access parking gates and help to limit traffic in a garage.

These nine techniques represent the key basics of building security. Of course, every facility has its own individual security needs that would likely add one or more techniques to this list of basics. Nevertheless, as with any undertaking, it is always best to start by applying the basics.

Since 1995, Mike Fickes has contributed over 200 security articles to publications covering hotel, industrial, office, retail, critical infrastructure and education. His interests include security management, policies, strategies and technologies.

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