September 11 prompted many building owners and managers to re-evaluate security in their facilities, taking measures to protect their property and employees from similar disasters. Using such events and even events much smaller in scale as grounds to update a building's security plan is a practice of good ethics and good common sense. It may keep your organization out of the courtroom as well.
Court cases are increasingly being brought against building owners dealing with the issue of foreseeability. This concept implies that building owners may be held responsible for crimes such as assault, theft, or even terrorism that could have been anticipated due to the nature of the business or the location of the building. Having a security plan in place that can adapt to this evolving issue is crucial.
In the past, proof of "prior similar act" had been required to prove foreseeability, meaning that building owners are aware of a similar act happening in the building's vicinity and yet did nothing to prevent the same situation from happening again.
More recently, however, building owners have faced litigation for a more lenient ruling of "totality of circumstances." This means that factors such as the building's location, clientele, and hours of operation contribute to an environment where the possibility of the crime should have been anticipated. Record of a prior incident is no longer necessary.
So how do you protect your business from this type of liability? Planning. If your building does not have a security plan, get one. If you have one, update it. A security plan that will hold up in court must be separate from an emergency or contingency plan (foreseeability is about pro-action, not reaction), and it must be updated when circumstances deem it necessary. Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International suggests events that would require the re-evaluation of a building's security plan are changes in the tenant mix, an incident in a building in or near the vicinity of your property, political incidents or labor unrest in your area, and changes made to the property due to construction or renovation. A good rule of thumb: make plans to evaluate and update your building's security plan at least once a year. If you need guidance, hire a security consultant. These professionals are invaluable in assessing security needs as well as recommending the best solutions.
Keep in mind, security rules are rapidly changing and requirements vary from building to building. An example is access control. In previous court cases, including Jacqueline S., & C. v. The City of New York, the necessary link between a building owner's failure to provide adequate security and tenant injuries resulting from a criminal incidence in the building can only be established if the assailant gained access to the premises through a negligently maintained entrance. In this area, simple door locks may be a fine precaution for small buildings. But in large buildings with spacious lobbies, relying even on the traditional front lobby security guard may no longer be adequate. A possible solution would be the addition of optical turnstiles. These turnstiles read employee ID cards in seconds without allowing tailgaters. The risk of someone "slipping by" is next to none. If employees themselves are causing unsafe working conditions by neglecting security procedures, door management systems can offer extra protection. An example is door alarms designed to immediately detect "door propping" and after-hours usage. With the use of these types of access control systems, proper lighting and surveillance, the risk of unwanted guests making their way inside your building dramatically decreases.
The bottom line in foreseeability protection: make security a priority. Be vigilant about your building's security. Pay attention to what happens in the neighborhood and to other buildings and business like yours. It may not only save lives, but it may save court time as well.
Mark Crandall is the operations manager for Designed Security, Inc. (DSI), a manufacturer of security and access control products for the corporate, industrial and institutional marketplaces. DSI has provided security solutions for the CIA, The Smithsonian, Dell Computers, Rockefeller Center, the US Marshals Service and other high-profile buildings throughout the country. DSI also works with engineers, security consultants and system integrators nationwide to develop custom designed security products. For more information on DSI's services and products, visit www.dsigo.com or call 1-800-272-3555.