Security Physicals for Buildings

April 5, 2010
Do your security strategies still measure up to the security needs of your properties?

Property managers have certain legal responsibilities to protect tenants from harm, and to protect the neighborhood from tenants that may do harm. Are you meeting those responsibilities? How do you know? When did you last conduct a security assessment to determine if your security approach matches the needs of your buildings, tenants, and neighborhoods?

Has anything changed since that last assessment? How old are your buildings now? Has the crime rate gone up around any of your buildings since the recession began? Does a new tenant keep large amounts of cash on hand? Is the lighting adequate in the lobbies, corridors, and stairwells? How safe is it for people entering and leaving your buildings?

If you can’t answer these and other questions, it may be time for a security assessment.

Do-it-Yourself Assessments
Is a security assessment something you can do yourself? Maybe, but probably not, says Jon Lusher, principal consultant and executive vice president, special operations group with IPC Intl. Corp., a Bannockburn, IL, company that provides public safety services to commercial properties, including office buildings and shopping centers.

You can buy security checklists tailored to the general needs of commercial properties and do your own assessment. Prices range from $50 to $500. “A checklist might be okay for small office buildings in neighborhoods with no threats, where the concerns relate more to safety and meeting ADA requirements,” Lusher says. “A security professional should look at most buildings. But, if you can’t afford a consultant, a checklist is better than nothing.”

According to Lusher, a professional assessment fee may range from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on the size and number of properties to be assessed.

Professional Security Assessments
As a rule, Lusher urges owners to retain a professional security consultant to conduct assessments.

A professional assessment begins with an analysis of something that security professionals call “context.”

“Context is king,” says Lusher. “An office building in a small town in the Midwest faces different security risks than an office building in a declining area of a large East Coast city – because the context is different.”

Determining context includes evaluating the age of the building and the tenant mix. Don’t underestimate contextual problems that may arise in a tenant’s business. Have there been layoffs? Has that created any workplace violence threats?

Context includes the legal climate – have owners in the area been sued by tenants? Why? Does your building have the same potential liability? What kind of natural disasters does the region face: earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados, or some combination of these?

In urban areas, aging infrastructure can create a disaster. A year ago, a street in downtown Baltimore caved in on top of a train tunnel. No one working in a building on that street got to work for a week. Freak accidents don’t happen often, but they do happen everywhere and are part of the context around your buildings.

Finally comes the crime profile. How much crime occurs in your neighborhood? Is it petty crime or violent crime? What are the specifics?

Judging Threats, Risks, and Vulnerabilities
Terrorism is a threat. Depending upon the kind of building you own and where it is, terrorism may or may not pose much of a risk. A Midwest office building probably doesn’t have to worry much about terrorists – unless it’s Sears Tower in Chicago. On 9/11, just after the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., the security director at Sears Tower requested a new security assessment from his security consultant — because the context had changed, and the trophy building appeared to be vulnerable to a new threat. The assessment agreed with the security director and recommended a number of security upgrades.

This is why security professionals should handle securityy assessments. Security experience makes it possible to come to realistic judgments about whether a threat – petty crime, theft, violent crime, natural disasters, terrorism, or something else – poses a risk that your property should (or need not) secure itself against.

After the Physical, the Preventive Medicine
Finally, assessments include recommendations. Upgrade the lighting in your parking lot. More video coverage in certain areas will provide better support for your patrolling security officers. Access-control locks on storerooms will reduce employee theft. Develop an emergency-response plan and practice it before hurricane season every year.

You can’t know for sure if you’re meeting your responsibilities to your tenants, employees, and neighborhoods until you have a security assessment and respond in some way to the recommendations.

Michael Fickes is a freelance writer and owner of Fickes & Co. Inc., a Baltimore publishing firm with experience in the security industry.

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