Building Safety

Sept. 1, 2005
Is your building as safe as you think it is?

Today, building safety is more important than ever; yet many building owners often overlook the obvious when charting a security course that can prevent criminal and terrorist access to a targeted building.

Q: What’s the first thing to consider when planning for building safety?
Recent history shows us that disruptive acts - even if they are some distance from a company’s facility - may affect routine operations or put personnel at risk. The challenge for facilities professionals is to adequately prepare a response control and pro­tection plan to safeguard people and property. It is imperative to look at your surrounding area as well. What will you do if there is an explosion a block away and the area is cordoned off?

Diligent companies should make sure their technology is up to date and effective. Entrances should be screened with a camera, and the system should be set up to allow the person monitoring to press a button and immediately lock the doors if necessary. Executive offices should be separate from other offices, the parking area should be well-lit and monitored, and executive parking should be separate without name designations. Also, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) have developed new guidelines for protecting buildings against biological and radiological attacks.

Q: How selective should my security guard selection process be since I have an access control system?
A: Make sure your uniformed guard supplier has a strong commitment to integrity, a training program approved by you that exceeds legal requirements, comprehensive pre-employment screening, and diligent supervision of operations. Recently, the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) instituted a security guidelines standard (built like the ANSI protocol standard) called Private Security Officer Selection and Training. If you are submitting an RFP for consideration, the ASIS guidelines have traction in the industry and can serve as a useful benchmarking tool to evaluate your security professionals (and ensure consistency and standardization) - particularly for companies with multiple buildings located throughout the United States.

Q: What constitutes a good background check?
There’s a lot going on in the area of background checks today. In many states, there are regulations pending for more regimented security professional training, and there is discussion about giving states access to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Today, most background checks happen electronically, with a significant change being in the area of fingerprints. These can now be transmitted electronically, avoiding card-based systems that smudge and are often out of date. It’s not enough to check a criminal record; companies should also check prior employment, references, past residences, and more. Work closely with a security provider to define criteria and obtain qualified unarmed, armed, and secret and top-secret-cleared security officers for the highest level of assurance.

Q: How often and how much training do my security guards need?
Initial training and recurring training should happen at least once per year, or on a regular basis pending the environment. Today, many states have specific requirements and best practices guidelines for contract security officer training. Regardless of the requirements, it is important to determine the amount of pre-assignment training, the curriculum and format of the training, and the qualifications of the instructors. Site-specific and in-service schedules, course delivery, hands-on scenarios, and role-playing with challenging exams should be considered.

Ray O’Hara is senior managing director at Vance (, headquartered in Oakton, VA.

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