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New York City Security Concerns

Real Estate New York quotes Robert Tucker regarding current state of NYC security

June 01, 2005

How Safe Are We?

By Nancy A. Ruhling

Just when everyone in New York City was starting to feel safe again, the headlines in early May brought that collective sense of security to an end.

First, there was the controversy over Ground Zero’s 1,776-foot-high Freedom Tower. Developer Larry A. Silverstein and Gov. George Pataki’s announced that the soaring 60-story, concrete-base office building would be redesigned and construction delayed in the wake of escalating concern over security. This culminated in the announcement by Goldman Sachs & Co. that it decided not to build its $2-billion, 40-story headquarters across from it. That same week, on the day of the British election, there was the flowerplanter grenade bombing at the Third Avenue office building that houses, among other entities, the British Consulate.

Those two events put building security back in the public eye and put building owners and managers back on red alert, reminding everyone that these days not only must safety be on the cutting edge of technology but that it also must be a close collaboration between big government and big business. Although in 2003 the US real estate industry and federal Homeland Security officials began sharing information on terrorist alerts and advisories through the nonprofit Real Estate Information Sharing and Analysis Center, New York City has taken other steps to make sure that safety comes first.

In October 2004, for example, the city passed Local Law 26, which set new fire and safety codes, and this spring it established New York Safe & Secure, a widely publicized pilot training program for security staff in commercial office buildings.

“In the past four years, we’ve taken a number of steps to increase the protection of our commercial buildings—from expanded police patrols to additional security barriers to traffic closures, where necessary,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement announcing Safe & Secure.

Bob Louden, a professor of public management at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was a consultant to Safe & Secure, says the program “increases training in quality and quantity. It’s all about the educational aspect of safety and security and it is provided to those who are not in the security industry. It teaches security personnel to be attentive, to be alert and to look for what’s out of the ordinary. It is about reporting what they see; this is not designed to make them supercops.” He points out that the program is part of the “outreach going on in the city through the police department. The city is continuing on the right track.”

Under New York Safe & Secure, some 253 guards in 31 Midtown buildings managed by Fisher Brothers and Vornado Realty Trust will receive 40 hours of in-depth training from off-duty New York City police officers and recently retired instructors from the police academy. This supplements the training mandated under the New York State Security Guard Act of 1992. Jack Whalen, general manager of Fisher Brothers, says the program “gives our guards the opportunity to integrate with other guards and to bring back ideas. It’s a networking and training opportunity.”

While programs like Safe & Secure address specific needs, “there is a feeling among individual business owners that people must think in the long term,” says Betsy Jacobs, president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of New York and senior vice president of operations for the YMCA of Greater New York. “We can’t be reactionary.”

And that’s just what World Trade Center developer Larry A. Silverstein plans to do. In a statement, he said: “When complete, 7 World Trade Center will set new standards for technological innovation, energy efficiency, occupant health and life safety and will serve as the prototype for the next generation of office buildings.”

So just how safe are New York City’s commercial buildings? According to the experts, they are well prepared to handle emergencies, even if they are not as well protected as those in Asia and Europe, where terrorism has been a concern for decades.

“In Asia, where there are seismic codes, the standards are more stringent than ours,” says Barry B. LePatner, founder of LePatner & Associates LLP.

“Most of our new buildings, with the exception of the Freedom Tower, don’t have the same standards as in Asia.”

However, Maria Gonzalez, vice president of Nortronics Corp., says the differences are not as vast as LePatner believes. “New York is pretty much neck and neck with Europe, but Europe has more advanced technology. They are quicker to adapt new technology.” And others are quick to point out that the city started addressing security issues long before 9/11. Fisher Brothers, for one, began bolstering its security system all the way back in the 1980s when it decided to employ its own security guards instead of hiring them through an agency. “We’ve always had a more aggressive approach,” says Whalen. “We’ve always had a higher level of security than the law requires.”

That higher level of security means that the supervisors are former New York City Police Department and Office of Emergency Management officers and detectives; that they are assigned around the clock, Monday through Friday; that on weekends supervisors patrol the properties; and that in addition to cellphones, BlackBerries and pagers, there is a citywide radio frequency system.

And when an event does occur in the city, such as the blasts at the building housing the British Consulate, patrols are increased around the perimeter of each property and the level of access to every building is increased. “The day of the consulate incident, we had people patrolling the perimeter of all our properties giving special attention to the planters,” says John Angarola, director of security for Fisher Brothers. “When 9/11 occurred, we already had an afterhours access system in operation. Within an hour of the attack, the system was put in place for 24/7 access.”

Robert Tucker, chairman and CEO of T&M Protection Resources, says that 9/11 was a wake-up call for owners of commercial buildings and they haven’t gotten much sleep since then. “Many of the gaping holes pre-9/11 have been patched by technology and training,” he says. “The vast majority of class A buildings have made improvements.”

Larry Conlon, director of asset services for Cushman & Wakefield, adds that there are no “open” buildings in the city any more. “You can’t just walk in. That’s been a big change,” he says. “It’s not easy to gain access to class A buildings.”

Because of 9/11, security concerns are addressed far earlier in the planning stages of the development process. “We are working on two new projects before any concrete is being poured,” Tucker says, adding that effective systems incorporate guards, technology, explosivesdetecting dogs, executive protection, tenant background checks and emergency evacuation plans and drills. “Before 9/11, I doubt we’d be at the dance so soon.”

Indeed, the first steps to the security dance start on the architect’s drawing board. Barriers, like the planter at the British Consulate site, are the most visible security feature. However, it’s one that cannot be used to the greatest effect in the city, where most buildings are right on the street. Structural features are prime targets for strengthening: cores of buildings are being reinforced, and elevators are being placed farther from the street and encased in concrete and steel. Other interior architectural features that have safety aspects—multiple entrances that direct traffic, turnstiles, lighting fixtures with emergency turn-on features, wider stairwells to accommodate rescue workers—are being incorporated in a design-conscious manner.

These features are being combined with the latest technological devices, some of which up until recently were reserved for top-security buildings.

“Technology is moving at the speed of light,” Tucker says. “What’s state of the art yesterday is obsolete now.”

Internet Protocol, in which the security system is controlled by a computer, is the wave of the future—at least for now, Gonzalez says. “The beauty of IP is that it can integrate your existing equipment. There’s not much price difference between a new IP system and a DVR system. It’s a matter of applying the technology,” she says. “It’s like what the iPod did to the Walkman. It’s merging these two worlds.”

But biometrics, which measure a unique characteristic like a retina or a fingerprint, are still more Hollywood than Wall Street. “People just haven’t warmed up to it,” Tucker says. “Some companies are using it not as entrance IDs but as time cards. That’s penetrating the market as people get comfortable putting their hands down to be scanned. It’s more a comfort level than anything else that’s holding it back.”

One of the more important aspects of making a building secure is making sure that those who use it feel comfortable with the new safety features. To make a building invulnerable to terrorist attacks, natural disasters and nuclear war, “you’d have to have a bunker,” says LePatner. “If you build me a bunker for an office building, I may not want to move my people in.”

Thus, security becomes a delicate balancing act that forces building owners “to do it all or do it less than all,” choices that can place them and their tenants in jeopardy, he says. The result is a pseudo system that “pays lip service” to security: people walk into the lobby, show their ID to a guard, who calls upstairs and gets the OK to allow them to enter.

LePatner points to the Empire State Building, whose owners are involved in a legal battle surrounding a 1997 case where a gunman on the observation deck killed one and wounded five. Although the building began checking bags after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the program was halted after tenant protests. “Building owners are caught between a rock and hard place,” he says. “If you don’t do it, you are exposed to liability.”

BOMA-NY’s Jacobs says that Local Law 26 goes a long way to ensuring building safety by raising the profile of a couple of key issues—shelter in place and the standards for photoluminescence— that are still under consideration. “This idea of shelter in place or evacuating people inside the building is new,” she says. “If there is a nuclear attack, people would stay inside so they would not get contaminated. We don’t have standards yet for putting tape that glows in the dark on stairwells to aid evacuation in blackouts.”

Evan Lipstein, CEO of Hyline Safety Co., says that New York is the first city in the country to require photoluminescence, which “will set the standard for building safety for the rest of the USA to follow.”

Despite all the advances and the passage of Local Law 26, LePatner laments that “there are conflicting code requirements that often make it difficult for architects, engineers and owners to be certain as to the design standards to be met on a particular project. There is no unanimity on coordinating the family of building codes. The Port Authority, for example, is not required to comply with the city building codes and the World Trade Center is not covered by them,” in his opinion. “That’s why they were built to different standards. In New York, there is a move to adopt coordinated set of codes, but that doesn’t mean that the PA will follow them because it is not required to.”

Regardless of the type of security system chosen and the next event that makes headline news, Tucker says that the issue will always be on the front burner. “One of the biggest changes post 9/11 is that security is not merely a procurement issue, it’s a CEO issue. Some of the buildings in New York that we’re protecting are some of the safest in the country.”

All the more reason that building owners should “learn to never let their guard down going forward,” Jacobs adds.

 

About T&M Protection Resources, LLC
Established in 1981, T&M Protection Resources is headquartered in New York and  provides high level security, executive protection and explosive detection services, technical security systems and countermeasures and consulting services to leading corporate, institutional and private clients with special concentration in financial services, commercial property management, major sports franchises and organizations that are part of our nation’s critical infrastructure.   Through its Forensic Investigative Associates (FIA) division, T&M also offers expertise in corporate due diligence, fraud and forensic investigations, compliance monitorships, litigation support, and global intelligence services.  For more information, please contact T&M Protection Resources at 212-422-0000 or visit our website at www.tandmprotection.com.

In November 2007, Pegasus Partners IV LP (“Pegasus”) became a minority partner of T&M. Pegasus is an affiliate of Pegasus Capital Advisors, LP, a private equity firm that manages close to $1.8 billion in assets through several private equity funds. The firm provides creative capital solutions to middle market companies across a wide variety of industries, with a particular interest in businesses that make a meaningful contribution to society by positively affecting the environment, contributing to sustainability and enabling healthy living. For more information, visit the firm’s website at www.pcalp.com.

For more information, please contact T&M Protection Resources at 212-422-0000 or visit our web site at www.tandmprotection.com.