Balance of functionality, security challenge for modern office building

CINCINNATI - It’s an imponderable that building owners confront every day in every city: How do you make a building both functional and secure?

“It is a very hard thing to balance,” said Nancy Kammer, president of the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association, or BOMA. “It’s not only employees that keep the business going. Customers and clients make it function as well.”

San Diego, Calif. -based security consultant Steve Albrecht said vendors and suppliers also need access to keep an office building in shape.

"You’ve got the water delivery guy, the soda machine guy, the people that clean the carpets, deliver food or uniforms," Albrecht said. "I mean there could be 15 different vendors including the guys that come and clean the fish tank or trim the plants."

But allowing access to employees, customers and service providers – not to mention members of the general public – can put your building at risk, said Ed Bridgeman, a nationally-known terrorism expert.

“Any time you allow openings in your security system, it can be a problem,” said Bridgeman, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati’s Clermont College. “If you go to the high-security buildings in Washington … they’re very circumspect about who they let in. If you open the door a crack, there’s always a chance somebody could slip through.”

Procter & Gamble Co. learned that lesson Wednesday when Greenpeace activists snuck into its global headquarters to hang protest banners from its iconic twin towers.

"This was a highly coordinated and well planned activity enabling them to bypass security and gain improper access to our office space," said P&G spokeswoman Lisa Popyk. "Security cameras indicate that one protester gained illegal access to office space that P&G leases to a third party. The protester then improperly let the others in via a secured entrance."

Popyk would not say what entrances were used. She said one activist claimed to have an appointment with its tenant to gain access.

Bridgeman said the risk is manageable and P&G is well known for handling that risk skillfully. Albrecht, a former San Diego police officer who wrote a 1994 book on workplace violence, agreed that security and access can co-exist, but only if building owners are vigilant.

"You really have to look at their access and say, 'Some of these shouldn’t have keys to certain parts of the building or their ID should expire,'" Albrecht said. "There is ID that limits access to certain floors. You have to look at those policies on an ongoing basis."

BOMA provides office building owners with lots of resources to evaluate their security policies, create evacuation plans and perform risk assessments on their properties.

It’s an issue that garnered lots of attention after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. In fact, BOMA’s annual survey of office building owners indicates managers have doubled their spending on security since 2001.  Security expenses, including payroll taxes and benefits for security staff, dropped 14.5 percent to 47 cents per square foot in 2012, BOMA reported last June .

The trade group encourages property managers to share security information with each other and with government agencies that guard against attacks. Kammer expects local property managers to compare notes when more is known about the Greenpeace incident.

“Any kind of public event like this is going to cause people to take another look,” Kammer said. “Will this generate training regarding security? It might. That could very well happen as a result.”

Cincinnati Police Capt. Paul Broxterman said that he has a similar expectation.

"This is bigger than P&G,” Broxterman said. “I mean we're talking about the headquarters of a major corporation in the Cincinnati area, and had they been terrorists - I would think Kroger, Great American and Fifth Third are all looking at their internal policies and procedures today.”

Bridgeman said the Greenpeace incident should not be considered an indication that P&G’s global headquarters is vulnerable to attack.

“One incident does not make for an unsafe or insecure venue,” he said. “I think we’re going to find out that this was purely an aberration.”

Bridgeman also gave Greenpeace credit for a well-planned operation.

“They are not a bunch of scruffy, snotty-nosed kids,” he said. “You look at the ages. These are all mid to late 20s, individuals who probably have been around the movement for quite a while. They’re not stupid … they have been able to circumvent security other places.”

Cincinnati Police said some of the protesters dressed in business attire to gain access to the building, then made their way to the 12th floor where they broke window locks to hang banners from the outside.

Procter & Gamble has extensive security apparatus at its main entrances with guards behind desks, sign in sheets and metal detectors. Badges are required for visitors to enter. Attorney William Gallagher wouldn’t say what entrance the protestors used, but he did say that

P&G is “well aware” of how Greenpeace got into the building.

“I know for a fact that no one broke in and they didn’t have any identification cards that would let them go in there,” Gallagher said. “They did not forge a security badge. They did not have a P&G employee’s assistance. I’m relatively comfortable that … they were able to walk in due to a lapse in security.

What all of that means to other building owners will vary widely based on the office space users inside, the local BOMA president predicted.

“The sensitivity of what’s in the building would drive to a large extent how secure the building is going to be,” Kammer said. “It depends on the nature of the building and the demands of the tenant.”

WCPO reporters Kareem Elgazzar and Jason Law contributed to this report.

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