Buildings Becoming Fortresses

Buildings Becoming Fortresses
Richard Heckler, security director at the Gas Co. Tower, patrols the building. New measures have been in effect since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (BRIAN WALSKI / Los Angeles Times)
Americans are finding that their high-rise workplaces are in near lock-down mode, with managers launching an array of security measures in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Many companies have closed some entrances to offices and parking structures, perhaps for good. Others are assessing the perimeters of their property to determine whether they have enough room to prevent, or at least limit, damage from car- or truck-bomb attacks. Inside the big multi-tenant structures, visitors now file past a phalanx of uniformed or plainclothes security guards and are told to give up driver's licenses or other forms of photo identification for the duration of their time in the building.

At some locations, bags and briefcases are being searched if guards become suspicious, and elevator access and use have become strictly controlled.

In spite of such steps, few workers are objecting because the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon remain a fresh memory and the nation also is gearing up to retaliate in a campaign that federal officials said could last years.

"This helps out a lot knowing that we are being taken care of and that people are looking out for us," said Anthony Martinez, an administrative clerk in downtown Los Angeles' 52-story Gas Co. Tower who echoed the appreciation of many other workers. "It feels like I have some cover over me, like a security blanket."

The sentiment was the same a few blocks away at the 62-floor building at 707 Wilshire Blvd.

"It feels better. I don't mind it at all," said Helen Hajime-Gonzalez, who works for ANA Hallo Tours on the 47th floor.

"We're supportive of the efforts that have been made by MaguirePartners here at the Wells Fargo Tower and with respect to the 200 Park Ave. building owned by MetLife in New York City," said Charles Woodhouse, partner in law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which has offices in both structures.

MaguirePartners owns and manages Los Angeles' Gas Co. Tower, the Library Tower, and the KPMG and Wells Fargo towers, both within Wells Fargo Center, said spokeswoman Peggy Moretti. Each of the structures now has 10 to 12 plainclothes security guards, and visitors must wear tags specifying the offices of their destination. Employee elevator slot cards, once needed only after-hours to operate building elevators, are now necessary at all times, said Morretti, adding that the new standards would be in place indefinitely.

These were not unilateral decisions on the part of MaguirePartners, said Dan Gifford, a partner at the firm who is also in charge of property and access management for the downtown office buildings that hold as many as 18,000 to 20,000 people a day.

"We did some polling and asked some questions. Almost all of the tenants feel that this is the time to tighten up on the California style of major office buildings," Gifford said.

He said the inconvenience has been manageable, with about 4,500 people entering each of the buildings between 6 and 9 on a typical morning.

In the past, "we allowed the large tenants to dictate access under normal business modes," Gifford said. "Some wanted their space and their floors secured, and others wanted theirs left open for visitors."

There also may be more safety measures to come. Gifford said that, "as an extra layer of precaution," an international security expert with experience with terrorist incidents had been hired "to look over our shoulder and kick the tires, to look at what we have and what works."

Similar steps have been taken at other major office buildings around the nation, including the holdings of TrizecHahn Office Properties Ltd., said company spokesman Mark Spencer.

TrizecHahn's properties include the Ernst & Young Plaza in Los Angeles, four midtown Manhattan, N.Y., sites such as the Grace Building and the World Apparel Center, and Chicago's 110-floor Sears Tower.

By far, the most comprehensive security measures have been taken at the Sears Towers, Spencer said.

"The Sears Tower went from being an open building to one where identification is checked at the door," Spencer said. "Visitors now have to sign in with proper photo identification and state where in the building they are going. Bags are also subject to searches, if the guards have a concern, and the Sky Deck [observation floor] remains closed."

TrizecHahn officials also were considering measures that might include more security guards and more-frequent security sweeps through the buildings in search of unusual behavior or activity.

The major problem in securing most office buildings is that they were designed with ease of access in mind, said David G. Aggleton of Aggleton & Associates Inc., a New York security consulting company.

Perimeter security is limited by the amount of open space outside a building or a complex, Aggleton said. Office buildings, for example, need to be at least 100 feet from the street to mitigate blast damage from a car or truck bomb.

Inside, Aggleton said, identification checkpoints or turnstiles do not slow the process of entering and exiting buildings, but further steps, such as package screening and metal detectors, would be more time-consuming.

Offices also might consider having additional guards on floors near the elevators to verify that visitors are going where they said they were.

"None of this will protect you against a trained, armed terrorist group," Aggleton said. "But then, we really don't expect to have that type of a threat, and it's probably reasonable not to expect that.

"Deterrence is the goal here. An architect wants a welcoming environment and a show of opulence," Aggleton said. "Security says, 'Yes, you are welcome but only if you belong.' "

The sweeping security measures are only logical after such devastating attacks, many experts say.

"Most Americans alive today have never faced anything like this," sociologist Jill Stein said. "Now, we have people entering their office buildings and thinking of themselves as targets. We have all developed certain expectations about what we think of as a safe and normal life in America. In other parts of the world, that often means something quite different. Now, we may have something else to consider as 'normal.' "

But even as many employees gladly embraced the tighter security, experts warned that the restrictions and delays would eventually chafe workers.

"While people are scared, they'll go along with it and be patient about it," said Sam Culbert, a professor at UCLA's Anderson School. "Right now, we're all in shock and we're all in it together and we won't mind. But as soon as there is a little distance between us and this crisis, we'll go back to our inherent distrust of authority and our impatience with being inconvenienced and steered and pushed around."

And though many firms said the new measures will be in place indefinitely, firms need to consider how many more security measures they can afford and for how long, said Ray O'Hara, senior vice president for the Western region for Pinkerton Service Corp., a security firm that provided protection for President Lincoln.

"You can't just have a knee-jerk reaction," O'Hara said. "You might want to have some things in place temporarily, then the question is when do you stop and what do you base that decision on."