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Terrorproofing: Identifying Security Soft Spots in High-Risk Residential Buildings

by John J. Fleming

In light of the latest national security level upgrade concerning the impending risk of terrorist bombings and use of chemical and biological weapons, hotels and residential buildings are being considered prime A1-Qaeda targets along with facilities which house high-risk groups (such as Jewish Synagogues, Temples, schools and organizations). There are several ways, outlined below, that building owners and/or managers can limit their risk and best protect their residents should an attack on their property actually take place.

Request a Vulnerability Assessment When an assessment is performed, three things should be available to the security analyst before any residential building assessment can begin: the building blue prints, floor plan and any standard operating procedures as they relate to security- related operations or crisis management. Blue prints and floor plans will show the trained security expert where critical access areas that need to be locked down are located, such as HVAC rooms, and the position of ventilation system air intakes, the electrical power supply rooms, mechanical rooms and other critical rooms and exterior doors. This would also include exposed areas that could be susceptible to attack. Access integrity should be strictly adhered to by the building staff, with keys being restricted and secured during off-hours. After a careful review of these materials, your security professional is then ready for a physical inspection of the building.

Glass Hardening With the high expectation terrorist bombings by the FBI, it should be noted that shards of glass effected by explosions cause the most injuries to innocent civilians. Hardening the glass in your building can be accomplished by applying mylar film inside the lobby/main floor glass. Wire-reinforced glass or ballistically treated glass. like polymer glass, though expensive to retrofit, best limits the danger from flying glass from external/internal explosions. If your building is considering glass hardening, the mylar film or other forms of glass block can be applied to existing glass rather inexpensively and will perform adequately.

Garage Security Many residential buildings have an access point within the building, usually in the basement and accessible from the street, where residents can park their vehicles. This is a security soft spot for obvious reasons. An terrorist vehicle packed with explosives that tailgates a resident vehicle into the garage poses a major security problem. During high alert periods such as this, a contracted security guard should oversee all building garage access on a twenty-four hour basis, especially in buildings where there is a large number of Jewish residents. At the least, a security camera should be installed and monitored on a twenty-four hour basis. The downside to this strategy is that a suspect vehicle could actually get into the garage area as security is responding. Too late. If the vehicle was carrying an explosive devise, it would have already been actuated by that time. Again, preventive instead of reactive security is always the best answer.

Physical Security For residential buildings, access control and surveillance procedures are only as effective as those who are overseeing the security systems. The vulnerability assessment should suggest locking down all building exterior doors except for the main lobby entrance doors. Though inconvenient, it will restrict access to violent opportunists. If your building employs a doorman as security, make certain that they are properly trained in video surveillance. A CCTV console should be standard equipment in all high-risk residential buildings in these days of optimum security. For multiple cameras, a multiplexer should be utilized. And remember, the most expensive security systems are totally useless if not operated by competent, vigilant individuals. The security analyst will perform their review and recommend how many, and where, CCTV cameras should be placed. Also, have your doormen trained by the CCTV vendor or by a qualified security consultant in the operation and monitoring of these cameras.

In addition, building owners and their managers should make sure that doormen and building staff are trained and constantly drilled in emergency response procedures. How will they respond to a bombing or shooting incident? Armed intruder? How will these EOP procedures be disseminated to residents? Is there a telephone list available with important, mandatory contact numbers in case of an emergency incident? These are all questions that should be answered during the course of the assessment.

HVAC Protection HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems are especially susceptible to the introduction of chemical/biological agents through outside openings and ducts, particularly into closed systems. The fact that many duct systems are accessible from the street level makes this problem even more discerning. In answer to this, several solutions are readily available. HEPA or charcoal filters are effective in trapping CB agents. Another preventative measure is to create a pressure differential, which is to bring more air into the building than is exhausted, thus creating positive pressure buildup within the building and severely curtailing the amount of CB that can be introduced into the building. Still another method includes adding bypass ductwork to a "scrubber" in front of an electronic precipitator. While this system is the most effective in detecting and removing particulate, gas and vapors, I have found it to be the most expensive and thus not very cost-effective for most. This type of system might best be considered in high-risk facilities such as Federal & municipal buildings and national landmarks.

The above gives the high-risk building owner/manager several examples of serious security "soft spots" that are often overlooked in residential buildings, and what procedures should be adhered to in order to prevent, or limit, serious injuries or death in the event of an attack. Some, admittedly, are high-cost. Others can be effected by simple policy & procedural changes or training. Whatever you choose, make sure that it best protects your building staff and residents. Because if an attack actually does occur in your building, both the families of victims and your insurance underwriter will be at your doorstep to ascertain what steps you had taken to protect your facility and limit your risk. The FBI was taken to task by the United States Congress for their alleged missteps in advance of 9/11. Don't think that those individuals now responsible for the safety and security of their high-risk residents will be treated any differently.

The author is a former highly-decorated Bronx homicide detective who served as former NYC Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani~ security coordinator from 1993-2001. He traveled extensively with the Mayor during this period throughout the US. and the Middle East. Mr. Fleming presently serves as Vice President/Partner of The Brosnan Group, Ltd (TBG,), a national investigative and security consulting firm based in New York City. The Brosnan Group can be contacted loll-free at 800-590-2180.

John J. Fleming
Detective First-Grade
(Retired),N.Y.P.D.
Intelligence Division


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