Security tightens further at the office

More rules, IDs, guards and stockpiled water

March 28, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Recent government warnings that the war in Iraq could inspire attacks on symbols of U.S. financial power have led to unprecedented levels of security in the workplace.

Front-desk guards who know workers by name now ask for identification. Barriers are up and visitors are restricted. Extra water is on hand.

Times began changing after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York a year and a half ago. But an "orange" alert issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security just before the invasion of Iraq prompted office building managers to further reduce freedoms to come and go.

Tall buildings with high-profile tenants in Baltimore's central business district have reported no specific terrorist threats, but managers have taken extra precautions anyway to make workers - about 93,500 of them downtown - feel safer and more prepared.

"Now, I just reach in and take out my ID and walk by the security desk," said Walter D. Pinkard Jr., chairman and chief executive of Colliers Pinkard, a real estate company that manages several downtown buildings, including the Legg Mason tower where he works. "Soon I will have to put my ID on the desk along with my driver's license. Two IDs. I may sign the paychecks around here, but they need to treat everyone the same."

The 35-story Legg Mason building has also restricted parking by visitors underneath the Light Street building.

Bank of America now requires employees to show identification to get into the elevators at each of its downtown buildings, including the regional headquarters at 100 S. Charles St.

The World Trade Center, which sank pilings into the harbor in front of the building and added large concrete planters in the back to restrict access after Sept. 11, has added extra security and forbid delivery trucks from pulling close to the building or using the loading dock.

Others, such as the national real estate company Transwestern Commercial Services, have stockpiled water, backup generators and other provisions in case workers are confined to a building for an extended period of time.

D.C. evacuation drills

Transwestern, with 27 buildings in the Baltimore region, also has emergency-preparedness and business-recovery plans in place. Some higher risk buildings in Washington are even holding evacuation drills.

"Complacency is never a good attitude," said Ross D. Bulla, president of the Treadstone Group Inc., a security consulting business in Charlotte, N.C.

Bulla said even if Baltimore is not a likely first target for terrorists, building managers still need to defend against the "ad hoc terrorist" or "lone disturbed person" who is sympathetic to causes and happens to live in or pass through the city. Trouble could also come from a disgruntled worker.

Bulla said he advises corporations and governments to watch for unusual interest in buildings because most attacks are preceded by surveillance. He said buildings should limit access with ID cards, send escorts with visitors and require delivery people to use a code word provided in advance. Businesses should also have evacuation plans that consider handicapped employees and some basic provisions such as water, flashlights and cell phones.

Terrorism in 1990-1991

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said there is reason to be prepared. During the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf conflict, he documented in a research paper 104 cases of terrorism around the world by groups and individuals of all levels of sophistication.

"Certainly a percentage of people feel inconvenienced by heightened security measures," he said. "But that is what we need to do now. Some of it is quite ridiculous, but that's a consequence of living in a world where people are willing to engage in violence."

Many companies, citing moral and financial reasons, said they have increased security and have elaborate plans in place.

The Johns Hopkins University, the city's largest private employer, has its own office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response and offers information on the school Web site.

A spokesman said the high level of alert at the university and medical systems means delivery trucks now have to check in with a guard, more security is on patrol and a block of 34th Street that runs between two off--campus residence halls is closed to automobiles.

Security in place

Some building managers said they have always had security in place and no further actions are needed.

"We have security 24/7 at all of our urban projects," said Allison Parker, spokeswoman for the Cordish Co., which developed the Power Plant and Power Plant Live entertainment complexes near the Inner Harbor.

"We've always erred on the side of too much coverage," Parker said. "We meet regularly with Baltimore police and police in other cities."

Some believe that others have gone overboard.

"Almost all of our buildings have lobby attendants and security," said Andrew Segal, president of Houston-based Boxer Properties, which owns several smaller downtown buildings.

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