Chicago’s Big Security Shoulders

By Teresa Anderson

The largest science center in the western hemisphere, the museum now houses 35,000 artifacts, including an actual U-505 submarine from WWII. The museum has more than 14 acres of exhibits as well as theaters, restaurants, gift shops, classroom space, an auditorium, and learning labs. More than 175 million people have toured the museum since it opened, and 1.4 million visited in 2012. Of those visitors, 450,000 were students.

The museum has a total staff of 450, with 32 of those dedicated to security. Edward J. McDonald, director of facilities and operations, says that protecting the people in the building—both patrons and employees—is a key part of security’s job.
Eight contract security officers provided by AlliedBarton bolster the in-house staff’s capabilities. The officers work in three shifts with some stationed at static posts, such as entrances, while others patrol the building. An officer is assigned to oversee buses, ensuring that students get safely in and out of the facility.

Security technology is put to work as well. For example, 370 pan-tilt-zoom cameras help security watch over the building and parking areas. A small number of cameras are continuously monitored, but most footage is recorded and stored for use as needed in investigations. Cameras are monitored at an on-site command center. A duplicate, off-site command center provides redundancy. In addition, access controls protect doors; staff are issued RFID access control ID cards.

Strong public-private partnerships with local authorities further strengthen the museum’s overall security, according to McDonald. Conducting scenario training with public-sector partners helps the museum, law enforcement, and first responders prepare for any emerging threats and ensure that existing plans are still working.

Training is especially important to security programs in museum environments because museums are open to all. “[We] have such a broad spectrum of guests that come in over the year. On 52 days each year, anyone from anywhere in the state can come in for free,” says McDonald. “Also we have patrons who need special attention, from young children to the mentally challenged.”



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