THE MAGAZINE

From Top to Bottom

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

 Command Central

 
The Boston Properties Control Center (BPCC) is located in the Prudential Tower. Opened in 2004, the BPCC is staffed by operators who are selected for their ability to multitask, react, and communicate concisely in what can be a high-stress security environment.
 
The BPCC receives and records the feeds from more than 300 CCTV cameras that are located around the Prudential Center and 40 additional Boston Properties buildings spread over the greater Boston area. The BPCC also monitors all fire alarm and access control points, as well as the center’s HVAC, elevator, and other mechanical and electrical systems. All cameras are connected to primary and secondary DVRs so that the video feed is recorded twice.
 
Snows says, “Redundancy is paramount because of the volume of the activity. We cannot afford to have malfunctions that prevent us from retrieving video.” Each primary and secondary DVR has two terabytes of storage capacity. Additionally, the BPCC monitors cameras from buildings outside of Prudential Center in the greater Boston area over the Boston Properties wide area network.
 
Shaw says, “BPCC operators are a specialized group who are part security officer, part engineer, part police officer—a cross section of a number of disciplines.” The operators deal with issues ranging from something as small as a minor shop­lifting incident in the retail areas or a fender bender in the parking garage to something as major as a construction accident, an office fire, or burst pipes flooding the basement of a high-rise building.
 
“The BPCC operators are trained to dispatch Patrol or Office Division officers to make an initial assessment, and based on that assessment, to call for emergency medical respondents, police, building or senior managers, maintenance workers, or janitorial staff,” Tello states.
 
BBCC operators can field calls from more than 400 public emergency-assistance intercom stations located throughout the garage, exterior common areas, elevators, lobbies, and stairwell landings. They then coordinate response.
 
The operators also oversee a dedicated emergency e-mail database that can immediately and simultaneously communicate with all tenant contacts during an emergency. There is also a tenant hotline voicemail box that allows tenants to call in from inside or outside of Prudential Center to receive updates on an emergency situation.
 
During an incident, the BPCC can use public address systems in the high-rise buildings to notify occupants of an emergency. Operators making these announcements receive special training to convey clear and authoritative instructions.
According to Snow, “We have ongoing communication and coordination meetings with local, state, and federal agencies to network, share information, and coordinate incident and emergency response.”
 
Regular training and tabletop exercises are held that include the BPCC operators and public safety officials. Additionally, once a month, the BPCC conducts internal exercises to review corporate policies and test accident mitigation and recovery and resumption procedures.
 
“Communicating and coordinating with first responders before an emergency happens—as well as regularly participating in joint meetings and exercises—are critical components of a good emergency preparedness program,” Snow states.
 
“There are multiple benefits of these joint meetings and exercises. For example, the shelter-in-place concept is basic and sounds good in a plan. However, in a real emergency, there may be issues and challenges that are important to discuss in advance, such as who makes the decision to shelter in place, how quickly should the decision be made, how long will people wait before ‘self-evacuating,’ how will it be communicated, or who prevents people from leaving on their own?” Snow says that this subject has spurred many interesting discussions, and the answers identified revealed conflicting assumptions.
 
For example, one exercise revealed that public safety agencies’ plans called for setting up their command post and staging equipment at the same location that several building tenants had designated as their external rally point. This conflict would have caused mass confusion in an emergency, so some of the plans were amended.
 
Tello works proactively with area fire departments. “We don’t want to be exchanging business cards with the fire chief on the day of the fire,” Tello jokes. Instead, he conducts frequent tours of the property with personnel who would be responding to a real fire. “We go in the stairwells; they see our equipment; we orient them to the floor plans.”
 
The emergency management program includes what Snow calls a “sophisticated, formal floor-evacuation system,” wherein tenants form floor-evacuation teams. Practice exercises are conducted semiannually to ensure that all tenant employees are familiar with life-safety system signals and operation, emergency procedures, exit locations, and the inside of emergency exit stairwells.
 
In these drills, occupants enter the stairwell and walk down three floors. “We believe it is important for building occupants to experience and familiarize themselves with the environment inside the stairwell, rather than just knowing where the exits are located on their floor,” Snow explains.
 
Each year, a full building evacuation exercise is conducted at each office building. The exercises are held on separate days for each building and are designed to simulate an emergency in which all building occupants are directed to evacuate to their external rally points.
 
During these full-building drills, says Tello, “all occupants descend the stairs at the same time,” and they then assemble at external rally points, where designated personnel must account for all of their employees. Planning for these large-scale drills includes significant advanced coordination and training with many diverse tenants, neighboring buildings, and public safety agencies.
 
This type of full-on simulation teaches occupants what to do in a real event, familiarizing them not only with stairwells but also with where they will exit at ground level and directions from there to rally points. “This really pays off in a real emergency because they will do it automatically,” says Tello.
 
In fact, says Snow, recently there was a genuine crisis that proved the value of training. Last August, a major waterline broke, sending thousands of gallons of water into the utility areas located in the lower part of the Prudential Tower and disabling many of the buildings systems, including elevators, HVAC, and electricity. The high rise had to be comopletely evacuated.
 
“It was a testament to all the training that we do. It was flawless. The staff, security, tenants, evacuation teams—everyone knew what to do,” Snow recalls.
 
The media was on hand, and interviewed one of the tenant employee fire wardens at their evacuation rally point. She assured the television reporter that the occupants were well trained and had exited the building calmly and in an organized manner. “That impromptu interview of a layperson made us feel really good,” says Snow. “It was the ultimate testimonial for the benefits of occupant training and how much it pays off during an emergency.”
 
Other tenant feedback also makes the security team proud. Every year, Snow states, a questionnaire is sent out to all tenants asking whether the Prudential Center Security Program makes them feel welcome and safe at Prudential Center. “We consistently get a 98 to 99 percent ‘yes’ response.”

 


Ann Longmore-Etheridge is an associate editor of Security Management and editor of ASIS Dynamics.

Comments

Why are so many buildings

Why are so many buildings being madein Boston? Its getting so congested there.

 

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