Providing security in a high-rise environment can be a great challenge. Experts say that protecting high-rise facilities—whether they be office buildings, residential towers, or hotels—is a multitiered process, which involves emphasizing customer service, adapting to new attitudes, assessing risk, leveraging technology, and maintaining up-to-date emergency preparedness plans.
Even among other high-rises, Chicago’s Willis Tower is a giant; at 110 stories, it’s the 11th tallest building in the world, and the second-tallest in America—eclipsed only by New York’s One World Trade Center. It’s the workplace for more than 13,000 occupants, and its skydeck—a glass balcony that allows intrepid visitors to peer 103 floors straight down—is visited by roughly 1.5 million tourists each year. In such a uniquely dense space, maintaining smooth, stable day-to-day operations is critical. “Customer service is huge in a high-rise. Huge. It’s paramount,” says Keith Kambic, CPP, the director of security for the Willis Tower since 2006.
Ted Lotti, security director at another iconic high-rise, New York’s Hearst Tower, has a similar view. “You have to be alert at all times, and be aware of your surroundings. Then, it’s 90 percent customer service,” according to Lotti.
Opened in 2006, Hearst Tower was built upon six stories of the original International Magazine Building, which William Randolph Hearst had constructed in 1928. The tower now serves as the 46-story global headquarters for the Hearst Corporation, a media and information company that owns dozens of newspapers and television stations and publishes magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan.
The Hearst Tower features a movie theater, broadcast newsroom, three-story atrium, and various meeting and dining rooms. A steady stream of guests come for magazine launch parties, film previews, and receptions. “When you walk into a building, the first face you see is a security officer. You want the interaction to be a pleasant experience,” says Lotti. Customer service is always emphasized in the training of security officers and building engineers, he adds.
Moreover, first-rate customer service has a real deterrent effect on potential criminal activity in a high-rise building, experts say. “Customer service relates directly to the realm of security. Eye contact and a smile at points of access—that’s a challenge to someone who is trying to breach the environment. The person who is trying to perpetrate a crime does not want to be noticed,” says Mark Wright, the director of security for Brookfield Properties in the Houston region.
While the value of customer service has remained constant, the broader environment in which high-rise security is practiced has changed, Wright says. Ten years ago, in the wake of 9-11, security was an immensely popular topic among occupants of high-rise buildings. Wright remembers training sessions he led at the time in which participants were at maximum receptivity for life-security information. “After 9-11, the rooms were packed, the interest was incredible, the questions were amazing. People’s imaginations were obviously fired up,” Wright says.