Real Estate Executives Discuss Lessons of Mumbai at Senate Hearing

By Matthew Harwood

Top real estate industry executives shared lessons learned from the Mumbai terrorist attack today on Capitol Hill, describing the best ways to protect appealing "soft targets" like high-rise buildings and hotels against similar plots.

The hearing was the second on the Mumbai attacks convened by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. The siege carried out late in November by jihadists affiliated with a Pakistani terrorist group killed approximately 172 people and wounded hundreds more.

Michael Norton, managing director of global property management for Tishman Speyer, and ASIS member Alan Orlob, vice president of corporate security for Marriott International Lodging, spoke on behalf of the Real Estate Roundtable, which comprises the real estate industry's top executives.

"The core mission of building owners in the event of such an attack should be to limit loss of life and property for as long as it takes law enforcement to control the situation." Norton said, identifying three issues building managers must address: communications, target hardening, and training.

Building owners and local first responders must establish more robust communication channels like New York City's  Project Shield and London's Project Griffin, Norton explained. In the programs, police officials brief private sector partners on relevant national and international events and intelligence that carry security implications.

Orlob said that where possible, hotel management should give police and other first responders current building plans and detailed photographs for aid during an emergency.

In addition to physically hardening sites, managers can institute security procedures that adjust to changing threat environments, Orlob said. Marriott instituted a crisis management program 16 years ago including a threat-condition approach to help allocate resources efficiently. When the three-tiered threat scale reaches red, or the highest level, Marriott security officers screen vehicles as they drive up to the hotel, inspect luggage, and direct visitors through a metal detector before entry into the hotel.

This approach has paid off time and again, according to Orlob. Terrorist attacks on Marriott properties in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Islamabad, Pakistan, would have killed hundreds more if security measures were not in place. 

Because building security officers are unarmed and lobbies are usually open to the public, Norton said, property owners must also come up with plans to keep terrorists out of building towers.

"As in a fire, elevators should be quickly be recalled, lobby fire doors locked from the outside, loading dock gates in place, quick release buttons implemented and notification to the tenants to advise of an evolving situation," he said.

For all of these measures to work, Norton said, building owners and managers need "actionable intelligence" from  federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence partners.

Both witnesses emphasized the importance of up-to-date training tailored to terrorist threats.

"Since 9-11," Norton said, "the security industry has improved the training of its employees in key areas such as surveillance techniques, observation skills, and building layout designs."

Orlob said Marriott employees and security officers perform table-top exercises regularly. Owing to the Mumbai attack, Marriott has already developed an active shooter program, including training, and has placed posters in employee-only areas alerting workers to suspicious behaviors.

Security training should be so specific, Orlob said, that "[t]he housekeeper cleaning a room who finds diagrams of the hotel should report it," and "[w]here feasible, a covert surveillance detection team should be employed that is specifically trained to identify individuals conducting hostile surveillance."



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