What Comcast Center learned from 9-11, plus security at the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia and at a U.S. Postal Service processing and distribution center.
The Comcast Center in Philadelphia was still in the planning phase when terrorists struck on 9-11. The landmark property was redesigned to incorporate life-safety lessons from that event. That’s one of three examples Security Management explores of how companies meet their security challenges in Philadelphia, host of this year’s ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits.
With 58 stories, 1.2 million square feet, public art space, the world’s largest indoor video screen, a half-acre public plaza, and a gourmet food market, the Comcast Center was always going to be impressive. “We envisioned this facility as more than an office building,” says Jim Birch, director of security and life safety at Liberty Property Trust, which provides property management services for the Comcast Center. “We wanted it to be a destination.”
However, the vision Birch shared with Comcast Chief Security Officer Mark Farrell had to be adjusted as the result of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At that time, the building was still in the planning phase. Given that the risk profile for such landmark properties had just drastically been altered, the property was redesigned to incorporate some of the life-safety features that emerged as lessons learned from 9-11.
Redesign. “We had blueprints, architectural drawings, and a hole in the ground on September 11,” says Birch. “But, we stopped construction immediately.”
Based on the engineering reports from the World Trade Center, Comcast decided to change the design from a standard high-rise construction to a “core and shell” design.
In this design, the floors of the building are hung on a concrete core. The core is more than three feet thick at the base and more than two feet thick at the top. To improve fire resistance, steel reinforcing is three inches from the surface of the concrete instead of the standard one and a half inches. The core is independent of the overall building structure. This means, in theory, that even if the building collapses, the core will remain.
All of the critical building elements—elevators, stairwells, redundant air supplies, power, fiber, and communications systems—are contained within the core. The core also encompasses standpipes that provide water for both the sprinkler system and for use by firefighters. All of the 4,000 people who work in the building can also safely shelter inside the core.
The stairwells were widened from 44 inches to 54 inches. The goal was to allow enough room for evacuees—even those being carried down in wheelchairs—to descend in the stairwell at the same time that emergency personnel are ascending to carry out search and rescue. Lighting systems in the stairwell have a double redundancy: backup power from an emergency generator and a battery backup.
The air intake, which flows into the core, is located well above street level and, thus, is not easily reached by anyone who might want to use it to contaminate the building’s air supply. A monitoring system runs continually to detect any pathogens.
The building is also equipped with several redundant mass notification systems that can be used for general alarms as well as to communicate specific instructions. The speakers for the system are located through the core and along the exit route to help guide occupants in an evacuation.
Life-safety drills. These features are only part of the safety equation, however. The facility also has a strong emergency response program, and security conducts eight emergency drills a year to test its evacuation procedures. Testing is conducted with local first responders.
Part of the program includes having floor captains who help to ensure that everyone gets out and knows where to muster. Three people per floor serve as floor captains. These three people are trained in all types of emergency response, including active-shooter situations.
If an emergency announcement is made over the mass notification system, the floor captains rally their charges and take them to the stairwells. Once there, the floor captains will ensure that employees are safely moved out of the building or to the appropriate place where they can shelter in the core, depending on the type of emergency. This includes everything from severe weather to active shooters.
“Employees already know to follow the floor captains, so it was perfect to use the program as the foundation for the active-shooter program,” says Birch. In an active-shooter situation, security will make an audible announcement that signals to the floor captains. The message will say there is a “serious incident inside the building.”
Upon hearing this message, floor captains know to take employees to designated safe areas that have been designed to lock from the inside. Floor wardens are all provided with a key to those safe areas. The safe areas are windowless and already contain a water supply so that people can stay for awhile.
Comcast security has conducted three active-shooter drills with the Philadelphia Police Department using this program.
When the police department changed its best practices advice in responding to active-shooter situations, it used the Comcast Center for training. “This gave us more confidence,” says Farrell. “We know the police department will respond and that they will know our program.”
Federal Reserve Bank
The Federal Reserve System, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, implements monetary policy in the United States and oversees the country’s currency supply. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia is one of 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks; it serves the eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware region.
The regional banks, when combined with the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., constitute the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Reserve receives no government appropriations and derives its income primarily from the interest earned on government securities it has acquired. Any earnings the Fed makes above the cost of operations are turned over to the U.S. Treasury.
Besides serving as a depository institution for banks, the Fed is also integral to the financial workings of the United States. Because of this, Federal Reserve branches have become terrorist targets. To minimize this risk, the Philadelphia branch has tight security. Security Management looked at two specific aspects of its security: currency control and cash deliveries.
Currency control. A critical function of the Federal Reserve banks is to hold cash deposits from financial institutions and redistribute that cash as needed. For example, during the holiday season, banks may need more cash on hand and will request extra currency from the Federal Reserve Bank. Once the holidays are over, banks may find that they have too much cash and will deposit some of it with the Federal Reserve.
As the cash flows in and out of the Federal Reserve Bank, machines check the bills, verifying the amount within a certain time frame and pulling the damaged bills out of circulation. This can be a significant amount of bills as the life span of $1 bills is only about 10 months. These damaged bills are destroyed and replaced with new ones obtained from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Each processing machine verifies 100,000 notes per hour. Counting the money is important because banks sometimes make mistakes—putting a $10 bill in place of a $20 bill, for example. Each of these errors must be documented.
The machines also pull out counterfeit notes. Though the number of counterfeit bills is less than 1/100th of 1 percent of all money in circulation, each counterfeit bill must be logged, counted, and turned over to the U.S. Secret Service.
The currency processing areas are enclosed behind clear glass walls, and the employees’ activities are under constant scrutiny both by supervisors watching through the glass walls and by high-resolution surveillance cameras that feed into the building’s central monitoring station.
There are numerous other security safeguards in place—workers carry access control cards and must wear protective smocks that have no pockets, for example. Moreover, there is a stringent hiring process. “Our screening and hiring program is comprehensive, so our track record regarding employee theft is very good,” says Robert McCarthy, manager of public affairs for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. “We have very few incidents,” he notes.
Off-site screening. There have been many technical changes at the Fed in the last decade. For example, 10 years ago, the Philadelphia branch processed 7 million paper checks each night; now they process none, because all such transactions are handled electronically.
But the biggest change was brought about by 9-11. The Patriot Act gave the Federal Reserve’s armed security officers law enforcement powers. The Philadelphia branch invested in new surveillance equipment, including remote video cameras throughout the neighborhood that feed back into the central station. The branch also installed an upgraded alarm system, vascular access control readers, and a mail screening system that includes a backscatter explosives detection system.
However, the biggest challenge was the facility itself. Constructed in 1976, the building extends to the sidewalk on a busy city street, making it vulnerable to a car bomb. The Fed compensated with extra patrols to protect the perimeter.
Vehicle traffic presented an even more difficult problem. Any vehicle visiting the site—such as armored trucks carrying cash, for example—entered the underground parking area. After 9-11, this posed too great a risk. So, immediately after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, security began to screen vehicles in the street. This quickly became untenable, however, as the screening blocked traffic and put officers at risk of being hit by cars. The solution was a separate vehicle screening area across the street from the main facility.
Completed in 2009, the screening building has a large staging area where vehicles undergo a high-tech screening process and are then escorted to the underground parking at the main facility. The process begins before the vehicle even arrives. Officers at the screening facility get advance notice 45 minutes before a vehicle arrives. The notification—including the license plate number, type of vehicle, and cargo—is sent to the smartphone of the officer on duty.
Once the vehicle pulls inside the inspection facility, a high performance door lowers behind it. The door moves quickly and is closed in a matter of seconds. The officer then enters the vehicle information into a computer and in a paper log as a backup. Within the computer, the officer uses software that searches federal watch lists to determine whether the vehicle has been linked to criminal or terrorist activity. (Cameras cover all the activity in the screening facility.)
The driver is directed to pull the vehicle over an undercarriage scanner. The scanner searches for evidence of any explosives or radiological material. The scan is linked to the vehicle’s license plate so that it can be compared to future scans should the same vehicle return. The scanner can then spot changes or anomalies.
The driver and any passengers are then asked to exit the vehicle so that officers can search the interior. At this point, everyone who arrived in the vehicle is scanned with a baton that detects explosives or gunpowder residue.
Some materials that a vehicle may be delivering, such as office or cleaning supplies, may stay at the screening facility and be placed into storage. If this is the sole cargo, the vehicle is released. Other vehicles are prepared to proceed to the main building. Armored vehicles carrying cash are sealed by officers at the screening facility. The seal must be intact for the cash to be accepted at the main building.
Officers then enter a black SUV that serves as an escort vehicle. Officers follow the visiting vehicle around the block and into the parking area. Cameras also follow the progress of the screened vehicle.
Postal Inspection Service
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (PIS) is staffed with federal law enforcement officers who work to protect the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and to prevent criminals from using the U.S. mail system to perpetrate crime. Postal Inspectors are armed and assigned to critical postal facilities throughout the country, such as the regional processing and distribution center in Philadelphia. PIS officers participate in several critical programs, including those designed to prevent workplace violence and detect hazardous mail.
The distribution center covers 900,000 square feet and sits on a 50-acre site. Completed in 2006, the facility is the first USPS processing facility built specifically for a modern computer-aided distribution network. The high-tech process helps employees process the hundreds of millions of pieces of mail that pass through the building each day. Routing mail to 150 million addresses, the facility processes almost half of the world’s mail.
Workplace violence. Though a high-profile series of shootings by USPS employees beginning in the early 1980s created the public perception that the postal service was filled with angry, unhinged employees and led to the phrase “going postal,” the USPS always contended that its rate of workplace violence was lower than that of other industries. A 2000 report from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University validated that assertion. The report resulted from a two-year study that found postal workers no more likely to become aggressive on the job and a third less likely to become victims of homicide while in the workplace.
Nevertheless, combatting both public perception and actual threats of workplace violence remain a priority at the USPS, according to Darryl G. Wallace, CPP, U.S. Postal Inspector and security team leader. The USPS has launched two programs to help address the issue: the Threat Assessment Team (TAT) program and the Safe and Secure program.
TAT. The TAT program, which operates under the auspices of the PIS, is a quick-reaction team that investigates incidents and monitors potentially volatile situations in an attempt to keep them from escalating. Employees are urged to contact the TAT hotline about any incident that has already occurred or suspicious behavior that might become an incident.
For incidents that have already occurred, a TAT investigator is dispatched to the site. (TAT has employees around the country. Those stationed at the Philadelphia distribution center respond to calls in and around the city.) TAT personnel conduct investigations and serve as liaisons to all parties, including employees, management, and human resources.
TAT also monitors any reports of aggressive behavior, changes in mood, or any other red flags that might signal a possible future workplace violence incident. Members of the team meet with district managers quarterly to go over all complaints and incidents.
Safe and Secure. Another PIS program engages the 500,000 USPS employees and 100,000 contractors about workplace violence directly. As part of the program, PIS employees give quarterly presentations to groups of postal employees, providing a targeted message.
PIS worked with managers to develop guidelines targeted to various groups. For example, letter carriers are urged to be on the lookout for disgruntled members of the public. Plant employees are taught how to interact with other workers and spot colleagues who may be under stress.
A new guideline currently in development is targeted towards the drivers who transport mail over long distances. This guideline will help drivers by reminding them to avoid high-risk situations, such as parking overnight in a high-crime area, and it will teach them how to deal with break-downs and how to secure cargo.
These guidelines are presented during talks by postal inspectors, and each group is asked to watch a training video tailor-made for that group. “We go out, show the video, and engage employees in discussing the information,” says Wallace. “The idea is to physically meet with people. Make contact. Make people comfortable so they feel comfortable making reports.”
The PIS gathers annual reports on the number of assaults on employees, broken out by categories. While the specific numbers are not made available to the public, Wallace notes that the numbers have gone down in all categories over the past several years.
Hazardous mail. A large machine snakes through the Philadelphia distribution center. It stands out from the other complicated machinery because of its size and its color—bright purple. “This is the induction point for all mail that goes through this facility. This is the biohazard detection system,” says Wallace. “We call it Barney.”
Its real name is the biohazard detection system (BDS), and its job is to detect suspicious and dangerous mail that might pose a biological or chemical hazard.
Equipped with sensors to test for chemicals, explosives, and radioactive materials, the BDS was designed as a response to the 2001 anthrax attacks. BDS units are installed in 271 postal processing plants and can rapidly provide an analysis of suspicious materials. All mail goes through the BDS, which takes a small sample from each letter or package and tests it in a matter of seconds. A positive test is followed by an immediate retest.
Specially trained postal inspectors respond to an alert from the BDS. The inspectors are trained to retrieve samples, document for evidence, and then send the samples out for lab testing.
To ensure that they will be prepared if there is an incident that requires evacuation, the PIS coordinates with local first responders to conduct several drills each year. The drills include fire officials, emergency medical personnel, the police, and local FBI agents. This is critical because any alert from the BDS requires that the inspector shut down the facility and secure the building. “A BDS alert means that the building is a crime scene,” says Wallace. “It has to be secured for the safety of the public and our employees.”