Find out how security at Boston's Prudential Center works toward its goal of providing a safe, secure, and welcoming environment for tenants, customers, residents, and visitors.
“Welcome and Safe” is the motto of the security program at Boston’s Prudential Center, and for this massive, mixed-use, high-rise office, hotel, apartment, and retail establishment, the motto is also the goal: create a favorable business environment that attracts and retains tenants, customers, and visitors. That is accompanied by strong emergency preparedness planning, a staff of highly trained security officers, and a state-of-the-art command-and-control center that serves as a communication hub for the entire property.
Prudential Center is composed of 3.2 million square feet of office and retail space. Its office components include Prudential Tower, a 52-story building completed in 1964, as well as the futuristic, 35-floor 111 Huntington Avenue, which was built in 2001, and 25-story building, 101 Huntington Avenue, which was built in the 1970s.
All of these buildings, as well as three high-rise apartment buildings, the Hynes Convention Center, and large hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental Boston and the Sheraton Boston, are interconnected by The Shops at Prudential Center, a glass-enclosed shopping center with 75 stores and restaurants that is one of the five busiest shopping centers in the United States. There is also a 3,600-space underground parking garage—the largest in New England—and the South Garden, a 1.3-acre open-air park that hosts small concerts and other events.
Prudential Tower, 101 and 111 Huntington Avenue, and The Shops at Prudential Center are owned and managed by Boston Properties and are the purview of that company’s security team. The other properties attached to Prudential Center, such as the Hynes Convention Center, are owned and managed by separate companies whose security groups coordinate with Boston Properties and the Prudential Center Security Team.
Prudential Center’s current security policies were developed in the wake of 9-11, says Alan Snow, director of safety and security for Boston Properties.
John Tello, the center’s assistant director of safety and security, explains: “Before 9-11, we had a traditional security program based around typical security officers for office buildings and shopping center programs. After 9-11, we had a duty to our tenants to make them feel good about working in a high-rise office tower without the fear of something terrible happening.”
The first step that Boston Properties took was to enhance its security officer corps. “We developed a small group of highly specialized officers that we called the Enhanced Security Team to augment the regular security forces,” explains Snow.
Boston Properties contracts out its security staffing to AlliedBarton Security Services. Members of the Enhanced Security Team must have a law enforcement or military background, or be college graduates with a degree in security or criminal justice. They also must pass rigorous physical skill and agility tests.
The team wears uniforms like those of a police special operations unit. They carry pepper spray for self-defense. A select portion of the officers attend a special 100-hour training course, including topics such as use of force and evidence processing so that the City of Boston Police Department can grant them full powers of arrest while within Prudential Center’s boundaries.
When the Enhanced Security Team was rolled out at Prudential Center in 2002, “It was immediately well-received by the management, the tenants, customers, and visitors,” says Snow. “The team members looked sharp and professional, yet were very approachable with a customer service orientation. We thought, ‘Why stop here? Why not take the program to the next level?’ The Enhanced Security Team became our current Patrol Division.”
The patrol officers start each shift with a police-style roll call headed by a shift manager. During this meeting, the officers are informed on issues of special concern, such as a rash of shopliftings of certain items or a sudden increase in wallet thefts, as well as planned special events, VIP visits, or areas of the property where construction is scheduled.
Afterward, the officers head out to their assigned sectors within the retail arcades, the parking garage, the exterior perimeter, and all other common areas. They tour on foot, in patrol vehicles, and on Segways.
The officers “deal with the same issues as in any small community…calls for medical assistance, fire alarms, reports of property damage, motor vehicle damage, also crimes such as shoplifting, or wallet and purse thefts,” explains Snow. However, he stresses, officers see few crimes against people, such as assaults or domestic violence incidents.
Patrol officers receive training in emergency first aid and CPR, crime prevention, and antiterrorism. Of the terror threat, Snow says, “Our officers are trained in what to look for. For example, during terrorist planning cycles, the piece where the private sector has the most chance of impact is in spotting the preoperational surveillance and the practice runs. Those are the behaviors that [officers are trained to] key in on,” he states.
On the other hand, adds Tello, “We have to have a balance with customer service. We have 60,000 people here every day. Many of those are tourists taking pictures. Just because they are photographing the center doesn’t mean they’re documenting the placement of structural columns or of where security officers are stationed. The officers have to balance how and when they intercede in light of the question, ‘Is this something really indicative of possible crime?’”
For Tello, officer visibility is paramount to their mission. “Whenever I walk through the retail arcade, for example, I want to see officers [on duty]. We want visitors to see professional and solid-looking security officers doing their rounds.”
There are about 100 fulltime officers working at Prudential Center. Although Snow and Tello did not wish to reveal exact numbers, they did note that the largest group is the Office Division. These officers are responsible for access control and all aspects of security in the three high-rise office buildings.
According to Tello, Office Division officers are selected for their outgoing personalities and customer service focus. “This was something we had to learn over time—that we needed people who could develop personal relationships with the tenants,” he says. “The Office Division security staff have more daily contact with our tenants than we do. In 2005, we created the Security Ambassador program, which emphasized and enhanced the image and perception of the security staff to a level of being perceived as ambassadors of Boston Properties.” The officers receive training in customer relations as well as first aid and CPR.
Snow says that although the officers on patrol or in the Office Division and command center are all part of a larger team and report up the same management structure, each group has its own unique skill sets. “There is surprisingly little cross-fertilization between the divisions. Officers don’t come into one and transfer into another. In the Office Division, the majority of the officers may not be looking for a long-term security or law enforcement career. They may be looking to move into other areas of business.”
The officers also staff lobby desks at Prudential Tower and 101 and 111 Huntington Avenue around the clock to check in visitors, receive packages, and monitor the buildings, loading docks, and freight elevators.
All of the tenant companies’ employees are required to authenticate their Boston Properties-issued access control badge at a reader upon entering the buildings. Once the cards are scanned by the reader, all employees must also present the ID to security officers who compare the photos on the badge to the individuals. If the badge matches the holder, then that person can pass beyond the lobbies into the elevators. Once inside, they must use their badge again to gain access to an elevator and the floors where they work.
New employees are issued identification by a badging office in the Prudential Tower. Tello explains that on their first day of work, newcomers are processed in as visitors by Office Division security in the building’s lobby, then escorted by a tenant company representative to the badging office where a photograph is taken and the card created with access privileges encoded. Boston Properties uses a 35-bit HID Corporate 1000 proximity badge. It was selected for its flexibility in multiple access control environments. Many of the tenant companies use the Boston Properties ID with their own access control systems within their leased space, allowing employees to carry only one badge.
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.