securityYou would never allow a potentially dangerous stranger to enter your home and wander around it without supervision, so why do we often permit such security lapses in the workplace? After all, not only do we spend more time at the job than at home, but the threats in the workplace are, in many ways, far greater. While the growing problem of the “active shooter” may grab the most headlines, incidents of theft, identity theft, workplace violence and other personal crimes are also impacting the workplace at an ever-greater rate.

Managing access control in a high-rise facility requires research, evaluation, planning, communication, preparation and execution. In my role as director of program development for a major security company, I have helped design a formula for success that not only recognizes site-specific challenges, but also the following comprehensive steps to proactively plan for a threat to any complex facility.

Time, Distance and Barriers

Effectively evaluating the levels of security and access control within your facility can be defined by three concepts—time, distance and barriers. The sooner you can spot a threat, the more time you have to protect your population. Once a threat has been identified, how do you safely increase your distance from that threat? And finally, what physical and psychological barriers exist in your workplace to deter that threat?

[pullquote]I often liken the process to handling a gun—unless you know how to use it, chances are it will be used against you.[/pullquote]When evaluating a facility, I examine which assets, technologies or individuals act as early warning systems. Obvious early warning components include cameras and guards, but with proper training, everyone from the parking lot attendant to the receptionist can effectively identify and communicate a potential threat.

Once identified, communicating the threat to the population in a way that elicits the proper response is vital to creating distance between the two. We all know what a fire alarm sounds like, but a threat such as an active shooter requires a unique signal conveyed through an audio system such as a P.A., as a visible alarm, or in the form of communication technologies such as email or text messages. It is vital to establish protocol so you do not send your population fleeing from one threat into another. Every exit is also a potential entrance. You must understand the dynamics within and outside your building. Which internal barriers provide safety? Do you have strategies to compartmentalize every sector of the facility? If the population evacuates the building, what are the safest places for them to assemble?

Finally, evaluating the barriers in your workspace is not simply a process of studying your floor plan and identifying walls, doors and choke points. “No Trespassing” signs, visible cameras, clearance badges and frequent security and reception points all function as effective psychological barriers to a potential threat. The key is to create an environment in which any intruder will either be deterred or easily identified as “going against the grain” in a manner that attracts attention and prompts a threat warning.

Training and Preparation

Of course, without the proper training, even the best plans are useless. I often liken the process to handling a gun—unless you know how to use it, chances are it will be used against you. Any technology or process is only as powerful as those humans responsible for evaluating, monitoring and executing it. Consider the 2013 Washington Navy Yard shooting. Every effective security measure was in place, but human error provided the shooter access to the facility. Employees must take ownership and responsibility for preventing guests from “tailgating” into restricted areas. They should also be held accountable to the dangerous practice of propping doors open for convenience.

An effective emergency response plan requires staff to become proactive in their evaluations, actions and communication. Regardless of the assignment or staff member, everyone must be on the same page. To ensure people are accountable, it is important to provide classroom training, tabletop exercises, drills and consistent audits and reviews of the process. I highly recommend that every facility provides hard training at least once a year, and performs practice drills three to four times a year.

Utilize Stakeholders as Partners

First responders, vendors, support staff and employees are all effective parts of emergency response planning. Every facility has a standard and a “transient” population. The latter, which includes food and beverage staff or janitorial services, must be vetted and trained in the same way as the former.

First responders to an emergency, such as law enforcement, must also be considered. One effective strategy for facilitating response time to a threat is providing first responders with a “Go Bag,” which contains a blueprint of the facility, security/access codes, critical phone numbers, master keys, and radios.

In addition to helping secure the safety of your population, effective access control minimizes downtime. It is an investment in business continuity—which is vital to every company’s revenue. While leaders in the organization have to own the process and security is the responsibility of trained professionals, we all have the opportunity to contribute. Ultimately, we are all the first line of defense for our own safety.

Paul Penzone

As the Director of Program Development for ABM Security Services, Paul Penzone is responsible for developing programs that will enhance the skillset and services provided by ABM Security Services on behalf of its clients. Paul’s unique skillset is the culmination if his experience in law enforcement, multi-jurisdictional investigations, program development and operations. Paul spent 21 years with the Phoenix Police Department, retiring as a sergeant in 2009. During his career, he worked in training, gang enforcement, street crimes, narcotics, and as a Federal Task Force Agent with the DEA.