NYC Council Addresses Exit Safety

Safety for citizens who work in the commercial high rises of New York City was a key issue in a recent decision by the NYC Council to amend existing building code laws. The new codes, which will go into effect beginning July 1, 2006, are expected to mandate the usage of improved markings, exit signage and back-up power to exit signs in most commercial buildings.

According to the proposal, “All high rise office buildings and all high rise buildings classified in occupancy group E shall have exit path markings conforming to this subdivision. This provision shall be retroactive and shall apply to buildings constructed on and after such date and to buildings in existence on such date. All exit path markings required herein shall be of an approved photoluminescent material.”

Following Sept. 11, the World Trade Center Building Code Task Force concluded that because the WTC had already implemented safety markings to create clear paths for emergency evacuation, more people were able to escape when the attack occurred. The power blackout of Aug. 14, 2003, which affected most of the Northeast, was also a factor in the council’s decision.

“I have experienced first-hand the horror of carrying my one-year-old daughter down a dark stairwell 15 floors with no guidance when the black-out occurred in 2003. It’s a frightening thing,” said Evan Lipstein, CEO of Hyline Safety, a manufacturer of emergency exit and egress pathway markings. “Even in smoke-filled hallways, low-location non-electric signs are much easier to see and more reliable than conventional overhead electric powered signs. These signs can effectively lead people to safety.”

University Exploring Biometric Identity Management

Realtime North America Inc., Tampa, Fla., announced that its bioLock software has been installed at California State University, Fullerton for investigative purposes. The university intends to conduct extensive research and create white papers concerning biometric identity management systems.

CSUF professor Paul Sheldon Foote, Ph.D. came across the system a year ago and made the decision to implement the technology at the university to conduct research and studies about biometrics. A respected researcher in the community of users of SAP solutions, Foote wished to explore what he sees as a fast-growing threat – IT security.

Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires certifying that companies establish and maintain internal controls, and assess and audit their systems’ effectiveness annually. Since the passage of the act, many biometric systems like bioLock have put an increasing emphasis on integrating biometrics with electronic identity management, tracking and other cyber security systems.

“Everybody is concerned about viruses, but the theft of proprietary information is causing 2.5 times the damage,” warned Realtime COO Thomas Neudenberger. “We are pleased to see that companies are realizing the seriousness of this threat and are taking the appropriate actions.”

U.S. Aviation Security Fails Report Card

Last March, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association (CAPA) released its Aviation Security Report Card, giving aviation security grades of average to failing in over a dozen subject areas, including the lack of high-tech credentialing systems for crew members. Other failing grades were given to the screening of employees and cargo, defending planes from shoulder-fired missiles and self-defense training for airline crew.

“The technology exists, or could be updated, to address many of these security problems,” said CAPA president Jon Safley in an article reported by Reuters. “But neither the airlines, the airports nor government officials have given these issues the priority they deserve.”

Safley noted that while screening of airline passengers and their bags had improved since Sept. 11., screening of ramp employees and cargo had not improved.

“We should have one level of security to protect the American people,” said Safley. “If we’re screening passengers, we certainly need to screen employees who have access to aircraft and baggage. And not screening cargo on all-cargo carriers invites disaster.”

CAPA reserved better grades for the federal government for improving bag and passenger screening and reinforcing cockpit doors on commercial airplanes, but still had some criticism for Washington. The group gave low grades to the government on the general security of airports, saying that TSA did not properly or consistently oversee its efforts. It also said there was poor sharing of information on potential threats to aircraft, such as airlines not sharing crucial information with their captains.

CAPA represents about 22,000 pilots from American Airlines, the United Parcel Service, Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways.

Haz Truckers to Face Background Checks

Truck drivers hauling flammable, combustible, radioactive or poisonous cargo as are now going to be scrutinized as closely as the hazardous materials that fill their tankers and trailers.

Part of the USA Patriot Act, roughly 3 million drivers across the nation will begin to be fingerprinted and put through FBI criminal background checks. Drivers’ names will also be cross-referenced with federal databases related to terrorist activity, a practice begun last year by TSA.

Drivers who fail a criminal record search will be classified as threats and prevented from transporting hazardous materials. TSA will notify the state where a driver is licensed of its findings. Drivers could appeal the decisions.

“Some of us are against it and some of us are for it because of safety since 9/11,” said trucker Michael Johnson in an article by the Associated Press. “The drivers that drive, they want to be safe,” he said. “Some of them are against it because they say it’s impeding their privacy.”

Previously, trucking companies were responsible for performing background checks on their drivers. Teachers and other highly scrutinized professionals often undergo similar checks.

TSA and the FBI will conduct the security threat assessments as drivers renew their credentials allowing them to haul hazardous materials. Those hauling hazardous materials will be required to attach a placard to the back of their tankers or trucks. The truckers will also have to pay $94 for their re-authorization in a biometric (fingerprint) database.

Drivers who want to get a first-time hazardous material certification on their commercial driver’s licenses have to be fingerprinted and take the usual computer-based test. Those up for renewal after May 31 will have to do the same.

“We’ll be able to know not only who is driving and transporting hazardous materials, but we’ll be able to restrict people who have certain kinds of convictions,” said Sharon Harrington, chief administrator for the state Motor Vehicle Commission.

Temporary disqualifying offenses could include people convicted of some felonies or who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity in the past seven years. People released from prison in the last five years for sexual assault with intent to murder, kidnapping or hostage taking, and those with immigration violations also would be disqualified. Treason, espionage and murder convictions are among the crimes that would permanently disqualify drivers from getting or keeping hazardous material endorsements.