Fire department first responders now expect high-rise buildings to have a complete emergency preparedness plan and well as security, building management and tenants familiar with it.

Technology and security services both play essential roles in handling high-rise emergencies. Training also can positively impact the business of the building. For example, at the Comcast Center, security officers have been trained in customer response as well as security and emergencies.

Driven partly by homeland security concerns, high-rise building owners and their security leaders in many cities now are working under stiffer ordinances and codes covering emergency preparedness. The new rules that cover residential and nonresidential high-rise buildings and different sizes of buildings in slightly different ways also mandate certification of the building’s plan by a city’s fire department or authority with jurisdiction.
Emergency preparedness plans have minimum requirements but many owners go beyond them.
In Chicago, for example, the ordinance makes clear that the plan must contain a description of the actions all occupants should take in an emergency evacuation or drill during the regular business hours of the building and during nonregular business hours of the building. Each plan shall set out a procedure for an evacuation of five floors below and two floors above any emergency resulting from a fire on a certain floor, and sets out a procedure for a full evacuation of the building.
While the New York City World Trade Center terrorist tragedy comes to mind when thinking of emergency preparedness, in Chicago, the ordinance push came after a 2003 fire in a high-rise government building. Some people in that incident frantically dialed 9-1-1 for help in escaping the smoke-filled staircases and hallways. The fire killed six and injured 10.
Now, with a certified plan in effect, there are details of the evacuation role and duties of designated security and life safety personnel and the in-house and wireless telephone and pager numbers for those people.


The Fire Safety Director (FSD) must be an employee of the building. The FSD is the person who obtains and maintains an emergency preparedness certificate, and handles inspections by the city’s department of buildings, office of emergency communications, the fire department and the department of police.
The emergency preparedness plan must designate one or more deputy FSDs to serve in the absence of the FSD. Each Deputy FSD must be an employee of the building.
The building must have a Building Evacuation Supervisor. In a residential high-rise building, the supervisor may be a resident of that building. In a non-residential building, the supervisor must be an employee of the building.
There must be a number of fire wardens from the buildings employees and tenants. And many city plans now call for the establishment of an emergency evacuation team.


Technology plays a role in emergency preparedness.
Delayed egress door controls on in-and-out of the building doors meet both security needs as well as life safety requirements. Voice over the fire system is now more typical and allows security and building management to give different floors different messages if needed. Newer mass notification systems can get emergency notices out to tenants via e-mail, cellular telephone, text messaging and even through computer and television systems.
In several U.S. cities, partnerships of law enforcement, city governments, building owners and security leaders are bringing together their various public and private security video systems. It may be allowing first responders to “tap” into a high-rise’s video monitoring to determine the elements of an emergency.
Chicago, for one, has a more encompassing plan.
The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication said that about 20 private companies have agreed to connect their cameras into the extensive city camera network. The initial growth of the camera network was spurred by a Department of Homeland Security grant in an effort to extend cameras and monitoring beyond street crime and into a regional approach.
Security officers also play a role which can be multilayered as a business benefit. For example, the property owners of Philadelphia’s Comcast Center employ and train ambassadors who handle tenant and visitor needs as well as provide security and emergency response.


Beyond emergency preparedness, which is often driven by city ordinances and codes, BOMA International, the trade group that covers building owners and managers, has suggested security measures.

They suggest that high-rise property management:
  • Maintain situational awareness of world events and ongoing threats.
  • Ensure all levels of personnel are notified via briefings, e-mail, voicemail and signage of any changes in threat conditions and protective measures.
  • Encourage personnel to be alert and immediately report any situation that may constitute a threat or suspicious activity.
  • Post emergency telephone numbers for police, fire and rescue.  Encourage personnel to memorize important numbers.
  • Know the location of the closest police stations, hospitals, schools, etc.
  • Encourage personnel to avoid routines, vary times and routes, pre-plan, and keep a low profile, especially during periods of high threat.
  • Encourage personnel to take notice and report suspicious packages, devices, unattended briefcases, or other unusual materials immediately; inform them not to handle or attempt to remove any such object.
  • Take any threatening or malicious telephone call, FAX, or bomb threat seriously.  If such a call is received, obtain and record as much information as possible to assist in identification of the caller. Record the time of the call, the exact words, any distinguishing features of the caller, and any background noise. Develop bomb threat information forms to assist if not already in place.
  • Increase the number of visible security personnel wherever possible.
  • Rearrange exterior vehicle barriers, traffic cones, and road blocks to alter traffic patterns near facilities and cover by alert security forces.
  • Institute/increase vehicle, foot and roving security patrols varying in size, timing and routes.
  • Implement random security officer shift changes.
  • Arrange for law enforcement vehicles to be parked randomly near entrances and exits.
  • Review current contingency plans and if not already in place, develop and implement procedures for receiving and acting on threat information, alert notification procedures, terrorist incident response procedures, evacuation procedures, bomb threat procedures, hostage and barricade procedures, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear procedures, consequence and crisis management procedures, accountability procedures, and media procedures.
  • Limit the number of access points and strictly enforce access control procedures.
  • Implement stringent identification procedures to include conducting 100 percent “hands on” checks of security badges for all personnel, if badges are required.
  • Remind personnel to properly display badges, if applicable, and enforce visibility.
  • Require two forms of photo identification for all visitors.
  • Escort all visitors entering and departing.
  • X-ray all packages, if possible, prior to entry, and inspect all handbags, and briefcases.
  • Validate vendor lists of all routine emergency deliveries and repair services.

According to BOMA International, when there is the need for higher security and the budget, it encourages more security.

  • Deploy visible security cameras and motion sensors.
  • Remove vegetation in and around perimeters, maintain regularly.
  • Institute a robust vehicle inspection program to include checking under the undercarriage of vehicles, under the hood, and in the trunk.  Provide vehicle inspection training to security personnel.
  • Deploy explosive detection devices and explosive detection canine teams.
  • Conduct vulnerability studies focusing on physical security, structural engineering, infrastructure engineering, power, water, and air infiltration, if feasible.
  • Initiate a system to enhance mail and package screening procedures (both announced and unannounced).
  • Install special locking devices on manhole covers in and around facilities.  

Lighting and security cameras must work together. Lighting by itself is a crime fighter. There needs to be a balance between cutting down lighting to save money and using lighting for security and life safety.

SIDEBAR: Going Green Can Impact Security

In striving for less energy use, many buildings now emphasize cost-savings measures including lighting. Security leaders, at the same time, need to take care. Good lighting is a major crime fighter in and around buildings and in parking lots and garages, and security video may need such lighting for better images.
Here are some lighting tips to save money.
  • Retrofit with energy efficient lamps.
  • Lower wattage of lamps where possible, or reduce the number of lamps where possible.
  • Adjust lighting time clocks or computer lighting programs to reduce occupancy cycles when possible. 
  • Use partial lighting level wherever possible in interior lighting circuits.
  • Use partial lighting level wherever possible in garage lighting.
  • Reduce exterior lighting that would not affect security or liability.
  • Turn off unnecessary interior lighting not in constant use such as backroom operations, perimeter lighting circuits near windows (taking advantage of daylight), lights in office areas when not needed (task lighting), display lights and/or permanent decorative lighting.

SIDEBAR: What About the Property’s Perimeter?

Like an onion, the outer layers are the first levels of protection. A variety of technologies and approaches are available. There are pole-mounted covert outdoor DVRs and wireless DVR remote video surveillance systems that can be employed around a facility campus without the need for extensive installation cost. From Smarter Security, for example, a unit is contained in a weather-resistant housing that can withstand hot and cold temperatures in outdoor applications. The DVR has a cellular option to allow wireless remote connectivity to live and recorded video.
There are solutions for vehicle security, too. While some security leaders at dense properties use labor-intensive vehicle inspections, there are systems which also identify already approved vehicles. For example, for properties with a terrorist concerns, Transit Atex from Nedap is especially suited for vehicle identification applications in harsh environments, which require explosion protected equipment and where security and reliability are essential requirements.