Third tallest building in Chicago enhances security, conducts fire evacuation drills
CHICAGO—Since the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 1, Thomas Begg Jr., director of security life safety for the Aon Center in Chicago, the third tallest building in the city, said he has heightened security awareness in and around the building. “We’re more vigilant and looking for things out of the ordinary,” he said. While there is no official or imminent threat made to high-rise buildings in Chicago or elsewhere in the U.S., the news of Bin Laden’s death prompted Begg to amp up security awareness, issuing a directive to his 45 security officers. “We’ve taken a proactive stance in being more vigilant in sensitive areas,” he said.
Begg, who has more than forty years of experience in law enforcement and corporate security, said this vigilance is in line with the security attitude adopted since the terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001. “We’ve always been concerned about terrorism and don’t think they will use commercial airlines as missiles any more, but we still want to be very security minded and exercise security awareness throughout the structure,” he said.
The building, which is owned by Piedmont Office Realty Trust of Atlanta and is managed by Jones Lang LaSalle, has five levels of parking below the structure, and has stringent security measures screening vehicles entering the area. “In addition to security officers searching vehicles before they come into the garage, we have an anti-intrusion barrier, which is a security device, similar to a cable on an aircraft, that is capable of preventing a vehicle traveling 70mph from trying to penetrate the center,” he said. Security also screens license plates of vehicles entering the facility.
The security department monitors the access control system, which tracks employees entering the building as well as the building’s elevator system. The building has 80 passenger elevator cars and five freight elevators, in addition to three elevators in its parking garage. “We monitor all that activity in our command center along with communications, parking garage duress alarms and video surveillance,” he said.
The center has extensive video surveillance on the exterior of the building and in the public, interior areas of the building. Begg is currently in the process of a major upgrade to its video surveillance system. While he couldn’t disclose details of the project or the type of system to be deployed, he said the system is a full IP, high-definition system. The current cameras are analog and fairly antiquated, and Begg said the upgrade will be state-of-the-art technology and allow authorized users to view video footage from any computer, for example. This will be a huge benefit for improving situational awareness of activity in the building, he said. Begg expects the project to be completed by the end of June.
In addition to having a strong traditional physical security program, Begg said running emergency drills is an important part of securing the building. “We take any type of emergency very seriously,” he said. Last week, the building partnered with the Chicago Fire Department to run three days of fire drills and evacuation exercises. Twice a year they conduct such drills to make sure that both the fire department and tenant employees know exactly what to do before, during and after an emergency.
The building has two main stairwells. The south stairwell is a smoke-free stairwell and is the one that employees use to evacuate in the event of a fire emergency. The north stairwell is the attack stairwell, which the fire department uses to gain access to the building and bring their equipment in. During these drills, organizers will throw in diversions such as an injured dummy victim in the stairwell to see how employees respond. The proper protocol is for employees to transport the dummy over to the fire department’s stairwell for rescue. “We create things like that to make tenant employees think about what to do to get out safely,” said Begg.