Mar 1, 2002 12:00 PM

Like most Americans on Sept. 11, Carlos Villarreal was glued to his television from the moment he heard about two airliners striking the two tallest buildings in New York.

As director of security for TrizecHahn Office Properties, which leases and manages Chicago's Sears Tower ! the tallest building in North America ! Villarreal had a vested interest in knowing the latest news.

Armed with only sketchy details in the minutes after the attacks, Villarreal gathered his security team and senior executives of TrizecHahn to formulate a plan of action.

As the scope of the tragedy unfolded, Villarreal undertook a series of precautionary steps designed to protect the occupants of the Sears Tower.

He evacuated the building and closed it, while dispatching security officers to key areas of the Tower. In the city itself, the entire Chicago Loop emptied, flooding trains and roadways out of the city.

The precautions caught media attention and reports followed about the possibility of a threat against the Sears Tower. But no actual threat existed. "To this day, we have never received any word that there was ever a threat to the Tower," says Mark Spencer, a spokesperson for TrizecHahn.

Nevertheless, Villarreal wasn't taking any chances.

The Sears Tower ranks as the country's tallest building and arguably as the tallest in the world (See related box, page 24).

Built in 1973 by Sears Roebuck and Co. as its corporate headquarters, the building is now owned by a trust. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., New York, holds a first mortgage on the property. TrizecHahn, a second mortgage holder, leases and manages the building.

The Tower no longer serves as Sears' headquarters, although the company maintains an office in the building for its chairman.

About 125 tenants from numerous industries occupy the building, and approximately 10,000 people work there. Several thousand visit the tower daily, including contractors working on projects with tenants; and the general public, which patronizes restaurants and shops in the building and tours the sky deck on the 103rd floor.

Villarreal has provided security for multi-tenant buildings in downtown Chicago since 1981. He has chaired the Chicago Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) security committee and currently chairs the commercial real estate council for the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS).

Over the past decade, Villarreal has helped to construct a state-of-the-art security system for the multi-tenant Sears Tower. He directs an in-house security staff of 50 officers; his staff monitors a digital video CCTV system with 60 cameras sweeping the perimeter, lobbies, stairwells, the sky deck, and other areas of the building. Additionally, the staff manages a card access system for the building's 10,000 employees and several thousand business visitors.

"Building automation fully integrates security, fire, and HVAC subsystems," says Mark Eggerding, senior technical sales executive with Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee. "A universal front-end controls all the subsystems and monitors more than 30,000 points, including 10,000 fire alarm points and door releases."

Access control measures also protect the shipping and receiving docks behind the building and extend to an underground parking lot adjacent to the building, though not underneath it.

Employees of every company with offices in the building receive a basic building identification card with a magnetic stripe for swiping access control readers. People exiting the building after 6 p.m. swipe out at the lobby desk on the first floor. Likewise, people entering the building after business hours swipe in. An imaging system activated by a card swipe would call up a photo as well as data about the individual's destination. Security officers match up the photo and the information with the individual.

In addition, 32 of the building's 106 elevators contain access control readers that can be operated only by authorized cards. "Some tenants have their own access control systems," Eggerding says. "We have matched their systems to the base building system so that their employees need carry only one card. Prior to Sept. 11, some tenants went to proximity card systems. For their employees, we supplied a dual technology card, a proximity card with a magnetic stripe on it for the elevators and common areas."

"Prior to Sept. 11, security in the Sears Tower was handled very well," says Christopher Grniet, a senior associate with the security services group of Kroll Inc., Chicago. "The various programs were administered reliably and were as progressive if not more so than the security systems in other large multi-tenant buildings."

Like most office buildings across the country, the Sears Tower remained closed on Sept. 12, but Villarreal was at work.

With him were executives from TrizecHahn, Eggerding from Johnson Controls, and executives from two security-consulting firms: Kroll, Inc. and Gerald T. Brandt and Associates, a Chicago-based company.

Villarreal posed two questions at the gathering: How could security at the Sears Tower be tightened immediately, and what long-term measures could enhance the existing security system?

The short-term design came first, since it had to be implemented overnight. The team developed an eight-step plan:

  • Hire 30 private security officers and contract with a number of off-duty Chicago Police officers to tighten coverage of the building's three main points of entry.

  • Harden the building perimeter with the installation of concrete Jersey barricades.

  • Prohibit parking near the building. This included the elimination of cab stands typically located near the building's entrances.

  • Close the garage doors in the shipping and receiving areas and set up a screening station away from the building to verify the manifests and inspect the interiors of all arriving delivery vehicles before allowing the vehicles to approach the docks or the drivers to enter the building.

  • Contract with a K-9 unit for bomb-sniffing dogs to complement the new screening procedures instituted at the loading dock.

  • Visually inspect all vehicles entering the underground parking garage adjacent to the Tower, screening for suspicious packages.

  • Add CCTV cameras to the building's perimeter and install software that would enable pan/tilt/zoom cameras to respond to motion.

  • Install six (later expanded to eight) access control readers just inside the doors of the building's main entrances and create a visitor's desk to register visitors and issue temporary identification cards.

The overnight installation of access control readers, the most daunting part of the plan, fell to Johnson Controls. Working through the night of Sept. 12, Eggerding and his crew installed a series of pedestals with magnetic stripe card readers on top. "We used ropes to cordon off pathways leading to the card readers," Eggerding says. "The readers themselves were set to give a green or red light. For wiring, we mounted intelligent panels inside each of the pedestals and connected these to the building's Local Area Network under a wire molding running along the floor."

With the short-term plan implemented, Villarreal turned his attention to long-term recommendations made by the security consultants from Kroll and Brandt.

Rather than requesting a report, Villarreal asked for recommendations as ideas arose, evaluated the suggestions as they emerged, and made decisions.

Both Kroll and Brandt proposed installing X-ray and metal detection systems. Villarreal agreed, with the qualification that the equipment could not require authorized people entering the building to wait more than a minute. In addition, Villarreal wanted the equipment installed and operating within three months ! the generally accepted six-month lead-time for such technology was too long given the urgency of the perceived need in September.

"We selected Control Screening to supply the X-ray and metal detection equipment," Eggerding says. "This is a New Jersey company with sales representation and technical support available in Chicago. At the time of ordering the equipment, we sent Johnson Controls technicians to a Control Screening training class to get them up to speed on the maintenance of this equipment."

The Control Screening machines can distinguish between different types of materials, both organic and inorganic. "They can tell you if you're looking at a ham sandwich or a block of wood," Eggerding says. "The devices also link to a data transmission network and can send information out for analysis."

The specifications called for X-ray machines with tunnel openings of 24 to 60 inches, to allow for the scanning of very large packages.

To accommodate Villarreal's demand for dispatch in the screening process, TrizecHahn purchased 14 X-ray machines, 18 metal detection portals, and a large number of handheld scanners, allowing multiple machines for each of the Tower's three entrances. Studies of the numbers of people entering the building through each entrance at various times of day established the amount of necessary machines. "We wanted to balance the security with convenience," Villarreal says. "It's important for our tenants and their clients to be able to access the facility quickly."

After purchasing the equipment, Villarreal dealt with the dual challenges of installation and training. "We installed the X-ray and metal detection equipment just inside each of the building's three entrances, and we relocated the card access readers back toward the elevator core," he says. "This was done literally overnight.

"Control Screening installed the machines on a Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, they were training our personnel on what to look for and how to get people through the metal detectors quickly, without compromising screening," he continues. "We set up a program whereby an alarm indication would send the person to a secondary checking area, so we wouldn't back up the line. The training continued through Sunday, and we were ready with the system by Monday morning."

Everyone entering the building passes through the X-ray and metal detection area, Villarreal says. Visitors can then move to the retail restaurant areas accessible via escalators on the lower levels of the building. Authorized tenants on their way to an office will use proximity cards at the relocated pedestal readers. Business visitors may register at one of two permanent visitor desks.

For the most part, according to Villarreal, the system moves people into the building within a couple seconds. It takes longer in the morning when people are coming to work, but never more than a minute ! unless an alarm requires further screening.

With X-ray and metal detection systems up and running, only one more step remains to finish the transformation of the Sears Tower security system. "In April, we will automate the control systems for tenant and visitor access to the building," Grniet says.

This entails replacing the access control pedestals and readers now protecting the elevator core of the building with an optical turnstile system controlled by proximity cards. "In conjunction with the turnstiles, we are designing a visitor badging system," Eggerding says. "All visitors will have their pictures taken and receive temporary access cards, which will expire after 24 hours. Finally, we will re-badge employees of all of the tenants in the building, and provide them with proximity cards with photos."

At that point, the Sears Tower will have completed its transformation from an open office environment into one of the most secure office buildings in the United States ! without making undue compromises in convenience for either public visitors or the building's tenants.
The World's Tallest Building?

For 26 years after its opening in 1973, the Sears Tower stood as the indisputable tallest building in the world, rising 1,450 structural feet.

In 1999, however, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur opened its doors and challenged the Sears Tower's title.

Petronas Towers set off a flurry of activity as tower watchers created new ways to measure tall buildings.

The Sears Tower retains the title of world's tallest building in three of four categories. It has the highest occupied floor: 1,431 feet. It has the highest roof in the world, at 1,450 feet. And it is the tallest building when measured to the uppermost reaches of its antenna or spire system: 1,730 feet.

Petronas Tower holds the title of the world's tallest building measured in terms of architectural height, rising 1,483 feet to its structural top.
Sears Tower Facts

  • 3.5 million square feet of office space, with 4.5 million square feet of gross space
  • 110 stories tall, 1,450 feet from the ground to the roof, with a sky deck on the 103rd floor.
  • 106 elevators move people up and down the core of the building.
  • 10,000 people work in the building
  • 1.3 million tourists visit the Tower's sky deck every year.
  • 2,232 steps from the ground level to the rooftop.

Security Equipment at the Sears Tower

  • Checkgate 9000 X-ray machines: Control Screening, Fairfield, N.J. (locally, Glenview, Ill.)
  • Metal detectors: Control Screening, Fairfield, N.J. (locally, Glenview, Ill.)
  • CCTV digital recording system: Intellex by Tyco Electronic Products Group, San Diego
  • CCTV cameras: American Dynamics, Pearl River, N.Y.
  • Monitors: Panasonic Security Systems Group, Secaucus, N.J.
  • Video Motion Detection: Pelco, Clovis, Calif.
  • Optical turnstiles: Automatic Control Systems, Port Washington, N.Y.
  • Fiber-optics cables, transmitters and receivers: Seico Security Systems, Pekin, Ill.
  • Access control readers used in the pedestals: Dorado Products Inc., Broomfield, Colo.
  • Camera and software being implemented for the guest badging system: Johnson Controls Security Solutions, Milwaukee.
  • Proximity readers for the optical turnstiles and elsewhere in the building: HID Corp., Irvine, Calif.

Michael Fickes is a Cockeysville, Md.-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems.

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