FM Issue: Securing Office Buildings For Special Events

By Richard D. Purtell, RPA
Published in the March 2009 issue of
Facility Executive

Businesses along the parade route had to deal with a set of special circumstances before and after the inauguration. Photo Credit: USA Today.

Just about every facility manager (fm) has had to prepare a building for a special event—a catch-all term that can include everything from a visit from a political dignitary to city functions within close proximity to a building, such as parades, festivals, and even protests. Building owners and fms in Washington, DC were recently handed what may be considered the granddaddy of all special events—the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Imagine this scenario: anywhere from one to four million people are predicted to pour into your medium-sized city for an historic presidential inauguration, the secret service has the city in lockdown mode, and your building happens to sit directly on the parade route. Now add another minor wrinkle to this scenario: people in your facility, several of them in fact, want access to the building to throw inauguration bashes. Securing your building and satisfying these people’s needs may seem like mission impossible in such a situation, but fms in DC had to do exactly that.

“Yes We Can”

Akridge, a full service commercial real estate firm in the DC area, had to juggle security and property management priorities with occupant needs. Several Akridge buildings were within the perimeter of the inauguration festivities, and one property directly on the parade route at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue was officially closed but still had to be available for private parties that were being held by clients.

“We had physically getting into the building to worry about and then physically getting up to the different floors,” says property manager Jennifer N. Laforest. “We also had to anticipate road blocks, knowing that the information could change at any time. They really looked to us to plan their experience.”

Akridge helped with the planning by sending out regular communiqués with the latest information on everything from transportation options to instructions on passing through checkpoint screening areas to the use of HVAC and janitorial services on-site. Because the roads were shut down to vehicles on Inauguration Day, Akridge helped coordinate deliveries of food, flowers, and supplies for private events, with many of the deliveries scheduled up to four days in advance. In a very real sense, the Akridge staff became event planners.

One client in an Akridge building inside the street closure perimeter was hosting an event with several celebrities and VIPs. The meeting planner wanted the bus to drop off guests directly in front of the building, which the Secret Service would not allow. So Akridge went to great lengths to coordinate getting the VIPs to the closest possible drop off point, through security checkpoints and onto the premises.

These functions created their own security issues. Beyond working closely with the local police department and the Secret Service, Akridge also had to ensure its own security contractors were vigilant, ensuring that no uninvited guests attempted to “piggyback” into the building with clients. With temperatures in the 20s on Inauguration Day and large crowds just about everywhere, security personnel not only had to watch for anyone who might want to disrupt the event or cause harm, but also for pedestrians who just wanted to get into the building to use the facilities, crash a party, or simply get warm.

Part of the planning process for Akridge included setting up warming stations for police and security personnel to take a break from the cold, get some rest, and have some food. They also planned for the day after the event.

“In many cases, management staff would not be in buildings on Inauguration Day because they were closed down, but we had to plan for what we would do if clients used the facilities,” explains Mary Lynch, vice president of property management with Akridge. “We planned to have porter staff on-site that Wednesday morning to clean up around the outside of the building, pull trash, and restock restroom facilities. It doesn’t end when the event is over.”

Communicating And Organizing

One of the organizations that Akridge and other property owners and managers turned to in preparing for the Inauguration was the local Business Improvement District or “BID,” which served as the critical link to information about inauguration planning and the impacts it would have on business operations. Carlton Diehl, president of the board of directors of the Golden Triangle BID (located in the heart of the business district) and chief operating officer of Cafritz Company, had the dual task of overseeing BID operations as well as the safety of the clients and personnel in any of the several Cafritz properties in Washington, DC.

In his BID role, Diehl emphasized planning and communication as the key to success on Inauguration Day. “Almost all of the area BIDs, including Golden Triangle, had briefings on the Inauguration. Throughout the planning process, the Golden Triangle BID worked closely with folks from the public transit system, the District Department of Transportation, Homeland Security, Secret Service, the Metropolitan Police Department, and other municipal organizations to coordinate and pass relevant information along to property managers and owners,” says Diehl. “The BID ensures there is a clear, concise forum for communication; otherwise, what can happen is you will hear one thing from one agency and something else from another, and it all comes through in bits and pieces. We brought all of the people in one place at one time to answer questions, and in the fast moving environment that surrounded the inauguration security and planning, that was extremely helpful.”

This conduit of information coming out of the planning and communication meetings was transmitted to Cafritz and other facility management (FM) professionals to enhance preparations and security. In the final days leading up to the event, security tightened throughout the city with new road and bridge closures being announced nearly every day. The central communications plan set up by the BID meant managers were able to relay this information almost immediately to occupants and building staff.

Diehl used this constant stream of information to adjust Cafritz security and FM strategies accordingly. When he learned that one building would not be accessible to engineers and security personnel on Inauguration Day, he and his team made adjustments for those individuals to come in the night before and sleep at the property, so they could access the building and handle any emergencies.

A Security Strategy

One of the toughest jobs during the inauguration was that of the security personnel who protected the city’s buildings. They had to be at work despite the street closures, subway delays, and throngs of crowds.

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AlliedBarton Security Services has approximately 1,600 security officers in private and public buildings in DC on any regular day. The firm began preparing for the inauguration in October and brought in 619 extra officers the day of the event.

Preparations included weekly conference calls with staff and clients and constant communication with city groups and agencies, including the downtown BID, the Neighborhood Planning Committee, the Secret Service, and MPD Special Operations. Staff training came in the form of tabletop exercises and emergency drills to work through all the “what if” scenarios.

Clayton Young, vice president and general manager with AlliedBarton, explained that the tabletop exercises were crucial to run through all possible situations. “We talked about the evacuation procedure; what to do if there were chemicals in the area; if we had to shelter-in-place,” explains Young, “as well as questions such as ‘who locks the doors or shuts down the garage or the HVAC system if there’s an emergency?’ In the event that something happens, we might be called on to fill in that void, and we needed to work in concert with engineering and property management staff.”

AlliedBarton also had several “all hands on deck” meetings that brought together managers and other service entities, such as housekeeping and parking, to ensure everyone was in sync.

Another critical group AlliedBarton and other security companies had to coordinate with was the local branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). This arrangement was necessary in order to work out cooperative agreements allowing security personnel, many of whom are SEIU members, to work the extra hours needed on and around Inauguration Day.

Young and his colleague, Damon Toth (AlliedBarton district manager and the point person for inauguration security), worked closely with SEIU to ensure workflow was uninterrupted on the big day.

“We had a very cooperative relationship with the SEIU,” Young recalls. “I know that does not always happen, but we have been very fortunate in our experiences with the SEIU. A few grievances evolved, but we were able to work them out.”

AlliedBarton secures several high security buildings in Washington DC, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund buildings. On Inauguration Day the company had the added task of protecting several buildings on the parade route as well, including the Newseum building where news outlets CNN and Fox broadcast the Inauguration.

“We had to have tremendous security at that building, and there were crowd control issues,” recalls Young, who had to be escorted into the building even though he had executive clearance.

After the inauguration, it was estimated that two million people came into the city for festivities surrounding the event. Despite reports of traffic problems and extremely long lines at security checkpoints along the parade route, most agree that the event came off very well. Most importantly, visitors, residents, and city buildings were well protected, thanks in large part to a well planned and integral web of planning and communications.

Purtell is chair and chief elected officer of BOMA International and portfolio manager of Grubb & Ellis Management Services, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience in commercial real estate and has been an active member of BOMA at the local, regional, and international levels since 1982.