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This Facade Isn't Just a Pretty Face

WHEN SENIOR MANAGERS for a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles decided to redesign the company’s headquarters, they recognized that the project offered them an opportunity to build security into the design. Though the company had not experienced any security incidents, it recognized that because it served groups and individuals involved in social services, its operations should be considered high risk. Management was also aware that a nearby group, also in a high-risk field, had been the target of several hate crimes.

The company did have an in-house security director and knowledgeable management, but decided that a security consulting and design firm could enhance the process. The author was brought in to help the company’s security director, facilities manager, and the COO to consider all security measures appropriately, establish security and emergency preparedness procedures, and implement a security information system.


The first component of the project was a security assessment, which would serve as the basis for the evaluation of the organization’s threat level. The project did not entail changing the building size or the overall design, and the structure, though stripped to the frame, kept its approximately 150,000 square feet and 13 floors. Internal features, such as the size and dimension of rooms, were altered to accommodate the company’s growth. In addition, the entire façade was altered from a nondescript 1940s office building to a contemporary glass and red brick design.

The author worked with the architects to ensure that security elements could be efficiently incorporated. To decide what the security elements should be, the author reviewed the company’s needs and plans for the coming years and devised a plan that factored in features for parking lots, perimeter reinforcement, emergency routes, glass treatments, lobby access, secure ventilation, and future growth. The company also decided to install an integrated software program to manage building security and maintenance features.

Key areas needing attention were noted. During the assessment, for example, the ventilation system was identified as a possible vulnerability because it was easy to access and could be used by criminals to spread dangerous chemical and biological agents throughout a facility.

Parking Lots

Protecting the parking lots against potential car bombs was one of the security concerns addressed in the redesign. The company has two parking structures—an enclosed parking garage under the building and an external lot a few feet from the building.

The larger of the two structures is a 90,000-square-foot underground parking garage that leads to an underground level, which in some areas goes under the building, making the structure vulnerable to a car bomb. The smaller structure is an outside lot that is near the building, presenting another car-bomb threat.

Before the redesign, the organization was using both structures for employees and visitors. The larger structure was protected by a traditional plastic arm parking barricade that is often installed in shopping centers and similar facilities. The second structure was a free parking structure managed by a parking attendant, who placed a sign at the parking entrance indicating when the parking lot was full. Both parking areas filled up randomly on any given day.

After the redesign, the larger parking garage was reserved for employee parking. In addition to the plastic barrier arm, the entrance was equipped with a heavy barricade that rises from the ground and can stop a truck from running the barricade. Employees now have badges that can open the barricade, letting in one car at a time. In addition, a security officer guards the entrance throughout the day.

The smaller parking lot is now used for visitors only. Parking attendants and security officers visually inspect cars as they enter the area and instruct drivers where to park their vehicles, making sure that the parking spaces closest to the building are filled with familiar or small vehicles.

Olive trees were planted along the sidewalks to create barriers between the road and the facility. The local police department was also asked to post “No Parking” signs by the entrance of the building. In addition, a metal-rail fence with horizontal bars was put in to secure the external parking lot. It is locked every night.


Prior to the redesign, the company had numerous entrances to the building. To secure the perimeter, the company decided to reinforce walls and doors and to reduce the number of entrances.

The company reinforced the external walls and the interior walls around the area housing confidential information with metal from floor to ceiling. All doors, which were previously framed with wood, were replaced with stronger steel-framed doors.

To control traffic flow and improve access control, the company reduced its number of official entrances to one, leading into the lobby. The redesign team then made three other doors exit-only; these were strategically located on three of the four sides of the building (with the fourth side having the front entrance) and monitored via an access control system.

Emergency Routes

Before the redesign, the organization followed the traditional guidelines for evacuation routes established by the fire department. However, the security assessment revealed that the evacuation routes were insufficient for the employee and visitor population.

It was agreed that the redesign should provide the organization with the ability to safely move people as fast as possible away from danger, the ability to have people exit from more than one direction, and the ability to safely evacuate people in a variety of emergencies.

Based on these objectives, the organization planned and built two different exits on each floor with wide corridors. One of these exits is a new external stairwell. An update on the old-fashioned fire escapes, the new stairwell is sturdy, bolted to the building, and wide enough to accommodate extra traffic during an evacuation. The stairwell has a one-way door to give everyone inside direct external access in case of evacuation.

The two stairwells lead to multiple exits from both the lobby and the basement levels. All four sides of the building—the lobby entrance and the other three doors—serve as exit points, either going out onto the main street, into the parking garage, or into two different alleys.

Glass Treatments

In addition to reinforcing walls and doors, the facility protected all of the windows with thick film to limit damage from a possible explosion or earthquake. In more vulnerable areas, the organization installed bulletproof windows to protect against possible drive-by shootings. All of the ground-level windows were tinted to obscure the view from the exterior.

Lobby Access

A critical part of the redesign involved the main lobby. A relatively small area with a security officer desk before the redesign, the lobby was enlarged to accommodate access control equipment and create a safer area. The company lost a number of usable rooms by expanding the lobby, but senior managers determined that the trade-off was a necessary one.

The new lobby includes a metal detector through which all employees and visitors must pass and an x-ray machine for all packages and bags.

There is also a waiting area for visitors who are in the process of obtaining visitor’s passes. The waiting area was designed into the building to solve a problem that existed in the old building. Before the redesign, the small lobby led to visitors milling about waiting for escorts or visitor’s badges.

The new area allows visitors to sit and wait for their escorts while always under the watchful eye of the security officers posted at the security desk a few feet away. The company considered installing turnstiles as another measure of security but the step was deemed too restrictive for visitors.

Secure Ventilation

To address the problem noted in the assessment, the ventilation systems were moved and the air intakes were raised from ground level to 50 feet above ground level. (This height is consistent with newly released building codes for federal and state government buildings.) In addition, the company covered the air intake shafts with a sloped metal mesh to prevent the possibility of foreign objects being thrown into them.

Though the company already had some CCTV cameras and an access control system at the time of the redesign, it also wanted to be ready for future security expansions. To help the company cope with future security needs, the security plan called for designing additional conduits to allow for change and flexibility in security systems and prewiring for alarm systems.

Although the facility does not currently need all of the equipment it is wired to support, senior managers decided that it would be cost effective to dedicate extra conduits during the building phase. Similarly, the prewiring for an extension of the alarm system was also an economical security investment that would save money in the long term.


The company complemented the physical elements of its security redesign with information technology. The facility now has a sophisticated Web-based, computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) system that allows staff to manage all emergency response and security equipment. The system is used to map security information and to integrate other databases to manage various security and emergency response operations.

The organization uses the system for traditional facility management, maintenance, and engineering purposes such as space management, work order, and asset management. However, the system also tracks and manages security and safety assets, such as fire extinguishers, fire hydrants, cameras, first-aid kits, and hazardous material.

The system has a database of fire-safety information for the building, such as the type of doors and their fire ratings and the maximum capacity per room. The system also enables a user to measure exact distances and areas from the organization’s maps and floor plans.

Another feature is that it makes it easier for first responders to get information they will need about the facility. For example, the fire department can access an organization’s maps and floor plans to view the layout of the facility, locate fire hydrants, identify hazardous materials, and measure exact distances. The system allows a user to locate the shut-off valves for gas, water, and sprinkler systems with a simple click of a mouse.

The organization allows local emergency providers to access only the information that can help them in providing better response. In these instances, the CAFM system can substantially improve the response time to an emergency by providing one source of information to all emergency providers, allowing them efficient coordination during critical situations.

Additionally, the CAFM system provides an integrated solution across different departments within an organization. Traditionally, an organization has one application for maintenance, another for engineering, another for asset management, and yet another for security.

The CAFM system put the same database in every department’s hands for its various uses. When staff members from various departments work off the same database, oversights and confusion are less likely to occur.

For example, just as an emergency official needs to locate the nearest fire extinguishers in case of a fire, the building engineer needs to locate the same fire extinguishers for routine maintenance. A facility manager tracks the building’s floor plans to allocate an office for a new employee, while senior managers may access the same floor plans to address emergencies.

The redesign is now finished and all systems are operational. Though the new security features have yet to encounter a real-life threat, both managers and employees are pleased with the new level of security. And that helps to make everyone more productive.

Ofer Azoulay is CEO and founder of SFW, LLC, in Los Angeles. Prior to founding SFW in 2001, Azoulay was the West Coast deputy director of security for the Israeli government at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. He is a member of ASIS International.