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Comcast’s 9-11 Lessons

The Comcast Center in Philadelphia was still in the planning phase when terrorists struck on 9-11. The landmark property was redesigned to incorporate life-safety lessons from that event. That’s one of three examples Security Management explores of how companies meet their security challenges in Philadelphia, host of this year’s ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits.

With 58 stories, 1.2 million square feet, public art space, the world’s largest indoor video screen, a half-acre public plaza, and a gourmet food market, the Comcast Center was always going to be impressive. “We envisioned this facility as more than an office building,” says Jim Birch, director of security and life safety at Liberty Property Trust, which provides property management services for the Comcast Center. “We wanted it to be a destination.”

However, the vision Birch shared with Comcast Chief Security Officer Mark Farrell had to be adjusted as the result of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At that time, the building was still in the planning phase. Given that the risk profile for such landmark properties had just drastically been altered, the property was redesigned to incorporate some of the life-safety features that emerged as lessons learned from 9-11.

Redesign. “We had blueprints, architectural drawings, and a hole in the ground on September 11,” says Birch. “But, we stopped construction immediately.”

Based on the engineering reports from the World Trade Center, Comcast decided to change the design from a standard high-rise construction to a “core and shell” design.

In this design, the floors of the building are hung on a concrete core. The core is more than three feet thick at the base and more than two feet thick at the top. To improve fire resistance, steel reinforcing is three inches from the surface of the concrete instead of the standard one and a half inches. The core is independent of the overall building structure. This means, in theory, that even if the building collapses, the core will remain.