16 February 2004

Commercial Real Estate: U.S. Landlords Face Post-9/11 Standards

Commercial Real Estate: U.S. Landlords Face Post-9/11 Standards:


Published: February 11, 2004

"The devastating effects of the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, which claimed 168 lives, prompted new design standards for making government buildings - particularly those housing law enforcement and intelligence agencies - less vulnerable to explosives.

But it was not until a year ago that a subcommittee of the Interagency Security Committee began trying to establish nationwide standards for 150 million square feet that the federal government leases from private landlords. This process has proved challenging because safety measures are costly, whether they involve giving up space so that a building can be set far back from the curb or hiring guards and installing electronic turnstiles to limit access.

Real estate industry representatives have met several times with federal officials during the past year to seek assurance that landlords will not have to foot the additional costs, which they say could make it impractical for them to lease space to government agencies. 'There could be a crisis in the private sector if the numbers don't work,' said Ron Burton, the vice president for advocacy for the Building Owners and Managers Association International, a trade association with 18,900 members in North America. 'Our members are in the business of making a profit.

Some developers say they are incorporating security features into their new buildings as if the standards had already been imposed. Patriots Plaza, a million-square-foot project being developed by Trammell Crow in southwest Washington, is being billed as the first private speculative office complex that was designed specifically to meet post-Sept. 11 security standards. Thomas E. Finan, a Trammell Crow principal based in McLean, Va., said that while the collapse of the twin towers had refocused attention on building security, the engineering principles being applied stem from Oklahoma City because car bombs or other explosives were considered the most likely form of attack.

"Nobody is attempting to create an impenetrable envelope where you can't fly an airplane into a building," he said. In Washington, where building height is limited to 12 stories, an airplane attack on an office building is considered unlikely.

In an effort to protect occupants from chemical or biological attacks, air intake equipment would be on the roof, as it is in most buildings here, Mr. Finan said. But he said much less was known about how to prevent death or injury from this type of attack than from an explosion.

As they wait for the new security standards to be announced, building owners and managers already have more than an inkling of what they are likely to entail.

In November 2002, before the decision was made to adopt nationwide guidelines, the General Services Administration drafted standards for Washington and its surrounding suburbs, where the federal government leases about 47.6 million square feet of space. Based on standards that were developed for the Department of Justice, the guidelines divide leases into four categories, depending on the number of employees in the building and the nature of the work being performed, and are more demanding for new construction than for existing buildings.

The strictest standards pertaining to setbacks, blast-resistant windows, and access control for entrances and parking lots would be applied to buildings with more than 450 employees. Classified as Level 4 buildings, they would generally be more than 150,000 square feet in size and likely to house law enforcement and intelligence agencies deemed to be at high risk of attack.

At the opposite end are Level 1 buildings with 10 or fewer employees who have little contact with the public. But a smaller building could fall into the Level 4 category if, for example, space was occupied by a day care center."

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