FM Articles

Living in a World of What-Ifs


The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin is credited with saying, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”

As we begin a new year, that’s where many facility managers find themselves. The entire facility management industry has been turned upside down since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Over the past years, many facilities essentially shut down as employers allowed workers to work remotely, leaving management companies with nothing to manage.

Then some employers took the next step: they announced they would allow their staff to work remotely on a permanent basis. This, of course, sent chills down many building owners’ and managers’ spines.

Until the pandemic, some cities were experiencing building booms, with new apartment and office buildings sprouting up all over the country. Building owners anticipated lots of eager tenants. No one ever expected managers would struggle to fill those new buildings.

But that is not the only thing that has changed. In the past year, we have witnessed considerable unrest. Many facilities around the country have found some of that unrest has spilled over into their buildings.

Now those facilities, which typically had nothing more than a couple of security guards on duty throughout the day, need to place much more emphasis on building security. Stronger, proactive defensive measures are required to protect building users, building electronics, technology, mechanicals, and property.

While our emphasis here will be building security, let’s start with a discussion of remote working first, because that may have a happy conclusion for building owners and facility managers.

The Impact of Remote Work
The good news is that remote working is no longer expected to last, at least not as extensively as initially believed. “Everyone, including the employees, is now realizing they are losing touch with each other and the company [due to remote working],” says American businessman Michael Bloomberg. “Remote, permanent remote working, simply will not work.”

The folks at Cushman & Wakefield, the largest property management company globally, have made a similar assessment. They believe employers will allow more workers to work remotely more of the time, but not all the time. Further, by 2022, they think that more employers will want to see more of their staff back in the office on a regular basis.

Building Security Assessment
As for building security, that may be a bigger, longer-lasting challenge. The first thing managers must do now is to evaluate their current situation when it comes to security. It’s possible, if the property is in a comfortable, suburban, or rural area, no added precautions are needed. However, that may also be – if you’ll excuse the expression – a “cop-out.”

In today’s world, we must realize that what can happen to one facility in one area of the country can just as likely occur to another facility in any other area of the country. This reflects the times we are living in.

With this understood, here are some of the critical step’s facility managers can take when it comes to assessing current building security:

Crime Statistics. It is true that no facility manager can assume their property is safe just because it is in an affluent area. However, it is also true that properties located in less affluent areas or near heavy crime areas may be at greater risk for break-ins, vandalism, nearby street unrest, and other unsavory activity. This makes evaluating the surrounding demographics a critical issue.

Access. What if there were an emergency at your facility? How long would it take for emergency responders to reach the property? When evaluating access, also consider different times of the day. In most cases, it takes emergency personnel far longer to reach a facility in rush hour than on a Sunday afternoon.

Building Appearance. Looks count. Unsavory characters often pass by well-kept properties. A facility in poor condition, even one looking somewhat distressed, is invariably viewed as a better target. In these times, upkeep becomes a safety measure.

Emergency Preparedness. It was rumored that a fire alarm in a four-story office building in Chicago was triggered twice, not because there was a fire, but because a new tenant in the building was uncomfortable that the facility had no emergency evacuation plans in place. There were not even signs reminding tenants to take the stairs in case of an emergency and not the elevators.

In this case, the management company got the message. They prepared a formal evacuation program and listed other steps building users should take in an emergency. Do not wait to put plans in place should there be a fire, a holdup, a terrorist attack, or some other unfortunate activity. You need those plans now.

Change and Uncertainty. While a building security assessment is designed to look at present conditions, it would be lacking if it did not include one more element, the element of “what if.” Although things may look relatively calm now, what if the security of one of your top executives were at risk? What if members of your staff were threatened? What if your company were the target of a cyber attack? These what-ifs and many more must all be considered when it comes to assessing building security.

What we have touched on here are only some of the key components of a security assessment. Digging deeper, the process can become much more involved and complicated.

Many facility managers find that although they can start the process in-house, a risk management firm will need to be called in to complete the security evaluation. This is especially true for larger locations. Invariably, managers find risk management firms bring a “new pair of eyes,” into security assessments, identifying security concerns that were not originally even considered.

Where We’ve Come / Where We Are
Looking back decades ago, it seemed we were living in such a peaceful nation, at least when it came to building security. But Lenin may have been right. Those were the decades when nothing happened. We have recently lived through weeks when decades happened.

Facility managers must be prepared. If 2020 taught us anything, it is that building security is something all managers must focus on, now and going forward.

Some Building Security Terms Facility Managers Should Know

Outer Perimeter Security: Defining your actual property lines with the goal of identifying weak points, where someone can get on the property, enter the facility, with the potential of causing harm.

Natural Access Security: Landscaping can be used to guide building users to specific entries and exits into a facility. It can also discourage intruders because they may find it harder to enter and escape a facility.

Inner Perimeter Security: This refers to steps taken inside the property to keep it safe. This could include locks, inner alarm systems, and building user access control systems. It can also include the use of keys that can only be copied by authorized personnel, preventing unsavory characters from making keys without your knowledge.

Territorial Enforcement: Legitimate building users develop a sense of who belongs in the facility and who may not. Intruders often have difficulties “blending in.” When it comes to building security, building users should be encouraged to report those they believe may be intruders.

Johnathan Tal is CEO of TAL Global. Based in Silicon Valley, TAL Global is a leading risk management, security consulting, and investigative agency serving clients all over the world. The company has a large client base, with a focus on the High-Tech, Hospitality, Manufacturing and Financial industries. He can be reached through his company website at