Government security guidelines could increase office construction

New security design standards for government buildings could spark increased construction in Washington, D.C., and other cities as new office buildings are built and older ones are renovated to meet the new rules.

Although security standards started to go into effect shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the Interagency Security Committee recently started an effort to establish nationwide standards for buildings which the government leases from private landlords.

The rules have not yet been adopted because many landlords are questioning who is going to pay for the security upgrades, and how is it going to affect other tenants in the building, such as retail stores or law offices. Some developers have opted to build new buildings specifically to rent to government offices.

One such developer is Trammel Crow, which is building the first private speculative office complex that is designed to meet strict, post-9/11 security standards. Its 1-million square-foot complex in Washington D.C., Patriots Plaza, features a structural engineering technique called “progressive collapse avoidance,” which is set to prevent the pancake effect that the World Trade Center towers experienced.

The plaza building is not designed to withstand an attack by airplane, but at only 12 stories such an attack is unlikely. Instead, engineers focused on making the building safe from a car bomb other ground-level attack. Window frames are designed to accommodate the thickest blast-resistant glass, the entrances will all be at least 30 to 50 feet from the curb. The structure itself will be built of precast concrete reinforced with steel to withstand an explosion. Architects also prepared for the chances of a car bomb in the underground garage by making them separate, hardened structures. If a bomb goes off in the garage, the impact won’t be felt in the building above. The lobby was also designed to be expendable: if an attack occurs there, casualties will be confined to the area and the rest of the building will be safe.

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Government officials from the Federal Protective Service, the security agency for federal tenants, expect that more buildings like the Patriots Plaza will be built over the next few years. The average construction cost of an office building is expected to increase by 8 to 10 percent with the added security features.

The General Services Administration has already drafted standards for Washington and its suburbs. The Washington security standards are categorized into four levels, depending on the number of employees in the building. The strictest rules pertain to new construction, and include blast-resistant windows and access control for entrances and parking lots for buildings with more than 450 employees.