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Security Lies Beneath: The Case for Corporate Safe Rooms

May 2010
By Jordan Frankel

Corporate safe rooms—fortified environments that act as a protective refuge in the event of a home invasion or other threat—are an increasing necessity for people and organizations of all interests. While films and television programs continue to ridicule safe rooms as an indulgence for the super rich or eccentric, actual events tell a different story: safe rooms are, and have been, an integral part of corporate structures and residences worldwide, an otherwise well-kept secret that immediately captures the public imagination

Daily news headlines confirm these threats, and brutal attacks against executives underscore the unfortunate reality of living in a dangerous world: safe rooms are no longer a luxury, but a common feature for companies of all sizes.Safe rooms are often the key factor between life and death. In most cases, safe rooms are part of an architect's plans, and a crucial element for security experts when consulting with owners during the critical stages of construction. Throughout this process, one principle is sacred: a safe room is a haven, a place where individuals, families, or executives can protect themselves from violence while the authorities answer a call for help.
 
For not only are executives vulnerable to attack—imagine the very real possibility of a CEO kidnapped, beaten, or killed by extremiststhe lack of a corporate safe room is, according to global security experts, a huge liability. The capture or murder of a company's executives would emotionally and financially devastate shareholders and expose insurers to potentially big payouts. Simply said, no executive is truly safe without a safe room.
 
Also, corporations do not publicize the existence of safe rooms for obvious reasons: first, executives and their security detail have no desire to broadcast to the enemy the fact these things exist; and second, from a purely psychological standpoint, there is no reason to frighten employees and disrupt their day-to-day operations. And yet, events like 9/11 remind us of the global security dangers that confront us. In fact, counterterrorism experts repeatedly warn companies that extremist groups seek opportunities to seize executives. For example, picture an otherwise sedate corporate campus—a multi-acre software company in Silicon Valley or Washington State, the very model of a relaxed work environment—led by a young billionaire and his team of engineers. This seemingly calm destination, where programmers can play volleyball during their lunch break and where the CEO parks his car in an ordinary space, definitely contains a highly sophisticated safe room.
 
The real question is not whether the executive has a safe room; the more intriguing questions are these: What does a corporate safe room look like? What is inside the ultimate safe-space? 
 
 
More sophisticated safe rooms, like the kind built for celebrities or executives (and there is some overlap concerning the essential features in a safe room for a home versus a corporate building), include: doors, walls, floors, and ceilings reinforced with bullet and bomb blast resistant materials, wireless communications, coatings to prevent eavesdropping, surveillance cameras, survival items (first-aid kits, water, packaged food, self-defense tools, backup generator, and even a kitchen and bathroom) as well as a secure air supply in the event of a biological or a chemical attack. These safe rooms are no longer luxuries. Rather, saferooms protect lives, and are part of any reasonable company's playbook.
 
Some of these underground safe rooms may also contain a secret tunnel that extends a minimum of four blocks, leading to the street level. The purpose of this secret exit is two-fold: it makes it easier to coordinate with a security detail for the evacuation of the executives in an armored vehicle (transporting them to a secure off-site location); and second, if a bomb were to detonate in or around the building, there would be noxious fumes, broken glass, and the chaos that characterizes life in a war zone. Distancing clients from the immediate area is key to survival during an attack.
 
These scenarios now characterize a trip to the office for scores of executives overseas. For example, the London-based Merchant International Group (MIG), a research and corporate intelligence- gathering company, evaluated the dangers to executives by collating the experiences of its clients and workers on the ground. It found Mexico was the most problem-riddled place. Following close behind were Colombia, Iraq, Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire), Angola, the West Bank and Gaza, South Africa, Russia, and Tajikistan.
 
Stuart Poole-Robb, of MIG, said: "One thing that was very clear was that the dangers facing executives are real and growing worse. Although there are many business people who consider themselves seasoned travelers, our research shows that one in every 10 business trips involves a difficult or potentially dangerous situation - what we call a heart-stopping incident.”
 
Or consider these chilling events, as reported by Human Resource Executive Magazine. Eight oil workers in Ecuador were held hostage for 141 days by Colombian guerillas. One of the hostages was killed when the oil company refused to pay $80 million in ransom. Afterward, the company was told if the kidnappers' demands weren't met within 15 days, another oil worker would be murdered. After lengthy negotiations, the company dropped $13.5 million in $100 bills in a specified area on a riverbank, then flew into the jungle and picked up the hostages.
 
Think, also, of the late Paul Tatum who was gunned down in Moscow. Tatum, a founding partner of the Radisson Hotel in Moscow, was the victim of political violence. Or remember Mamoru Konno of Sanyo Video Components, who was kidnapped while leaving a company baseball game in Mexico. (Sanyo later paid $2 million in ransom for Konno’s return). And then there is Marshall Wais, owner of Marway Steel, who was abducted in San Francisco by armed gunmen; or Sidney Reso of Exxon, who was seized—his kidnappers demanded $18 million—and found 12 days later in a 14-foot hole in the ground. But let this statistic be the final word about the need for increased corporate security: the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that homicide was the second leading cause of job related deaths.
 
Additionally, safe rooms have economic benefits for building owners and tenants. These financial advantages are important in an economy where commercial real estate is in a massive slump. According to James Huang of BRC Advisors, a commercial real estate broker and investor, safe rooms can make a building more valuable and attract a more diverse array of tenants. Safe rooms give “executives the peace of mind they deserve with the protection a safe room provides,” he says. “In fact, I could more easily rent a building to a large corporation should that property contain a safe room. For many clients a safe room is a priority, a non-negotiable part of a building purchase and/or signing a lease.”
 
A corporate safe room is an example of common sense and basic intelligence, a way to protect a brand's most valuable assets: its executives. Failure to build a safe room is almost a form of negligence, willful blindness in a dangerous world of criminals and terrorists. The good news is that a safe room—the propriety kind designed by global security experts who recognize the enormity of this issue—can help guard against outside threats. As a haven from the unexpected and unforeseen, a corporate safe room is the best investment executives can make.

Jordan Frankel is executive vice president of Global Security Experts, Inc., parent of ShatterGARD Glass Protection Films, a leading designer of corporate safe rooms.

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