In this era of homeland security, a building should not be a house built on sand.
When a truck bomb went off outside a building in Oklahoma in the United States in 1995, most of the 168 victims died – not from the direct blast effects, but from the partial collapse of the building.
There would have been more survivors if it had been designed against progressive collapse, that is, the failure of one part leading to the crumbling of a much larger part, or even the entire building.
In hindsight, too, the 18-year-old building could have been retrofitted with added structures to strengthen it.
Meanwhile, one outcome of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US is a worldwide drive to strengthen the security design of buildings.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Jan 20 produced a 138-page document to help those who design, construct and manage buildings to protect their properties against terrorist strikes.
The draft version of the Guidelines for Enhancing Building Security was first released in November 2007.
Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, in his foreword, called on the building and construction community to use the document to improve building security.
He described it as a ‘comprehensive compilation of international best practices in building security that can be applied to Singapore’.
The document cited several cases to bring home the reality of the regional threat.
Last July, seven people were killed and scores injured when suicide bombers breached the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta and set off explosives.
The document noted that the terrorists’ targets ‘are now commonly hotels or resorts’.
It recommended different tiers of protection, based on factors like the number of people who use the building, its purpose, nature of activity and if it is symbolic or iconic.
The proposed modes of protection include access control and alarm systems, vehicle anti-ramming barriers and even how vegetation can help or hinder security.
‘Trees with a trunk diameter of larger than 50cm can be used to stop a vehicle, depending on the protection level required,’ said the document.
But thick vegetation can also be exploited to hide bombs and weapons, it said.
Building owners may claim that such measures are costly, but the ministry said costs will not increase much if security concerns are addressed from the beginning – during the design stage.
This is the practice of City Developments, which said security issues are addressed from the design phase of each new development, encompassing architectural design, building security infrastructure and the needs of the various stakeholders.
Its spokesman added that building security was of the utmost importance.
‘In our existing commercial buildings, we continually review security technology and innovation with the aim of enhancing security within our buildings,’ she said.
For example, independent assessors conduct regular security reviews at Republic Plaza. The company is studying the MHA’s guidelines ‘with the view of further enhancing security within our premises’.
At Marina Properties, which manages Millenia Tower and Centennial Tower, an annual budget is dedicated to upgrading security equipment and staff training.
Its measures include secure card access, regulated driveways to prevent unauthorised parking and the recording of vehicles moving in and out of the compound.
There are cameras at strategic locations, including the lifts, while security officers conduct regular patrols, sometimes in plainclothes.
‘Flowerbed bollards’ function as anti-crash barriers, proving that strong buildings need not look like fortresses.
A spokesman for United Engineers said: ‘The beauty of a good design lies in functionality and aesthetics co-existing. With advanced design technology and good creativity, this is increasingly possible.’
Source: Sunday Times, 31 Jan 2010