Bomb threats prompt landlords, managers to ramp up building security

Some are doing more to intercept mail

TRD New York /
Oct.October 26, 2018 07:00 AM

Police and other emergency workers outside of the Time Warner Center at 10 Columbus Circle (Credit: Getty Images)

After pipe bombs arrived at the homes of multiple public officials, including to former President Barack Obama, and at CNN’s Columbus Circle headquarters, property owners and managers are ramping up security.

Office buildings, at least larger ones, tend to have some safety measures already in place. But controlling postage threats in residential buildings can be complicated — packages can sit unattended in lobbies for hours and mail is delivered to individual boxes.

Daniel Wollman, chief executive of residential property management firm Gumley Haft, said his firm has instructed door people and concierges at some of its buildings to call residents when a package arrives for them rather than simply sending the package straight to their apartments. The procedures were implemented at a dozen of the company’s Upper East Side buildings on Monday, immediately after news broke of a bomb placed at the home of billionaire George Soros.

“I can’t think in recent memory having done something like this,” Wollman said. “We are no longer, in certain buildings, giving the packages unless that person is called and says, ‘it’s ok’ to accept the package.”

Sal Lifieri, whose company Protective Countermeasures serves as a security consultant to major commercial landlords, including Silverstein Properties, said buildings should have a point person who is trained to recognize suspicious mail. Signs to look out for include a stained envelope, protruding objects, vulgarity, excessive postage and a strange return address. The pipe bombs — also sent to Robert De Niro’s office in Lower Manhattan and to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — had half a dozen first-class stamps and a misspelled return address for U.S. Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz.

Large commercial buildings, especially those that double as tourist attractions, tend to have bomb-scanning technology onsite, though such equipment can run anywhere from $20,000 to $500,000, Lifieri said. Smaller office buildings often don’t have the space or financial resources to install such equipment.

But most building owners and managers, he said, don’t want to publicly reveal what systems they have in place. Someone might be looking for ways to circumvent them.

“What you don’t want, in the event that you don’t have something, is to show your weaknesses,” Lifieri said.

The Durst Organization’s Jordan Barowitz indicated that his company already has “robust protocols” in place at its buildings and “in light of recent events” has ramped up security. But he declined to elaborate.

Leslie Winkler, Halstead’s president of property management, said the firm plans to issue memos to staff later Thursday and Friday to remind them to be “ultra diligent” and to review the emergency preparedness manual. However, the firm has taken no other action so far.

Paul Herman, president Brown Harris Stevens Residential Management, said the firm is being “especially vigilant, protecting and servicing our residents.”

In extreme cases, landlords can turn to a government-backed program to recover from attacks: namely, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. The federal program, created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and expires in December 2020, covers costs of damages caused by “certified acts of terror” that exceed $160 million. That threshold will increase to $200 million by 2020.

Chip Rodgers, senior vice president at the Real Estate Roundtable, said the devices sent out in the past few days were so small that they would not likely trigger the terrorism insurance program. But he said they highlight the fact that “terrorism continues to pose a clear and present danger to our nation, to American businesses and to real estate.”

“There is no homeland security without economic security,” he said. “TRIA does not stop terrorist attacks, but it does undermine the goals of terrorists who seek to weaken or destroy our economy.”

He added that other nations “recognize that markets cannot underwrite this risk” by having permanent terrorism insurance programs.

Lifrieri said if the program expires, insurance companies will be on the hook, which could result in higher expectations for individual owners to minimize risk. He said owners used to be able to get reductions on premiums by implementing countermeasures. Now, that’s a baseline expectation.

“Today, it’s the reverse,” he said. “If you don’t have proper countermeasures, you are a risk.”

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