Faced with the loss of thousands of Defense Department jobs, two congressmen from Northern Virginia are urging building owners to meet the Pentagon’s counterterrorism standards or suffer the consequences.
It’s not easy. Among the issues complicating any building modifications or construction is a lack of standardization on security requirements.
“There’s a substantial discrepancy to [the General Services Administration’s] approach to hardening buildings and the Department of Defense,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat.
Mr. Moran joined Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, for a briefing yesterday in Arlington on security standards mandated by the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration (GSA) and other federal agencies.
“These requirements apply to 9 to 10 million square feet right in Northern Virginia, and we’re not sure building operators are going to be able to adequately retrofit these buildings,” Mr. Moran said, warning that as many as 50,000 Defense Department jobs could be lost in Northern Virginia by the end of the decade.
“We understand the economic ramifications of this, but this is current DOD policy,” Mr. Davis said.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission is recommending the Defense Department vacate about 4 million square feet of office space in Fairfax and Arlington counties. An equal amount could be lost because of higher security standards taking effect in 2009.
GSA offers building owners a range of options, including increased surveillance and screening, architectural modifications and restricted vehicle access. But the Defense Department mandates specific building setbacks and survivability standards that could cost commercial real estate developers millions of dollars.
After the 1996 truck bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. service personnel, it was decided that “DOD ought to have some standards to make them less vulnerable to terrorist attacks,” said Joseph P. Hartman, a structural and security engineering specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
That resulted in about 22 points dealing with blast resistance, restricted access to roofs and other matters.
There are also standards for the size and reinforcement of glass.
“Windows really cut up people when the glass comes flying into the room,” Mr. Hartman said.
Although the Defense Department does not consider Northern Virginia office buildings containing a few dozen agency employees the most likely terror target, that contingency has to be considered, officials said.
Mr. Davis has called a hearing to examine those standards next week. Among the suggestions are concentrating Defense Department offices in locations where traffic can be restricted to reduce the threat of car and truck bombs.