Securing the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Plaza and Pavilion

‘The first instinct is to customize something, but you don’t want to fall into that trap. You stick with proven technologies’
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Monday, July 28, 2014

NEW YORK—Cameras, access control, intrusion detectors, magnetometers, radio communication: There’s much involved in designing a new facility’s complete security system. When you’re designing that system for the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Plaza and Pavilion, which opened in May, it’s even more complicated.

Securing a high-risk memorial such as that on the site of the former Twin Towers is challenging in itself. You don’t want it to appear as a fortress, but you want visitors to know and feel that they are safe while they experience its offerings and pay their respects to the 9/11 victims.

When dozens of stakeholders are involved from the very beginning of that security planning, it becomes more challenging, said Ron Ronacher Jr. of Arup, a global, independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists, which was responsible for the site’s security design.
 
Working with architects, counterterrorism groups, the New York Port Authority, local police, DHS, the 9/11 Commission and others during the planning stages was unique for Arup, Ronacher said. All groups had concerns and requirements.

“For us, most [security] projects have single end users” with maybe two other invested parties, he said.
 
Still, Arup didn’t want to change its methodology when taking on the 9/11 memorial project, he said.

It was key up front for Arup to identify the needs of all involved. “Collaboration was huge,” Ronacher said.

Workshop-style security meetings with stakeholders started 10 years ago. Some of the stakeholders entered the process two years after it started, requiring parts of initial plans to be changed completely or modified. Changes in government policies and the release of the official 9/11 Commission report also factored in after initial work had started.

“It was a revolving process,” Ronacher said.

Jacob Koshy, senior engineer with Arup’s IT and communications systems, said, “I have a mental image of those earlier meetings with 30 people in a room. It was a process to get through it all.”

Koshy was responsible for the radio communication aspect of security at the site. Radio was an especially critical component of the project after the 9/11 Commission reported that shortfalls in radio interoperability hindered response capabilities on the day of the attacks.

Architects wanted metal wall finishes both on the façade and for the below-grade museum. Those finishes could impact radio communication. Other design issues, including the site’s hanging pools of water that extend below ground, “while beautiful,” also posed a radio challenge, Koshy said.

Arup devised a strategy for deploying the radio system to achieve a high level of interoperable coverage.

Having architects participate in Arup’s security development meetings was “critical,” Ronacher said. “A certain amount of square footage of space had to be reserved and used for security. Every change they made potentially had a huge impact on us.”

It was clear to Arup which systems needed to be deployed, Ronacher said. He declined to name manufacturers whose products and systems were involved.

“Due to the size of the site and the security that was going to be needed, it was kept to standards. The first instinct is to customize something, but you don’t want to fall into that trap. You stick with proven technologies so that you know from a support level there will be multiple contractors who can maintain the system. You don’t want to build new products, you want products right off the shelf so if one fails, you can go right out and get another one,” Ronacher said.

Officials at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Plaza and Pavilion did not respond to requests for interviews.