Fortress Ground Zero? Security Tactics Debated for WTC Towers

Fortress Ground Zero? Security Tactics Debated for WTC Towers

The Memorial and 1 World Trade Center rise. (Photo: Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center)
The Memorial and 1 World Trade Center rise. (Photo: LMCCC)

On Wednesday, architects and developers gathered to hear colleagues hold forth on the topic of “Innovation by Necessity” at New York’s Center for Architecture, a panel that seemed to promise a semi-sleepy discussion of building information modeling (BIM) at the World Trade Center site. But after several speakers outlined the logistics of the vast construction project, the panel veered into another topic entirely: an eye-opening primer on security strategies at Ground Zero.

Moderated by The New York Times’ Charles Bagli, the event brought three speakers together representing the site’s major stakeholders: government, architects, and contractors. First up, Robert Harvey, executive director of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, delivered a sweeping presentation of development around the site (with some details sanitized for security purposes), along with the 50-odd projects below Canal Street that his office coordinates using a high-tech 4-D mapping system.

Next, Frank Sciame took the podium. His company, F.J. Sciame Construction, is perhaps best known for working with name architects on complicated designs, and was tapped by Governor George Pataki in 2006 to control soaring costs at the World Trade Center Memorial and Museum. It’s not a surprise then that Sciame homed in on BIM as a tool to analyze and streamline the memorial’s daunting complexity.

But when Carl Galioto, senior principal at HOK and an acknowledged expert on BIM, began to discuss security and design issues related to 1 World Trade Center, the crowd was riveted. Galioto, who also worked on Larry Silverstein’s 7 World Trade Center, noted that though Silverstein may not like to hear it, 7 was a prototype for the newer tower. And far more divulging than Harvey’s presentation, Galioto delved into the particulars of floor plans and the design of the tower’s core.

In the wake of September 11, Galioto noted, many observers called for escape routes in tall buildings to be located on the exterior, as opposed to the core, as was the case at the Trade Center’s original towers. Galioto compared this to lifeboats set loose within the dangerous environs of the ocean. Buildings anchor on land, he said, and therefore designers must return to the core for both safety and security.

To strengthen the core, the structure first needs to be fortified from the outside in. To that end, Galioto described a system of multiple lines of defense inspired by star-shaped forts of the 16th century. In the case of the World Trade Center, the buffer zones are both practical and at times aesthetically disguised. For example, the first zone includes a large park to the south and a smaller one to the north. The second protective zone centers on the base. Here, to the east and west, next to public highways and streets, Con Ed’s utilities hulk next to the concrete shell. The lobby opens onto the larger buffer park to the south.

The entire process repeats itself once again in the core, with stand-alone zones of protection—cores within cores. Extensive studies were conducted on how people descend stairs (they sway from side to side) to design the structure. In the fire escapes, doors open away from the direction of traffic, and provide enough distance for people to merge into the descending flow from floors above, just as cars merge on a highway.

Perhaps because Galioto was the last to speak, or maybe because he was discussing life or death issues, when the conversation opened to the floor, BIM was left behind and the focus remained on security. At one point, a member of the audience who has worked in Israel asked if New Yorkers weren’t overreacting a bit. Bagli fielded the question first.

“In Israel, you have a lot of soldiers on the street,” he said, before adding that machine gun–toting Carabiniere in Rome’s airport didn’t make him feel safe, either. Harvey replied that, in the end, protecting Lower Manhattan was a balancing act. “Downtown is unique,” he said. “It’s the nerve center of the economy. You have to balance risks and mitigation.”