Monday, January 14, 2013
City Hall may install X-ray scanners to limit “access points”
Expect to see them in place by the end of March at the latest.
DOWNTOWN DALLAS One week from Wednesday, the Dallas City Council will vote to spend $80,586 in capital construction funds on two X-ray scanners to be installed at the entrance to Dallas City Hall. Their purpose, per the agenda: “to enhance security for the thousands of citizens, elected officials and employees that access City Hall on a daily basis.” The question now is: At which entrance will they be installed?
Eric Thompson, the city’s director of Equipment and Building Services, says city officials are considering several options that will “limit the number of access points” to a building that, since its 1978 dedication, has been more accessible than most city halls across the country. One would only allow access from the south side of the building, near the horseshoe-shaped parking lot behind the I.M. Pei-designed structure; another would keep only City Hall’s “front door” open.
If the city goes with the former, well, there goes the Living Plaza.
Forest Turner, the assistant city manager charged with Equipment and Building Services, says the decision’s not being made lightly and will be finalized in a few weeks, after further discussions with security officials and regular ol’ Dallasites who happen to stroll through the doors.
“We’re observing them and the way we’re arranged throughout the building,” Turner says. “The parking meters on the horseshoe side are close to the building, so people enter there. The folks who park on the plaza side, if you park on Young Street, you already know you’re in for a long walk.”
Thompson says the decision hasn’t been made yet. But a change is going to come to City Hall regardless: Only the first and second levels will be open to the public, he says, while floor previously accessible to almost anyone will be restricted — “not unlike a lot of other city halls,” he says. “This city hall had always been very open, more than others, and we worked with the Dallas Police Department to just make security improvement in the building.”
City Hall began its security review back in ’06, and noted at the time the myriad ways one could get into the building with seven street-level entrances and 15 from the garage. In December 2010, City Hall started its clampdown by limiting access to the basement parking garage; around the same time the council chambers were fortified by six figures’ worth of work. And, says Turner, “We’ve gone through a number of security enhancements and exercises with the council, walking them through scenarios in closed session.”
The scanner, says Thompson and Turner, are just the inevitable next step. Council will likely OK them on January 13; expect to see them in place by the end of March at the latest.
“Security issues we’re dealing with today weren’t a concern in 1978,” Thompson says. “Having 12 primary entrances wasn’t an issue. But looking at modern buildings, there are one to two places where you enter, then you move to where you need to go. … I guess you could call the back door near the parking lot the frontrunner of the two options, but we have to look at the domino effect if those become the main doors. Staffing comes to play; and, how do we get people in and out of the same door.
“We haven’t nailed down if it’ll become the south door or the plaza entrance. And if it is the back door, maybe we’d open the front door during special events like the Living Plaza, or make it a time-of-day type of thing. We’ll put things in place, get feedback and see how things go.”
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