Of­fice own­ers, users con­front new age of safety pro­to­cols

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - DAVID ROEDER droeder@sun­times.com | @Roed­erDavid

Those of us who were present in that seem­ingly bliss­ful time be­fore the 9/11 at­tacks re­mem­ber the ex­pe­ri­ence of walk­ing into an of­fice build­ing as a vis­i­tor, head­ing straight for the el­e­va­tor and prob­a­bly not speak­ing to another soul un­til you got to your des­ti­na­tion — if then.

All of that changed with the ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Check-ins at se­cu­rity, scan­ning your IDs, maybe X-rays of your purse or brief­case be­came stan­dard pro­ce­dures. No more wan­der­ing in on an im­pulse. Some places were a lit­tle heavy­handed in their se­cu­rity checks, as if they were pro­tect­ing heads of state, but they backed off, mostly be­cause the ten­ants com­plained.

We’re now reach­ing the point where of­fice build­ing man­agers, be­sides want­ing to know your busi­ness, also have an in­ter­est in your health. Some build­ings have in­stalled, or are con­sid­er­ing, ther­mal cam­eras that pas­sively take ev­ery­body’s tem­per­a­ture, along with de­vices that re­duce the sur­faces one must touch for ac­cess.

To some, the in­vol­un­tary tem­per­a­ture checks might seem in­tru­sive. Elec­tri­cian El­bert Wal­ters thinks we’ll adapt to th­ese changes, too, be­cause most of us un­der­stand the risks from COVID-19 and any other in­fec­tious disease in our fu­ture.

“A lot of peo­ple are con­cerned about com­ing back to an of­fice. We are ner­vous. Speak­ing from a per­sonal level, I don’t know when those door han­dles were last cleaned. We don’t know if some­one is asymp­to­matic but can in­fect oth­ers,” Wal­ters said.

He is the di­rec­tor of Pow­er­ing Chicago, a part­ner­ship be­tween the In­ter­na­tional Broth­er­hood of Elec­tri­cal Work­ers Lo­cal 134 and the Elec­tri­cal Con­trac­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of Chicago. The group has de­vel­oped ma­te­ri­als to ed­u­cate build­ing own­ers and man­agers about tech­nol­ogy for touch­less en­try sys­tems.

The ther­mal cam­eras are just like those get­ting more com­mon in air­ports or hos­pi­tals. Other de­vices have been around for a long time — au­to­matic doors, touch­less bath­room con­trols, mo­tion-sens­ing light fix­tures. Ad­di­tional op­tions in­clude ger­mi­ci­dal ul­tra­vi­o­let light that can be switched on dur­ing late-night hours and im­proved ven­ti­la­tion.

Wal­ters said his more than 600 con­trac­tors, rep­re­sent­ing some 12,000 elec­tri­cians, are get­ting nu­mer­ous in­quiries from of­fice build­ings about in­stalling at least some of the de­vices. Oth­ers may be hold­ing off to see how many work­ers ac­tu­ally re­turn to the of­fice as peo­ple re­sume old habits. “Every build­ing will have to have some type of safety pro­to­col,” Wal­ters said.

Ex­actly what gets in­stalled is some­thing own­ers will ex­am­ine build­ing by build­ing, said Suzanne Hen­drick, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of as­set man­age­ment at MB Real Es­tate. The firm man­ages 20 build­ings in the Chicago area.

At its 150 N. Wacker Drive prop­erty, MB has in­stalled cam­eras that can track ev­ery­body’s tem­per­a­ture in the lobby and sig­nals the turn­stiles to block your en­trance if it’s 100.4 de­grees or higher, a stan­dard based on cur­rent med­i­cal ad­vice. Hen­drick said peo­ple who are stopped will get another tem­per­a­ture check from se­cu­rity staff. The per­son will be re­fused en­try if the se­cond check ver­i­fies the cam­era read­ing. Staff will no­tify the of­fice where the per­son was bound, Hen­drick said.

More com­mon in MB’s prop­er­ties are ven­ti­la­tion im­prove­ments us­ing the MERV-13 fil­ters ex­perts say cap­ture air­borne viruses and bac­te­ria. Hen­drick said land­lords con­tinue to mull changes. “Noth­ing is off the ta­ble,” she said.

But no­body knows yet how much dam­age COVID-19 will do to of­fice space de­mand, or how it will change us­age pat­terns. Hen­drick es­ti­mated in MB’s build­ings about 15% of the pop­u­la­tion is back in the of­fice reg­u­larly, up to 35% in prop­er­ties where more work­ers have the “es­sen­tial” tag.

The Chicago Loop Al­liance prob­a­bly has the broad­est mea­sure of down­town ac­tiv­ity. It said its lat­est pedes­trian counts at key down­town lo­ca­tions are down about 70% from where they were a year ago.

Ex­pense, un­cer­tainty and in­er­tia are pre­vent­ing some land­lords from de­cid­ing on safety im­prove­ments, said Dan Slack, prin­ci­pal at Baker Devel­op­ment. But he said they’ll have to act soon.

A year ago, Baker opened a bou­tique of­fice build­ing at 2017 N. Men­dell St., near the fu­ture Lin­coln Yards, that totals 61,000 square feet, most of it still avail­able. Slack said the build­ing boasts the lat­est in air fil­tra­tion, touch­less en­try and a mod­i­fied blue-light sys­tem that can san­i­tize sur­faces 24 hours a day with­out af­fect­ing peo­ple. A smaller build­ing means ten­ants will min­gle with fewer strangers. And — it has noth­ing to do with safety but it’s neat — ten­ants can ad­just the win­dows’ tint with their smart­phone.

Slack said there are two rea­sons build­ings need to adapt to the pan­demic: “You’ve got to make the em­ployee com­fort­able to come back to work. You also have to make em­ploy­ers safe from get­ting sued be­cause some­one got sick in their build­ing.”

El­bert Wal­ters

Suzanne Hen­drick

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