LOCATION: Battery Street, NY
Modernizing a San Francisco Landmark with a Streamlined Security Dashboard
Walking up the steps of the Bently Reserve building is like stepping through a time portal. Designed by George W. Kelham and opened in 1924, the former Federal Reserve Bank features an Ionic colonnade that would look at home in Rome topped by several floors of in a slightly Art-Deco style.
The interior of the 185,850-square-foot building features murals by Jules Guérin, a vault, and a ballroom. In the 1980s, the Federal Reserve moved to a different location on Mission Street while the Bently was added to the National Register of Historic Places and its upper seven floors were divided into a multi-tenant office space. The main floor was reserved for the ballroom and the building’s security team.
“Before the pandemic, the Bently was used as an event space,” says Kerisha Jeffryes, director of security at the Bently, responsible for access control, security personnel, fire, and safety. “We have a huge ballroom where a lot of people either rented it out for high school proms, big events, and the main thing that we were really known for since it hasn’t been a Federal Reserve bank: weddings.”As a historic building in the Financial District of San Francisco, tourists often stop by to take photos of the building or attempt to enter it to get a peek at the original safe that’s still in the basement. There are also issues with people who are transient or experiencing homelessness congregating on the building’s steps.
“We’re also attached to the Le Meridien Hotel, so we get a lot of different tourists, people, and things that security has to be on high alert at all times for because we’re not sure if you belong in the building—if you’re a tenant, if you’re a guest, if you’re someone who just wants to take pictures, or somebody who’s trying to get into the building because it’s been featured in many big movies,” Jeffryes says.
RFR Holding, a New York real estate investment firm, purchased the Bently in 2020 for $145 million. At the time, it had a Symmetry Access Control system from AMAG Technology, which featured 43 card readers, turnstiles, and guest visitor and badge access.
The Bently also had a standalone video surveillance system through Exacq Technologies. The cameras themselves worked well, but Jeffryes says the system was “pointless” since it did not provide insights into access control alarms that would often go off.
“We were getting ‘Door held open, door force open, door closed, door not closed, wrong person using their badge at the wrong door’ alarms and notifications but had no video to back it up,” she adds.
This created an especially challenging dynamic for the Bently’s security team because, during certain shifts, only one security officer is on duty. If that officer received several alarm notifications at once, it would take time to review them all due to the size and unique floorplan of the building. The officer might also have to physically go to the source of the alarm and inspect the situation, which could place them in harm’s way if someone was attempting to break-in and they were not prepared to respond.
Because of this, Jeffryes urged the building owners to install the video component of the AMAG Symmetry system—called CompleteView VMS—to integrate it with the existing access control system. This would allow the security team to monitor the building using a single dashboard view that incorporated access control information with the video surveillance system.
The work to do this began in 2021 and was fairly straightforward. The Bently purchased and installed a new server for the camera system and video recordings to be hosted on. It also set up two computer monitors for security officers to use at the lobby console station on the ground floor to monitor the video feeds.
Additionally, the Bently updated some of its older analog video cameras. A majority of the 80 cameras now in use are from Axis Communications, Jeffryes says.
One aspect of the new system that Jeffryes says she and her team appreciate is how easy the integrated solution is to use.
“Each tab is exactly what you read,” she adds. “If it says activity, you click that tab and that’s what you’re going to get. If you hit search, you’re going to get the components to search the video, the date, the time, and which camera. It was very user-friendly to train on.”
Now, when an alarm from the access control system goes off, security officers will receive the alert in the lobby and then use the Complete View dashboard to verify the alarm using the video system before responding.
This process was recently put to the test when an individual entered the building through the Sansome Street entrance and went through the turnstiles. The security officer on duty received an alert that someone had not used a badge to go through the turnstile and attempted to access the elevator nearby.
“In our elevators, we also have badge readers to take you to the floor that you’re supposed to be going to,” Jeffryes says. “Without a correct badge, you won’t be able to go anywhere. The person was stuck inside of that elevator, where we also have a camera.”
The security team used the camera feeds to verify that there was an individual in the elevator. An officer then initiated the response protocol, going down to the ground level of the building and escorting the individual out.
Utilizing the full capabilities of the Symmetry system makes responding to these incidents and their aftermath easier because it logs the information needed for accurate incident reports, Jeffryes says.
“As security officers, we’re still human. Now we don’t have to remember what time the alarm came in,” she adds. “All of that information is already in Symmetry on our log, we can just go back and see we got the alarm at 1:00 p.m., we checked the cameras at 1:01, we called the police at 1:02, and we made contact at 1:03. Everything is time stamped, and when we have those cameras as a back-up, it just supports the information that we’re providing to our clients,” she continues.
With the right security access control system, anything’s possible to manage.
Those clients are the building’s tenants, of which there are currently two utilizing office space. The feedback on the new system has been positive, and Jeffryes adds that tenants appreciate the ability to put in access badge requests right away—as well as to have them revoked efficiently.
For instance, the Symmetry system allows security personnel to schedule a time and date for an access badge to be deactivated. This also helps when clients are going through the process of firing or laying off an employee. They can meet with the security team and request that an employee’s badge be revoked at a specific time in case of a potentially negative reaction.
“That’s one of the greatest things that the tenants do enjoy because of the simple fact that they can put in a badge request and say, ‘We only want this badge to be active for 30 days,’” Jeffryes says. “We can set an expiration date and we can actually depend—and know—that that badge will be inactive exactly 30 days from now, at the time they’re asking for, and we won’t have an issue.”
This feature also came in handy during the COVID-19 pandemic because tenants had certain teams coming into the building on certain days to limit the spread of the disease and strengthen contact tracing abilities.
“Say if John Doe and Mary Smith were in the building on Monday, and Wednesday we got an email to say there was a COVID outbreak, we were able to go back to the activity on Monday and contact the people who were in the building when that person was,” Jeffryes says.
In the future, the Bently may explore adopting some cloud-based systems and installing new cameras.
“We’ll probably upgrade some of our exterior cameras to domes and add more coverage to certain areas on our stairs because right now we just see the top of the stairs or the bottom of the stairs—and we want to see the whole staircase on the back and front of the building,” Jeffryes adds.
Additionally, there is discussion that as more tenants move back into the Bently the security team could build a global security operations center (GSOC) to help monitor the many entrances, stairwells, and secret hiding places—including spots where U.S. Secret Service agents were rumored to hang out when the building was occupied by the Federal Reserve.
“We still have those little nooks and crannies in the building, but with the right security access control system, anything’s possible to manage,” Jeffryes says.