New Standards Threaten Arlington

New Standards Threaten Arlington

In the wake of 9/11 the Defense Department is enacting new standards for buildings housing federal defense and security agencies.

This article is the second in a series on the role defense plays in Arlington’s economy and the possible repercussions if new proposed federal standards are enacted.

<bt>A new line of post-911 federal security standards are soon to go into effect, sparking a possible threat to the life-blood of Arlington's local economy, the national defense community and the industries that support it.

On Oct. 1, 2005, the Defense Department will enact the new standards on buildings it leases in Arlington, according to an internal DOD planning document; "Unified Facilities Criteria: DOD Minimum Anti-Terrorism Standards for Buildings." Yet the many office buildings federal defense and security agencies inhabit in Arlington do not fit the new profile, according to Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), who expressed concern over the coming shift.

"This is a real threat," Moran said. "People should be taking this more seriously."

The new regulations detail a shift in the kind of buildings the DOD wants to house the offices of defense agencies and their administrative staff. Rather than placing them in leased buildings like those in Rosslyn and Clarendon — buildings with retail space at the bottom and a high-rise office complex on the top — it now wants a more campus-like environment for increased security. According to Terry Holzheimer, the new head of Arlington's economic development office, including retail space at the bottom of a building creates a potential security soft spot. Such buildings are also constructed from simply the wrong materials, lacking the blast-resistant concrete seen on most defense installations. County officials are now working with the DOD to figure out just how they can bring Arlington's existing buildings up to the new standards.

YET THE PROBLEM does not end there. According to the new regulations, all new DOD buildings must sit between 82 feet and 142 feet away from any point from which terrorists could detonate a car bomb or any similar device. The distance varies, depending on how the buildings are used. Most defense-related buildings in Arlington, other than the Pentagon, are stationed right next to major urban streets. Federal leases make up about half of the office-space real estate market in Arlington. According to county statistics, for example, the Defense Intelligence Agency is the largest single tenant in the Clarendon area.

"DOD personnel occupying leased buildings deserve the same level of protection as those in DOD-owned buildings," the new regulations state. "Implementation of these standards is therefore mandatory for all facilities leased for DOD use."

The new regulations also outline the dangers of having people freely able to enter and leave buildings, as when a shop is located at its base.

"Activities with large visitor populations provide opportunities for potential aggressors to get near buildings with minimal controls, and therefore, limit opportunities for early detection," the findings state.

For every federal agency that operates in Arlington, there are up to 47 private companies contracting with it. Some of those companies also inhabit federally leased office space. Should the new regulations force defense agencies to move, according to County Board member Barbara Favola, contractors could also be lost.

“ALTHOUGH WE do not fit the traditional model of where you would necessarily locate something if you were trying to achieve a campus-style setting with a large amount of land around a building - with the implication that model might provide more security than an urban setting, we’re trying very hard to suggest that model is not the model the Defense Department should go by, but that you should really look at standards that are goal-oriented and not prescriptive in nature,” Favola said during the County Board’s Feb. 15 meeting. “To get there, we are in the process of making a very strong case that has to be delivered to lawmakers, to our governor and to others.”

The Northern Virginia Regional Commission, of which Favola is vice chairman, is currently engaged in a study to determine the ripples of these changes if they were to occur.

“The first phase is primarily an economic analysis of the benefits this entire region gains from having defense-related agencies and the contractor dollars that go along with them,” Favola said. “The second phase looks at the design of urban buildings and the elements that may come into play to make urban buildings more secure. I don’t have a timeline, but we are moving forward with it. The preliminary results from Phase 1 indicate that Arlington would be the jurisdiction most heavily affected if the Department of Defense were to continue moving towards a campus-like approach. It’s Arlington first, then Fairfax and Alexandria.”

County Manager Ron Carlee added that all jurisdictions in Northern Virginia have a stake in the defense industry and the possible changes in security standards.

‘One of the things that is important for the region to know is that what happens economically in Arlington has an indirect effect on the rest of the community,” Carlee said. “To the effect that there is a loss of leases in this community, that means there is going to be greater competition for all of the office space throughout the entire region.”