At the behest of its insurance carrier, the city of Cannon Beach is looking to tighten up its security and, for emergency situations, keep track of who is in the building at any given time, City Manager Brant Kucera said.
“In this day and age, security is very important in pubic buildings, whether it be a school or anything else,” he said.
Kucera is not issuing a directive; rather, Citycounty Insurance Services, “for liability reasons, wants us to have a more secure location,” he said.
Since dozens of community members gather at City Hall each week for various board and committee meetings — sometime two to three meetings per day — the city may decide to implement a sign-in sheet. That way, if there’s a fire, earthquake, tsunami or other crisis, the city at least has a headcount, and responders can determine if everyone on the sheet evacuated the building.
The city may install a physical impediment, possibly one or more doors, blocking the public from areas beyond the front counter area, which include city staff offices and cubicles, the break room and the Council Chambers.
Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn recalled hearing about an incident that occurred many years ago, before he worked for the city, when a female employee had to hide because her ex-husband had entered City Hall.
“We want to make sure people can’t just wander throughout the building aimlessly looking for someone,” he said.
Seaside City Hall and the remodeled Astoria City Hall both have doors separating public spaces from employee spaces.
“We’re a little bit more secure at our (City Hall) than what Cannon Beach is,” Lt. Steve Barnett, of the Seaside Police Department, said. Though people can walk into Seaside’s Council Chambers, “you can’t just walk around too awful much.”
For the remodeling of Astoria City Hall that was completed in 2012, “security protocols were all put in place,” including centralized counters and an employees-only access door, Astoria City Manager Brett Estes said.
Cities often have to weigh the need to offer “a personal level of service” against the need to keep their employees safe, said Tom BeLusko, Jr., Cannon Beach’s insurance broker and a principal at Waltz Sheridan Crawford Insurance.
“There’s a balance to make sure that people can’t just come in and have access to who they want to have access to,” he said. “It’s probably smart for every city to look at that exposure.”
Recently, the city removed its employee check-in board, which hung in the lobby and was viewable to the public. The board indicated the employees inside the building, the employees outside, the employees on vacation, etc.
But the public doesn’t really need to know a lot of this information, Schermerhorn said. Instead, the city developed an internal calendar so staff can keep track of each others’ whereabouts.
Schermerhorn said that he doesn’t view the new measures in terms of heightening City Hall’s security, however. If new doors are installed as a barrier between personnel and the public, for example, they primarily will serve to let the city staff — Kucera, City Planner Mark Barnes, Public Works Director Dan Grassick, etc. — “have office time without interruption.”
Open-door policies can be great, Schermerhorn said, but there are days when the staff can’t get very much done because people are walking into City Hall and seizing their attention.
Schermerhorn said he is not personally worried about any dangers associated with people entering the building.
Kucera stressed that “we want to make sure people still feel welcome at City Hall.”