With 3 million visitors crossing its threshold annually, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is a New York City landmark. It’s hard to miss the six-block long complex, which stretches from West 34th Street to West 40th Street in midtown Manhattan and features more than 840,000 square feet of exhibition space and 28,000 square feet of meeting rooms. Javits hosts an array of events annually, including the New York International Auto Show, the National Retail Federation’s annual convention, and New York Comic Con.
The Javits Center has undergone changes in recent years, including a $463 million renovation from 2009 to 2014. In addition to improvements to the mechanical and sustainability systems, the upgrade included adding 6,000 new glass panels to the outside.
Before the new patterned panels were installed, Javits had a mirror-like façade, making the facility among the top bird-killers in New York City. Birds would frequently fly into the glass walls, not recognizing that the building was there.
Now Javits is considered one of New York’s bird-friendliest facilities; besides upgrading the panels, Javits installed a green roof space spanning nearly 7 acres, which is home to 26 bird species. This rooftop also lowers the facility’s annual energy consumption by 26 percent by lowering heat-gain and water runoff.
But hospitality at Javits is not just for the birds. Providing excellent customer service while maintaining security is a top priority for the center. Security personnel are front and center when customers approach the immediate outside vicinity or enter the building. “We’re engaging the client, making eye contact with the people coming in–we want to be the first person you see when you come in the door,” says Kenneth Dixon, director of security and safety solutions at Javits. “Our focus is a balance between hospitality and security, and finding that right balance is a key to our success.”
Being a busy convention center means constantly dealing with theft, lost property, and other larceny issues, Dixon explains. The type of theft that occurs varies, including exhibitors who steal from other exhibitors, attendees who steal from exhibitors, and employee theft.
The threat of terrorism also looms large over Javits, where anywhere from 60,000 to 70,000 attendees gather daily. In the spirit of being proactive, security decided to move heavy cement planters to a strategic location in front of the building “to give us a little more protection against vehicular attacks like the ones in London, Berlin, and Stockholm,” he says.
Unattended packages are also a cause for concern, Dixon says, citing the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and other terror attacks caused by improvised explosive devices left behind.
To further address these security concerns, and to align with the new look and feel from the recent renovation at Javits, Dixon explains that there have been several changes to security procedures, technologies, and staffing at Javits.
“It was the first quarter of 2015 when we started implementing some new policies, and really started to monitor what happened at night, as well as address the legacy larceny complaints that we’ve had,” Dixon says.
With a new and improved security operations center, an increase in the security workforce, and a hospitality- centered approach, Dixon is confident Javits is now an even safer place for its customers, vendors, and staff. Here’s a look at some of the ways in which the Javits Center has accomplished that mission.
Upgrading the center’s security technology was a foundational step in beefing up security at Javits, and the center upgraded everything from cameras to its state-of-the-art command center. Dixon notes that Javits went from 150 legacy cameras to 860 4K-resolution IP cameras from Axis and Arecont Vision in the last year and a half.
Cameras. As of press time, the center anticipates having approximately 1,000 cameras at the end of this summer. They are situated throughout the facility, Dixon says, including in the exhibit space, at ingress and egress points, and on the loading docks.
Not only has Javits increased the number and quality of its cameras, but security decided to strategically place them at a visual level where they serve as a deterrent. In the past, cameras were placed above people’s heads and were painted the same color as the walls and columns to create a more visually appealing look.
Now, however, the cameras are placed lower and unpainted, so they may be clearly seen by everyone who comes to the center.
“The people who are looking for the cameras really see them, and know that they are being filmed,” says Dixon. “The chances of getting away with something here at the Javits Center are far less than what they used to be.”
Javits is also currently testing a video management system from Genetec to manage the wealth of footage collected by the cameras. In addition, the cameras have facial recognition technology capability, so that video can be exported to law enforcement for identification if the need arises.
Command center. The command center at Javits is the heart and soul of the safety and security program, Dixon says, and is used for monitoring, dispatch, video review, and alarm monitoring.
Last spring, Javits put in an 18-monitor video wall from Orion that can be customized to view the cameras chosen by the operator. “That allows us to show 30, 40, 50, 60 cameras at a time—or just one at a time—on 18 monitors,” Dixon explains. “We can quickly change camera layouts on the video wall for whatever’s going on at any given time.”
One monitor is dedicated solely to door alarms. Security can also automatically lock large gates and doors with the click of a button. “We have 225 perimeter doors,” Dixon says, “each of the doors has a reader in the door that lets us know whether the door is opened or closed.”
If a door alarm is triggered, an audible alert, as well as video associated with the incident, automatically populates the monitor. This lets officers easily determine whether a response is warranted.
The remote open-and-close feature greatly improved convenience for guards working in the building on an overnight shift. “Years ago, we would have dispatched a security guard on the overnight [shift]…he’s maybe two or three city blocks away, and he would have to go open up the gate,” Dixon notes. “Now he can just do that remotely.”
Members of the safety team who patrol the show floor have smartphones to receive photographs and other media related to any dispatch calls. For example, if a child goes missing, a photo or description can be immediately disseminated.
Analytics. Frequently, crime at the Javits Center isn’t reported until the victim realizes his or her property is missing, which can be hours after it occurs. Or someone leaves a package unattended, with no trace of who the person was.
The security team wanted a video analytics solution to aid in the investigative process, so it turned to BriefCam software, which compresses hours of video into just a few minutes by speeding it up. “We use BriefCam to solve cases of property that may go missing for one reason or another…and for unattended packages,” Dixon says. “It’s been a real game changer for us.”
If someone leaves a package unattended, or stolen property is reported from a specific place, BriefCam can geofence the area where the item was left or stolen, and show the activity that occurred within a certain timeframe.
Other specific parameters can be set; for example, if security has information about the color of clothing the suspect was wearing, it can isolate the video to show only people wearing that color. “We’re able to see all the activity around the area of concern, and watch 13 or 14 hours of video in a short period of time,” Dixon says. “That has helped us close significantly more cases.”
At the 2016 New York Comic Con show, for example, BriefCam analytics led to several arrests when property went missing from an exhibitor’s booth. Security isolated video to just around the booth and ran analytics to find the thieves.
“In the past, we didn’t have the ability to run analytics like we had in this case, and the person would have been long gone,” Dixon says. “The show would have been over, and we would have been chasing our tail trying to get all the information.”
Floor plans. The floor space at Javits is versatile, and conventions can choose the layout they want at their shows. Javits also has 28,000 square feet of flexible meeting room space, meaning that the walls can be easily converted to accommodate smaller or larger groups.
The center recently moved from traditional locks and keys on its meeting room doors to card readers to provide a greater level of security, and it can assign key cards to clients, which expire when their meeting or convention concludes.
But flexibility can come with challenges. In the event of an incident or emergency at the facility, pinpointing an exact location in the building for first responders can be difficult, because the Javits Center stretches for six city blocks, and every convention has a unique floor plan.
“We’ve been struggling over the last year and a half to replace outdated emergency evacuation plans, because we do 175 events every year—and every single one of them is different,” Dixon says.
When police or fire departments respond to an emergency or incident, they often come to the facility’s main address on West 34th Street. “We have to say, ‘No guys, it’s actually on 39th Street in Hall C.’ Well, they don’t know where Hall C is—so it ends up causing a lot of confusion and a lot of wasted time,” he says.
A recently declassified geospatial tool from BAE Systems allows Javits to pinpoint a more exact location within the building. The solution works by laying customized show floor plans over the existing blueprint of the center and labeling a grid by numbers and letters. “Now we simply say, for example, ‘Go to H-33,’ and first responders know, within a certain amount of space, that’s exactly where the incident is,” Dixon explains.
The tool also works as an evacuation map, pointing out ingress and egress routes and the adjacent streets they spill out onto. It also shows first aid office locations and where to find defibrillator machines. “For a building that’s six blocks long, it is extremely difficult to have one security evacuation plan that you can effectively articulate and communicate to everyone who is going to be involved,” Dixon says.
The safety team has an app from BAE Systems on its smartphones that displays the grid for each show and evacuation routes. Javits eventually hopes to expand that app to first responders. “Right now, we are communicating with responders with a PDF, but they still find that extremely useful,” he notes.
“It’s one thing to have all these great procedures and great technology, but our most important asset is our people, and giving them the skills that they need to be successful,” Dixon says. “It’s the foundational aspect to everything we do.”
Because providing great customer service is a key business component, bolstering the security workforce has been crucial to the improvements at the Javits Center.
Personnel. A personnel increase has allowed Javits to provide a more robust security force on-site during expositions and events. In the past, clients exhibiting at Javits would depend mostly on their own contract security force. Now they can work more closely with the increased staff provided by the center.
“There are 25 other companies that are approved to provide security services in the Javits Center, and we, for all intents and purposes, would be the 26th—but we’re here every day,” Dixon says. “We know all the players; we know all of the vendors, contractors, and business partners that are here on a regular basis.”
The safety team, a proprietary force, went from about 45 members to 80 in the last two years. Many of these full-time employees, called public safety officers, come from law enforcement, loss prevention, or corporate security backgrounds, Dixon explains.
The philosophy at Javits, he says, is to provide employees with the tools they need to be successful. “When it comes to training, we take it very seriously,” he says, noting that each safety team member receives 40 hours of hostile surveillance training from Israeli firm AS Solution. They also learn verbal de-escalation methods and undergo active shooter training.
Javits has even changed the appearance of the guard staff to create a more hospitable environment. “We’ve moved from uniformed supervisors and managers to suits and ties,” Dixon notes. “In a lot of ways, we’ve increased the credibility of our team by taking steps like that.”
Rather than large radios that hang off their uniforms and are loud enough for anyone nearby to hear, guards now sport a covert two-way radio earpiece.
Lost and found. With tens of thousands of people moving through its doors monthly, many who come to the Javits Center accidentally leave belongings behind or misplace them.
In 2015, the safety team implemented a new software tool to manage the wealth of lost and found items that are turned in—since then, the center has experienced a 28 percent increase in lost and found items reported.
“We follow New York state guidelines for lost property, and we have a chain of custody for every item,” says Dixon, explaining all lost items are logged into a database and put in tamper-proof evidence bags. Security has reunited owners with everything from misplaced iPads to wallets full of cash.
He adds that people are more likely to report that they have found a lost item when they feel deterred by their environment from stealing it. “There’s an interesting relationship between a good security posture within a facility…and a spike in lost and found,” Dixon says
Not only are more items being turned in, but Javits has raised the level of lost items returned by 40 percent in the same time period. Because exhibitors and clients often come from other countries, security will ship items overseas to make sure they are returned to their rightful owners. “We’ve even returned a cell phone to Sydney, Australia,” Dixon says. “We will do everything within our means to get it back to that person.”
Dixon says an act as simple as reuniting a client with a lost item speaks volumes to the customer service provided by Javits. “It really means a lot to us,” he notes. “We take great pride in it, and we’ve actually become really good at reuniting lost property with its owner.”
Dixon has even personally delivered items to their owners, including an expensive tennis bracelet left at a jewelry exhibition. “The next day we were able to return the jewelry to the owner in New York’s Diamond District. He was thrilled,” Dixon says.
More improvements are on the horizon for the Javits Center. In early 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $1 billion expansion for the facility, which will add 1.2 million square feet of additional space.
A major addition will be a new four-level truck garage to accommodate deliveries for events. This will reduce the need for tractor-trailers to circle around the city block again and again until a loading dock is available—they will be able to move in and out in a timelier manner.
“This expansion project will…really propel the convention center into the top tier of convention centers nationwide,” says Tony Sclafani, senior vice president and chief communications officer at the Javits Center. “With the new spaces such as new ballrooms, new meeting rooms, and a rooftop event space, we believe that we will attract many major trade shows and conventions that normally would not consider New York.”
Dixon adds that a huge proponent of the safety improvements was Javits Center CEO and President Alan Steel. “Through the board of directors, our CEO was able to obtain the necessary funding to help push all of this through,” Dixon says. “He’s been extremely supportive.”
Sclafani adds that security will only be further strengthened as Javits continues to serve its customer community. “It’s important to note that this security upgrade really is an extension of the renovation and changes—it wasn’t done in a vacuum.”
As Javits anticipates even more improvements, the reinvented approach to security has paid off in measurable ways. In the last two years, the center saw an 86 percent decrease in overnight theft, and a 74 percent decrease in total theft on a year-to-year basis.
“There are a lot of risks that are associated with being the busiest convention center in the country, and with being located in midtown Manhattan,” Dixon says. “We’ve tried to harden the Javits Center—to become more proactive and to do certain things that we think would deter anyone wishing to do us harm.”