Security at DAR Headquarters

Written by: Larry Walker, Director of Security
May 24, 2016

An often overlooked aspect to the daily operations of National Headquarters is the level of security vigilance that is in place for the protection of members, visitors, the staff, and the historic structures themselves.  It is something always on my mind, and something we are continually attempting to improve.  It is also something I take great pleasure in talking and sharing about, whenever given the opportunity.

Although a basic alarm system has been operational in the building for years, in 2004 a greatly expanded system was installed that today includes 85 cameras, 180 motion detectors, 91 water sensors, and 378 smoke/heat detectors.  At any given time, as many as 10 different cameras can be monitored from the security control room, as well as remote locations as needed.  All of this is tied into a master computer server that stores the data and images for up to 30 days.

Today, we are still operating with an analog system that is reminiscent of CDs and DVD drives.  While somewhat antiquated, we were able to make approximately $15,000 in upgrades earlier this year that will ultimately lead to a conversion to a digital system by 2018 at the latest.  We are currently exploring options for the $150,000 in funding that is required to bring our system, including new/expanded hardware in some instances, current with today’s needs.

But security preparedness and awareness is a lot more than just servers, and cameras, and all the other technical infrastructure that comprises our system.  It is important that there be the trained and knowledgeable staff available in order to lend their expertise to the daily attentiveness that must be maintained.  I am pleased to say that the experience of the DAR’s Security department represents more than 45 years of combined work in the field of security.  Moreover, the statement “See Something Say Something” is more than a catchphrase.  It’s a responsibility all staff members and docents take seriously, and I assure you from personal experience that folks are not shy about speaking up if they feel something is amiss.

I am often asked about whether special precautions have to be taken at National Headquarters because of our proximity to the White House.  In some ways that I really can’t get into, yes --- but at the heart of everything is good due diligence and security procedures that you would expect of any organization or business in the DC area (or in most major metropolitan areas of the world, for that matter.)  In some respects we actually benefit by our proximity to the White House because of added security in this vicinity, restricted truck routes, and a redundant electrical grid that ensures our systems stay up and running and a federal law enforcement officer is generally patrolling around our property most of the time.

For a number of reasons, I am reluctant to be too specific about all the measures that are in place or that are taken in regards to the building security, including special enhancements and procedures related to Constitution Hall.  I will say, however,  that DAR is part of a security consortium comprised of members of the FBI, Secret Service, Metropolitan Police Department, utility companies, and other key employers throughout the immediate area and the region as a whole.  This group meets on an ongoing basis to review possible threat scenarios, best security practices being employed throughout the country, and other matters of relevance that can be adapted for use by NSDAR.

Seldom a day goes by that we are not challenging ourselves here at National Headquarters on how operations, procedures and systems can be improved.  That is the nature of security.  We observe, assess, and respond as appropriate or necessary.  But it also affords me one of the great pleasures of my job: being able to meet new people to whom I can share information about the National Society and the historic buildings that it is such a pleasure to protect.

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