DENVER – The city should improve safety and security planning and threat assessments to ensure a comprehensive and efficient citywide approach to keeping both the public and city employees safe in city buildings, according to a new audit this month from Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien, CPA.

“The city is making many updates right now to how people move around our buildings due to the spread of COVID-19,” Auditor O’Brien said. “It is the perfect time to also update our safety and security protocols to protect everyone who needs to use our facilities, regardless of whether they are receiving or providing city services.”

Our work on this facility safety and security audit began in 2019 after concerns related to the city’s incident responses and some notification errors. We looked at physical safety and security, as well as security services provided at city facilities, to determine whether the safety of city employees and visitors is adequately addressed.

Our team found the city has not sufficiently prioritized city facility safety and security and existing initiatives are not adequate. We identified an overall lack of citywide strategic planning, which has resulted in a fragmented approach in different agencies, buildings, and systems.

The city does not have a citywide strategic plan for ensuring the safety and security of city facilities. The responsibility for ensuring safety and security for the public, city employees, and elected officials is decentralized and divided across several agencies.

This fragmented approach has led to confusion among city agencies over whose responsibility it is to respond to specific incidents at city facilities.

One example we found was when the Denver Security Office was working on a safety initiative involving the purchase of equipment and the office learned midway through the project that the equipment had been purchased previously and was in storage. In another example, personnel from the Denver Security Office visited a facility to perform a vulnerability assessment after a security incident; however, upon arriving there, they learned the Denver Police Department had already conducted the assessment.

“Bad actors could sneak through the gaps in our security if we don’t get all agencies on the same page,” Auditor O’Brien said.

Our audit team found the lack of a citywide strategic plan and the lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities are the result of the city and the mayor not sufficiently prioritizing city facility safety and security in the past.

Leadership in the Department of General Services and the Department of Finance have recently made changes to better prioritize safety and security. However, our team found the implementation of security efforts and the identification of priorities appear to be in reaction to specific incidents — not prompted through a proactive approach for identified risks.

“The city takes security seriously, but we need to make sure we’re looking forward as well as backward,” Auditor O’Brien said.

Other concerns identified in our audit included a lack of training for employees on evacuation and fire drills. The Denver Fire Department is not following fire code when it comes to training and certification of leaders who are responsible for leading people out of city building during an emergency.

The city also needs to update its badging systems to ensure individuals are prohibited from accessing city facilities after their employment ends. The city has several different badging systems that don’t work well together and are managed by different agencies.

We also found employee and vendor contact information is often incorrect or missing in the city’s system, which could impact the city’s ability to notify employees and vendors of emergencies or building shutdowns.

Finally, the city also needs to ensure security services are aligned with contractual requirements and leading security practices. The city uses contracted security guards from HSS Inc. for certain safety- and security-related duties at city buildings — such as screening visitors with X-ray machines and metal detectors to prevent them from bringing dangerous items into buildings. We observed HSS’ security practices for some areas — such as metal detector screenings of visitors and responses to emergencies and incidents — were often inconsistent across city buildings, and the current expectations of both the city and HSS management were not always reflected in HSS’ policies and procedures.

Using assessments and comprehensive strategic planning to clearly prioritize risks and determine an implementation strategy would ensure the city uses resources effectively by immediately addressing the most severe vulnerabilities.

The auditees agreed to all our recommendations.

Read the Audit: Safety and Security of City Facilities

Other Audits the Month

Read the Audit: Minority/Women and/or Disadvantaged Business Program

Read the Audit: Library Financial Processes

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