• United States



by Senior Editor

Charitable Risk: Security Challenges of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Oct 05, 20096 mins
Critical InfrastructureIT LeadershipPhysical Security

Denise Barndt, director of global security for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, discusses the risk and challenges of security for a high-profile philanthropic organization

Everyone loves the good guys, right? So if you are head of security for a philanthropic foundation, you probably have few concerns. As director of global security for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation based in Seattle, Denise Barndt says “No way.” Each day, she is responsible for overseeing security operations for the foundation, which has several programs in support of global health, global development and US programs initiatives.

In addition to Seattle, the foundation has offices in Washington, DC, London, New Delhi, India and in Beijing, China. Global travel security concerns are just the beginning. Barndt recently spoke with CSO about the security plan for the new headquarters building, which is currently under construction.

Give us a layout of the missions and security operations of the different locations you oversee as director of global security.

All of our offices are networked and all locations head in here to Seattle. The Global Security team and I have visibility of what is going on in all of the offices as well as our global travelers. So there is continuous monitoring for our global operations.

In Washington, DC and in Europe, the programs are more about advocacy. They are about our alliances and the collaboration we do with public policy and forwarding the mission of the foundation. In India, the emphasis on staff there is on HIV/AIDS advocacy and education and prevention. It is the same mission in China. We are working with the Chinese government on their strategy for outreach, testing and prevention. We work directly with those governments.

Our staff doesn’t do direct service and deliver. We fund through grantees, but we aren’t in direct service. While we have staff that travel frequently, we are not so much boots on the ground. Instead, staff are helping determine what is the strategy for our funding and doing due diligence around who we are funding. We have a contract with these folks so they are making sure those deliverables and milestones are met and provide assistance to fulfill that grant.

Are there unique security challenges in each location?

Not particularly. What I’ve been trying to drive is consistency of security so that our staff and visitors have the same look and feel of ubiquitous and unobtrusive security no matter where they are in our offices throughout the world. There is also an understanding that each office has local conditions they we need to be respectful of as well.

We have design and technical standards for all of our offices. Each has a security design that is similar to ours here at headquarters in Seattle. It’s the same envelope at every building. That includes access control, CCTV, a reception function, a guest management function. The full range of standard physical security features (Also see: The CCTV Project Planner)

With the growth in the number of locations to monitor in our Global Security Operations Center, both domestic and international, we looked to various technologies to help us manage the volume of information and quantity video coming in to our operators. We are in the process of implementing new video management and situation management systems. This will allow us to leverage video analytics, correlate what may seem to be disparate events into a single response plan and aid in forensic and audit capacity.

VidSys, the situation management application, will:

  • Provide a single user interface for managing situations, monitoring access control, intrusion detection, video and communication systems for our SOC operators.
  • Improve operational efficiency and accuracy by providing focus on priority tasks, standardizing responses, aggregating information from various systems, and automating processes as appropriate.
  • Increase our ability to direct and control how and where we display video, allowing us to provide real time information and access to camera feeds within the enterprise, expanding from just the SOC to other groups as needed. (Crisis Management, Facilities, leadership, a guard on a rove)
  • Fully integrate this project with the design, requirements definition, systems selection, device selection, construction and operational planning for the new campus.

This is a paradigm shift for our operators as we move from a barrage of information coming to them, to a filtered and focused view. The build of the rules and action plans to support the system is a large body of work as well as the business readiness preparation for changing the operational model. The exercise has provided us with the opportunity to do a systemic evaluation of our existing systems, conventions, standard operating procedures and post orders.

What are some of your biggest security concerns now?

We are under construction for a new headquarters campus for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation here in Seattle that will be a global showcase and meeting area for the advocacy, the role that we play, and the voice Bill and Melinda want to have for the issues they care deeply about; global health, global development and US Education. So we are building a 12 acres campus for our offices, convening and visitors next door to the Seattle Center.

The difference is while traditionally we have looked like every other building, we are now going from a very low profile physical footprint to a bold statement. We are in leased space now. So we are going to go from tenant to owner, and to a very large complex that will be making a very big statement about the work that we do. It’s a very green building and it’s in center city so our neighbor is the Space Needle.

One might think because it’s the Gates foundation and because of the philanthropy and the work we do, everyone would love us. But like every company and every government, there are certainly detractors. For us, it’s a balance of the boldness of the work we are trying to do and knowing that some of our work can be controversial. A lot of people question: “Why would you have security concerns? You are giving money away and trying to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.” But when you consider they are some of the world’s toughest problems that is why we have security concerns.

Also see Seven Deadly Sins of Building Security

Are you concerned the new, high-profile building will attract protestors and demonstrators?

It is certainly a scenario that we have planned for in our design and operations. We have to balance that with the fact that this is the joy of living in America. This is a country where you can do that. So how do we allow our work to continue and allow that public commentary as it’s appropriate and legal to happen as well?

We’ve designed the building working with architects and working with the community and the city. It is much like a public building, and we are including a visitor center for the public to learn about the work of the foundation. We were looking at how they allow that kind of public gathering and also make sure it can be done in an appropriate manner.