Subscribe to On the Editor's Desk RSS Feed

On the Editor's Desk

by: Martha Entwistle - Tuesday, December 4, 2007
I try not to get too much into the guarding market, except for when it overlaps with systems integrators and installers, but this is a crazy story. Many security firms work with the GSA, and it seems as though the GSA isn't always on the straight and narrow. Here's the nut graph: According to court papers filed in the case, [Michael] Holiday, a former Montgomery [Maryland] police officer, plied a government contracting official with $100,000 in cash and paid for her $7,000 Caribbean cruise. In exchange, prosecutors said, the General Services Administration employee granted favorable treatment in the bidding process to Holiday's company. Holiday's firm, Holiday International Security, went on to acquire $130 million in government contracts. Pretty good return on that $107,000 investment, no? Among the agencies that awarded contracts to Holiday International Security was the Social Security Administration, which continues to use guards from the renamed company at its Woodlawn headquarters and several other buildings in the Baltimore region, federal officials said. ... The Silver Spring company, which changed its name to USProtect when it was sold in May 2003, provides armed and unarmed security guards for 18 federal agencies at 120 installations in 32 states and territories. So, I'm guessing the company won't now lose all of its contracts. While the prosecutor called the case the largest government corruption case in Maryland history, it's not clear that you can really ascribe all $130 million in contracts to the bribery. Theoretically, Holiday/USProtect were really providing the services, so maybe it's only the amount of the bribe that should be evaluated. That's semantics, though. In general, I love it when real life is just like the movies: Prosecutors allege that the former GSA contracting official, Dessie Ruth Nelson, 65, of Oakland, Calif., received a shopping bag filled with $35,000 in cash and an envelope stuffed with $10,000 from Holiday, in addition to the cruise, among other benefits. In turn, between 2000 and 2003, Nelson steered millions of dollars worth of contracts to Holiday's company, federal authorities charged. I mean, where did that happen? In her office? In a shopping mall parking lot? Did Holiday just waltz into the GSA with $35,000 in a shopping bag and hand it over like he had just picked something up at the grocery store for her? Oh, and I can't believe this paragraph was left for last: In addition to the bribery and tax charge, Holiday also admitted as part of his guilty plea that in April 2004, he sent a video file depicting a young girl engaging in sex with an adult male to an undercover FBI agent in New York. He could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison for bribery and 20 years for transporting child pornography. Holy smokes! So, the guy's involved with Maryland's largest-ever corruption case AND he's into kiddie porn? Does anybody else feel like this is bad PR for the private security marketplace? Wow.
by: Martha Entwistle - Monday, December 3, 2007
So, I have continuing interest in this USProtect story. You know, the one where a couple ex-cons landed $150 million or so in government contracts thanks to a little bribery? Well, Richard Hudec, who "served as chairman and chief financial officer for Silver Spring-based USProtect Inc.," "yesterday pleaded guilty to charges of lying about his criminal background to win contracts with the FBI, Social Security Administration and Air Force." Which is all well and good, but then I got to thinking, hey, don't I know a Richard Hudec? Turns out I was thinking of Richard Hudak, whom I'd just seen speak at Securing New Ground. Oops. If I was Richard Hudak, war hero and respected security director and consultant, I'd be none too pleased that there was a lying fraudster with ties to the physical security industry in the news with the name of Richard Hudec. So this is me doing a civil service and letting everyone know that Richard Hudec is not Richard Hudak. Totally different guy. But you know that. If anyone hears of a journalist who sells his sources down the river named Sam Fifel, make sure you let me know.

by: Martha Entwistle - Monday, December 3, 2007
The NBFAA, CSAA, SIA, et al, should get behind the Treasury's effort to freeze mortgage rates, in an attempt to staunch the record levels of foreclosures. With the builder market already in the tank, residential alarm companies need to both find ways to increase new business and stem attrition. I'm fairly certain people don't pay alarm bills when they're being evicted. On a personal level, however, I can't say I'm totally in favor of my government bailing everyone out from their terrible decisions. This, right here, might be my favorite paragraph from a nationally syndicated news story all year: "We are working aggressively and quickly, utilizing available tools and creating new ones, to help financially responsible but struggling homeowners," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in a speech to a national housing conference sponsored by the Office of Thrift Supervision. Now, I'm sure there are some homeowners who are defaulting on their loans because they've lost their jobs in what is an increasingly struggling economy, but those aren't the ones in need of a mortgage rate freeze, are they? Nope. The ones who need the freeze are the ones who bought too much house because they got suckered by a too-good-to-be-true deal where they could afford the first couple of years worth of mortgage payments, and either hoped they'd get a big raise when the adjustable rate started adjusting, or just ignorantly assumed they've be able to flip the house before the new rates kicked in. That doesn't meet any definition of financially responsible I can think of. And, seriously, the federal government has an Office of Thrift Supervision? The same federal government that's spent more than a billion dollars on the effort to freeze mortgage rates? That thrifty government?

Labels: ,

by: Martha Entwistle - Sunday, December 2, 2007
Yes, people, the tailgating problem has not only hit the mainstream, but has been definitively addressed by Miss Manners, so a security director can now emphasize not only security, but politeness as well, in trying to get people to card through doors one by one, etc. Miss Manners even gives some handy advice for how employees should address other people trying to get into the building/restricted area: Turn around to face the other person, rather than walking away in front of the closing door. Draw your eyebrows together, open your mouth slightly, and hold out your hands helplessly. Then shake your head sadly. Clearly, this should be posted as part of a nicely made plaque next to all restricted doorways. Don't fret, though, integrators - the tailgating solutions you're selling are unlikely to become obsolete. My experience with American society tells me very few people actually listen to Miss Manners.

by: Martha Entwistle - Saturday, December 1, 2007
The Boston Globe today has a long and flattering profile of American Alarm, run by the Wells family in Arlington, Massachusetts. Cool for them, but also a reminder to the rest of you independent alarm dealers that the mass media loves a "contrary to popular belief" story, and you should be putting in calls to your local papers to try to drum up similar stories, which are good for business. See this paragraph: Giant corporations like ADT, Brinks, and SimplexGrinnell dominate the $26 billion-a-year US industry. "However, there are lots of small- and medium-size firms represented," said Georgia Calaway, spokeswoman for the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association, based in Irving, Texas. I mean, holy smokes! There are also lots of small and medium-sized alarm companies? Next thing, you'll be telling me there are more restaurants than just McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's! Contact your local paper and let them know you're a security expert, have security installations all over their coverage area, and that you are willing to be a source for stories. Security is a hot-button topic in the mass media today, but many of them are incredbly ignorant about the private security industry. When I was down at the America's Fire & Security show in Miami, a reporter from the Miami Herald contacted me about a possible story. I figured she was interested in the topic on which I was presenting, campus security, since it was only a few months after the Virginia Tech shootings. Nope. She wanted to do a tour of local nightclubs to see if they were fire-safe, a riff on the Station fire (albeit, a few years after the fact). Why was she calling me, when there were fire officials and fire product manufacturers all over the show? Because I was a fellow reporter and she was too unsure of herself to just ask one of the guys she didn't know. I told her to just call a fire marshal and to get him/her to take her through a tour of nightclubs, checking to see if they were up to code. How did she find one of those, she wondered. Seriously. That's what most reporters at small (and sometimes large) papers are really like. They're not the guys on CNN. They're usually young, not very well paid, and have poor social skills. That's why they gravitate to a job where they sit in front of computers all day surfing the Internet and maybe calling someone every once in a while. Generally, they want stories to fall in their laps. If you call them, they'll probably call you back when they're on deadline looking for a story. I know people get intimidated by the media because most of the stories you see out there on the big news channels are negative and accusatory, but think about your local daily's business section. They probably tend to write captions on photos like this gem from the Globe story: Wells A. Sampson, president of American Alarm and Communications Inc.: 'We want to continue to grow our business." If so, they can't be all that blood-thirsty. Are there company executives out there who aren't looking to grow their businesses? That would be news.

by: Martha Entwistle - Friday, November 30, 2007
Integrators who've bought into the get-RMR-now mantra need to check out the brand-new Integrator Support, a company basically created by PSA Security, though it's an independent business. They make selling "interactive video monitoring" or "virtual guarding" (feel free to suggest other terminology) very easy for the central station-less integrator. Plus, they can get you into renting and leasing equipment to your customers, which also equals RMR, which equals a more steady balance sheet and a higher valuation for your company. IS is headed by Jim Taylor, former owner of integration firm White & Associates (sorry, that link is under construction, but you'll get the idea), so he gets what integrators need: back office and sales support and automation. He walked me through the web site functionality and it's pretty dang intuitive. No surprise he's a Mac guy.
by: Martha Entwistle - Thursday, November 29, 2007
I find it interesting that security companies are often involved in news stories, but are almost always left anonymous, and everything they do is completely unquestioned and taken as completely ho-hum. In this case, I'm talking about the stories regarding the death of Quiet Riot frontman Kevin DuBrow (stop pretending you didn't like "Cum on Feel the Noize" at the time; you know you did). Check out these two paragraphs: Original Quiet Riot bassist Kelly Garni posted a statement online Wednesday describing the details of how he learned about the death of Kevin DuBrow, his friend and the band's singer, and again asked for fans to withhold speculation on what might have caused the 52-year-old singer's passing. "I want to thank everyone who refrained from jumping to conclusions and starting rumors," wrote Garni, who has spent his years since leaving the band as a professional photographer. He explained that at around 3:15 p.m. Sunday he got a call from the security company that handles DuBrow's home. "I am the only one who gets a call whenever his alarm goes off and usually I go to his house and let the guards in to check things out," he said. "However, Kevin had had his front doors replaced a few weeks ago and I did not yet have a key, so I told them to send the guards and if there was a problem I would go there and take care of it. They also told me that Kevin's voicemail was full. That was the first sign of trouble to me." The reporter doesn't wonder if this is standard procedure at all, which surprises me. So, the alarm goes off and his ex-bandmate gets the first call? That totally makes sense. Well, it does if you understand the principles of enhanced call verification (I'm assuming Garni means first call after calling the house), but if I was just Joe Schmoe, I might wonder if something could have been prevented if the police were immediately dispatched (which is probably not the case here, as his voice mail was full and he was probably long dead by the time the alarm went off). Also, which security company? Why is that just not important? Are all security companies the same? If I were the security company here, I would contact the local papers and talk about my role in the story and use it as a forum to promote the fact that without a security system, who knows how long DuBrow might have lain dead in his house? It's a great opportunity, too, to raise the discussion of verified response.
by: Martha Entwistle - Thursday, November 29, 2007
In my most recent editorial, I counsel participation in standards-making processes. Basically, no one knows better how products should operate than those who install the products and have to make them work to satisfy end users. Similarly, if you're involved in a process - dispatch, etc. - you ought to make sure you don't have that process dictated to you by a standards body that doesn't have the appropriate input from those who will be most affected by the resultant standard. Well, here's a good chance to poke your nose in, even though it's more directed toward manufacturers. SIA (the Security Industry Association - in case you're not up on your acronyms) is exercising considerable muscle and energy in trying to create technology standards and it's my belief that the association will wind up being the de facto standards-making body for the security industry, at least in the short term, before historically IT-focused standards-making bodies might conceivably take over some of the technology standards in the industry. Anyway, what I'm pointing you to does seem a little dense, I'll admit. Check out this paragraph: The OSIPS Framework is the foundational standard for the OSIPS family of standards. Since OSIPS is directed at enabling the open integration of so many different types of components, it is essential to establish precise definitions of shared system elements and common means to communicate. OSIPS Framework provides the requisite definition needed to create this goal including interface infrastructure requirements and special interfaces for shared activities such as event reporting, schedules exchange, and other common functions. I mean, "create this goal"? Still, the comment period is open till Jan. 7, which gives you some time to figure out what this all means and whether you have an opinion. Read the proposed standard here. Comment here. Seriously. Do it.

by: Martha Entwistle - Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Word's getting out today about Google's plan to offer storage as a service. Clearly, this is targeted first toward the consumer market, so people can have all-the-time/everywhere access to their photos and music, either to share with Grandma or hipster friends (wallet pics and iPods just don't cut it anymore, apparently). But it's also targeted toward the burgeoning online backup industry, which makes a hell of a lot of sense. The big question, of course, is how long it will be before everyone's storing just about everything in giant, hot-redundant storage farms, and whether the central station industry, for example, might want to get in on that as a service to provide both dealer customers and end users. If I'm an end user, why would I want to buy a bunch of RAID storage and have it sit in a closet when I could just store all my video off-site and access it through a web browser from anywhere in the world (not that I couldn't access it from anywhere anyway, it's just now I don't have to worry about my closet flooding)? Well, for one thing, off-site storage is still price prohibitive: As you can see, online storage is pricey. For instance, if you bought a Maxtor OneTouch 300GB external hard drive for $296, your one-time cost would be 99 cents per gigabyte. However, if you backed up just 2GB of data to IBackup, you'd pay $162 per gigabyte. Just think what 90 days of bank video from megapixel cameras would cost! But it's going to get cheaper soon: Even EMC Corp. has driven a stake into the hosted-storage landscape with its October agreement to buy start-up Berkeley Data Systems Inc. and its popular Mozy online backup business for $76 million. So, you might want to check out a service like that being provided by OzVision as a way of moving in that direction, if you're a central station. End users just want to look at video - they don't want to have to store and keep clean and safe a bunch of humming black boxes.

by: Martha Entwistle - Tuesday, November 27, 2007
might decide I have thoughts on this later, but for now, check out what the New York Times has to say about the slow-moving Registered Traveler program.