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TechSec gets started

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Monday, February 25, 2008
Tonight the exhibitors loaded in, getting their booths ready for tomorrow. It was a fun time, with a lot of vendors collaborating on how they wanted to present together and show the integrators and end users how interoperability can really work. IQinVision, for instance, had at least four companies swing buy to ask for cameras to display in their booths. I guess there's a reason they moved into much larger headquarters. Tomorrow, Dave Bunzel leads off with a keynote address on standards for the industry, and we'll have a number of great panels. I'll give you all the details I can between networking events, etc. Stay posted.

Brink's to spin off Brink's Home Security; Settles with Apx

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Monday, February 25, 2008
Big news out of Virginia this morning: The Brink's Company announced it will spin off Brink's Home Security. Here's the company press release. I'll have much more on this later, but I have to say the first thing that came to mind was an interview I had with hedge fund chief Thomas Hudson of Pirate Capital last February. During that interview he said, he foresees "material progress toward the sale of Brink's within 12 months." Separately, Brink's Home Security today settled a lawsuit with ApxAlarm Security Solutions of Provo, Utah, according to Dave Simon, spokesman for Brink's. The details of the settlement are confidential, he told me. Here's some some background. The suit was originally filed by Brink's in August of 2006, and eventually involved counter suits from Apx.

On guarding, security, and keeping it local

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Friday, February 22, 2008
Though this story is largely about manned guarding and doesn't have much to do with what my readers encounter on a daily basis, there are some issues to ponder here that I think resonate throughout the security industry. The gist is that the town of Flint has chosen Securitas as the guarding firm for its transportation authority over a local firm that's already been providing services, based solely on the lowest-bid criteria imposed upon it by federal mandates (but which the town actually ignored when it awarded the contract two years ago - we'll get to that). First of all: This is security we're talking about! Is this really an area where lowest-bid should rule? I'm thinking perceived competence should reign supreme here. But, we're told: Both companies ranked similarly in an MTA analysis of their abilities and experience, but Securitas had the lower costs. It submitted a bid for services set at about $415,000 compared to Teachout's $449,000 bid. So, assuming it's true that these companies would do equally well protecting the citizens of Flint, we're talking about $34,000 a year in difference. I agree that's significant (half a city clerk, say). But how is that savings realized? Well, through Securitas paying its workers less. Here's the breakdown: Securitas: $14.76 an hour for on-site supervisors, $11.91 for guards. Teachout Security Services: $16.14 an hour for on-site supervisors and $12.66 for guards in the first year with a 3 percent pay raise in the second year. The Securitas supervisor pulls down $30,700, Teachout's supervisor gets $33,571 annually. That seems a little low to me, but I guess I can see why someone would want that job. The standard guard for Securitas, however, would garner just $24,772 annually, vs. $26,332 for the local guy. Those are barely above the federal government's family-of-four poverty guidelines for 2008. The important thing to remember here is that all of these guards will be living in Flint (or surrounding areas). So when I hear a quote like this: "We can't do this based just on the fact that this is a local firm," Foy said. "It all comes down to trying to get the absolute most for the people of this community with the money we have available." Because MTA receives government dollars, it must follow federal guidelines for awarding contracts by hiring the lowest qualified bidder, Foy said. I wonder, Isn't it possible that the way to get the most for the people of Flint is to get them better paying jobs? Isn't it possible that security guards who aren't wondering quite as much where their next meal is coming from might be better at protecting people? Add those two motivators together, and I think a $34,000 difference is pretty negligible. Quite simply, I think there are many more factors that need to be considered here beyond price, but it's easy to understand why so many security vendors and installers compete on price. It's obviously a reality for government work. Maybe some lobbying needs to be done to exempt security specification from some federal guidelines? I understand protecting the taxpayer from graft and fraud, but shouldn't we also consider actually protecting the taxpayer from bodily harm? Or, maybe city officials should just ignore federal mandates in the first place: But in 2006, MTA handed the security contract to Teachout after four other companies, including Securitas, submitted lower bids.

Looking ahead to ASIS

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Thursday, February 21, 2008
I know it seems like September is a long ways away, but this week I'm on a preview trip of ASIS International's 54th Annual Seminar, which will take place Sept. 15-18 in Atlanta, Georgia. So far, I'm very impressed with Atlanta and some of the venue spaces they have here. For example, I'm staying in the Marriott Marquis which boasts one of the largest atriums in the world (47 stories) and is dizzyingly spectacular. The Westin is also pretty cool and is the tallest hotel in the Western hemisphere (74 stories) with a rotating restaurant allowing you to eat dinner with a 360 degree view of the city. Tomorrow we're touring the Georgia World Congress Center where the show will actually be held. We also got an "after hours" tour of the aquarium (i.e. no little kiddies running around), which was amazing. You could tell everyone was very impressed with the scenery. They even built a conference space that can hold 1,200 people with a similar view of the 64 million gallon tank and four rare and impressive whale sharks (left). Smart people. One of the highlights of the aquarium was the beluga whale, and it wasn't just because he was playful and majestic, but I won't go into details and leave that to curious minds and YouTube (and no, I'm not going to link to anything). Let's just say he thought these ladies were impressive, too. And, to top it all off, we had beautiful clear skies to watch the full lunar eclipse. ASIS folks go out of their way to put on a good show.

Copper theft

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Thursday, February 21, 2008
Hopefully you saw the newswire story on RSI Alarm's push to bring the copper theft epidemic to the consciousness of the security industry, through a new web site and other means. It's something we've covered in ancillary terms here and here and here, but Keith Jentoft, RSI president, may be right that people aren't making it a big enough piece of their security solutions for customers. What's crazy is that it's not just commercial sites that are getting hit; people are grabbing residential HVAC units off their rooftops and throwing them in pickups and driving away. Or their pulling the electrical wire off of people's houses. Check out this video sent in by an RSI dealer. They thief is pretty brazen, no? Whether it's sensors on HVAC units or video verification tied to motion detection or simply hardened HVAC units, integrators and residential installers need to be delivering solutions to combat this now.

VSD: Prognosis is good

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008
According to this report from IMS Research, there are only good times ahead for Video Smoke Detection companies like axonX, of Sparks, Md. and D-Tec, a U.K.-based business that just opened an office in Atlanta in December. I’ll have more on this later, but Mac Mottley, CEO of AxonX , told me that IMS’s projection that the VSD market will reach $36 million by 2011 “are in line with our projections.” In fact, Mottley said the projections may even be low if, as Mottley expects, “we get larger players adopting the technology at a faster rate.”

Back in the USA

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008
I've got to say, it's good to be back on American soil. Nothing against Israel, but it's not the most relaxing place to be, I'll say that. And things aren't getting any less tense. Looks like Israel is moving ahead with plans to clean out Gaza and end Hamas. I'm kind of glad that didn't happen last week while I was there. But I'm going to try to put Israeli happenings out of this blog's consciousness for a bit (I'll compile all of the Israel trip posts together and make them available in the sidebar at some point) and get back to the business of North American security integrators. For instance, did you see that Unisys has partnered with Aladdin to add IT-based identity management to its offerings? I think you'll start seeing a wave of integrators adding IT security offerings to their tool boxes. Last month, Aronson Security Group announced its convergence unit as part of its acquisition of Selectron, so it's not even just about the global integrators doing it. And here's an indication that we have a lot of work to do in the United States before people will really understand what security is all about. This story details a small college's struggle with concert security. I'm sure many colleges have such problems, but this quote from a professor I find very disturbing: Evergreen professor Peter Bohmer said he was concerned about the increasing reliance on police to control crowds. "I urge people not to cooperate with police," Bohmer said, to both applause and jeers. "I think we need to handle this among ourselves, instead of having a community of other people handle it." Wow. "A community of other people." So the police are not "us"? As long as common citizens see the police as "other" than them, we're going to have a security problem in the United States. One good sign? Amtrak seems to have finally gotten the message that they need to upgrade their security measures. Some of the increases included random baggage screening. This is only a good idea if it includes some kind of profiling effort. If their idea of random includes my daughter's Hello Kitty suitcase on wheels, it's a bad idea. If their idea of random includes searching bags of those people who are exhibiting suspicion indicators, maybe it can be effective.

Campus violence; red flags

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Saturday, February 16, 2008
This story in today’s New York Times discusses how universities seek to protect students without turning campuses into fortresses. It talks about some universities’ installation of phone/email/text alert systems. Many of these are likely tied into mass notification systems as well, something we’ve done a lot of reporting on. The story also talks about how some university presidents review on a daily basis all campus incidents looking for clues that might signal that a student is troubled. University officials are clearly working diligently to address violence on campus and the fire and security industry has stepped up to help. On the front page of the Times today, another story detailed the profoundly sad deaths this week of five students and a student gunman at Northern Illinois University. The story reported that the student gunman was well liked, a good student, and that there were no obvious “red flags.” The story also contained this paragraph: “The gunman bought his weapons legally from a Champaign gun dealer, officials said. He also bought some accessories from the popular Internet dealer who sold a gun to the gunman in the Virginia Tech massacre last year.” Isn't there a way to make the purchase of a handgun a red flag?

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Countdown to analog's expiration

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Friday, February 15, 2008
Only three days left until the Feb. 18 sunset date and the expiration of analog cellular service in the U.S. (and that's counting a weekend, so really after today, it's over). Most people in the industry predict it will be a largely uneventful day, but I'm not so sure. After all, Monday is a holiday and Tuesday is a full moon. With that combo, who knows what could happen? I spoke with Bud Wulforst, the president of the Central Station Alarm Association, and he said he thinks most of the larger security companies are ready for the transition, but he is concerned that the smaller companies either aren't aware of the situation or aren't taking the appropriate actions to change their customers' systems over (here's an article with our conversation). I can understand that there's a cost and time issue with changing out systems, but I can't believe that anyone, especially anyone in the security business, is unaware that analog is on its way out. Frankly, they must not be very good businesspeople because I just did a quick Google News search for "analog cellular" and more than 10 pages worth of articles came up. For example, here's an article about the ending of analog and its effect on security systems from a paper out of Colorado. However, there's not much anyone can do at this point. Like Wulforst said in reference to companies that aren't ready for Monday's deadline: "If they’re scrambling now, it’s too late. They should’ve been scrambling months ago." So, all we can do is wait and see what happens. Get lots of rest over this long weekend - next week could be interesting.

Untitled

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Friday, February 15, 2008

From Nazarenes to Bedouins

Unsurprisingly, the morning papers greeted us here with news that Hizbullah has officially declared war on Israel, though nothing seems to have actually changed in terms of attacks—or preparations on the part of the Israelis. They were already under the impression that they were at war. Maybe you didn’t see the footage, but more than a million people turned out to mourn Imad Mughniyeh in the streets of Lebanon, all of them screaming, “Death to Israel.” Regardless of your political persuasions, you have to admit that a demonstration of that kind might make you a bit uneasy if you were an Israeli citizen. [Edit: Note that Israel fights on a number of fronts at once. Here is just one story of the escalating fighting/airstrikes/missile launches in Gaza. There are no winners here. The Israelis suffered a rocket attack that hit a nursery school. They fired back, hitting a school and killing a teacher, since the rockets were launched from the school grounds. I was within five miles of those rocket attacks only two days ago.] Of course, on this last day of our trip here, we traveled up to the Golan Heights, that very strategic high ground in the north that was secured by the Israelis from Syria in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Evidence of the war was all around us, with continuing mine fields and the decrepit hulls of the Syrian's Russian-made tanks left in place as reminders of the victory. There was evidence of progress, too, however, in the form of nearly endless fields of vineyards, where the best wine in all of Israel is made. Our tour guide, a local recruited for some sight-seeing information who actually fought in that war, noted that the Israelis have offered to show the Syrians how to use their old battlefields to make wine, but have thus far been rebuffed. I suppose it is easy for the victors to be so gracious. The Syrians would very much like to have their/Israel’s land back. Since much of the day was concerned with sight-seeing (the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus purportedly walked on water; St. Peter’s old residence, etc.), it’s probably best to just show you the video and then compile here some of my observations for the past week, as I leave on a plane back to the United States tomorrow. Fundamentally, there are some operations tactics and guiding philosophies that the Israelis use that can and should be implemented in private security throughout the United States. Maybe they wouldn’t have prevented the Northern Illinois shooting in the United States, as it’s unclear that a country as large and diverse as the U.S. could ever implement the kind of security they have here, but I think it’s likely that there would be fewer incidents of large-scale violence. Note in the story I'm linking to that they say there were "no red flags." Well, I can assure you there were red flags as he approached the building. Had there been posted guards, no way it happens. The question is whether we could ever have posted guards everywhere on a university grounds. It's highly unlikely. But how did no other student notice him coming in with three handguns and a shotgun? • Circles of security: The Israelis organize their security in concentric circles, as anyone who has been following this blog by now well knows. The reason they don’t have through-put problems at their malls, airports, bus stations, train stations, etc., where they have tighter security than anywhere but some American airports, is that they start screening people far earlier in the process. They screen cars 100 meters or more from the building. They have guards 20 meters away watching people walk in. They have metal detectors outside the doors. By the time you enter the building, you’ve been screened or profiled a number of times and you can basically get to where you want to go quite quickly. • Profiling: We in America need to stop wasting time on people who are clearly not threats. I know it’s considered prudent to expect that anyone could be a terrorist, but if guards are well-trained in looking for suspicion indicators, I think it’s safe to start letting my four-year-old daughter go through the metal detector without taking her shoes off. Let’s be bold enough to say that NOT anyone could be a terrorist. Let’s know in our hearts that my grandmother is not going to blow up a plane. And let me reiterate that profiling has nothing to do with race. Here, the Israelis and the Palestinians are the same race, so race is clearly not necessary as a suspicion indicator. Profiling is about the method of operation and looking for the likely behaviors that would be evidenced by someone looking to do others harm. • Empowering even the lowest member of the organization to make decisions and be decisive: Here, they quite simply expect more of their average security guard than we do. Let’s expect more of ourselves. Let’s train our guards with meaningful seminars on how to spot bad guys and how to manage dangerous situations. Let’s do away with the joke that the TSA is just “welfare in a uniform.” Let’s both respect our security guards and teach them to respect themselves, so that when people come through a security line at the airport they don’t sense that everyone’s just going through the motions. In the military, I’ve been told that the new saying is, “every solider is a sensor.” Let’s make every security guard a sensor. • Using technology for its proper purpose: The Israelis use plenty of very high-end technology, some of which I’m not allowed to outline on a public blog. However, they understand that’s it’s never meant to replace people. For you, the security installers and integrators who are my readers, you’ve got to make sure that your sales people aren’t out there preaching a message of replacement, but one of augmentation. Stay with the mantra that technology can be a force multiplier. That’s true, and if your sales people don’t overpromise, you won’t underperform. • Making security everyone’s obligation: Here in Israel, we’ve seen countless stories of ordinary citizens playing vital roles in stopping suicide bombers. We watched a video at the Jerusalem police station where an ordinary citizen noticed a suspicious guy with a back-pack, jumped out of his car at an intersection, ran up to a police car, pointed at the guy and yelled, “that’s a suicide bomber.” The cop chased him down and prevented him from getting near a crowded shopping mall. Would that happen in the United States? Maybe yes, maybe no. We need to ask more, and expect more, of everyone in our organizations when it comes to security. This is a message security companies need to be preaching to the end users, and end users need to be preaching to their companies as a whole. What more evidence do we need that security is a real concern no matter where you are? Did the shoppers in the Omaha mall expect they’d be gunned down? No, I’m sure they all thought that nothing could happen there. Did the Northern Illinois students walk to class worrying about being killed by gunfire? Of course not. We need to start asking ourselves how these guys are getting so far along without anyone raising questions about them. The Virginia Tech shooter should have been identified long before he acted, by anyone in his college community who cared about the people living around them. Let’s make it okay again to be a little nosey. Along the way, we might even develop a meaningful sense of community that can be translated into recycling, energy-use, and business-efficiency purposes. Let’s rat some people out. • Red teaming, or testing: At the Rambam hospital, security is tested in various ways seven times a day. At the bus station, at least one test happens every shift. At Ben Gurion, they not only test a number of times a day, but they have a running preparedness score that they track via software. And these aren’t pre-packaged drills. They’re honest undercover efforts to breach security. If they succeed, they try to figure out why. If they fail, they are happy. They mostly fail to get contraband in. But when they succeed, it’s not a scandal, it’s a learning opportunity. We need to test our security systems much more often. This is certainly a service that systems integrators could offer on a continuing basis, and it would be a valued one, in my opinion. Not only could you consult with a company beforehand, design a system with their needs in mind, and install something that could multiply their security forces, but you could also service the system after the fact and act as a tester post-installation. That’s RMR and it’s a service that’s not currently be provided by anyone I know of. • Trusting the young: Here, security is largely handled by students, who’ve just graduated from their military service. It’s a part-time job, but they do it well and with honor. Why do all of our students work at Starbucks and Domino’s and not as security guards? Let’s get bright minds and able bodies serving the public good. Let’s get ROTC members working as security guards at the mall and the airport and the hospital. We trust our young people to serve as our soldiers overseas, but we don’t ask enough of them on the home front. Some of these things cost money, it’s true. But many of them are simply a shifting of attention, a change of attitude, and an elimination of cynicism. We can do better, and we have both a model for it and an obligation to it. As members of the security industry, it’s up to you to make it happen. Finally, thanks for reading this week’s posts from Israel. I’ll return to my normal snarky self next week, I’m sure, but please let’s continue some of these conversations when we see each other at the shows and when we talk on the phone. Our next opportunity? TechSec. I’ll see you there.

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