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TechSec starts today

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Monday, February 25, 2008
Today begins the fourth annual TechSec Solutions, the great conference with the bad name. I can make fun of it because I, along with Rhianna Daniels over at Security Director News, program it, evaluating more than a hundred presentations to select the 10 (or so) best educational offerings for our attendees - end users, IT professionals, integrators and the like. This year it's again at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, where it will be again next year. It's mostly because of the Dallas airport's many direct connections that we stay here, but in truth there are a number of great security companies in the area, both integrators and manufacturers. Plus, I get to make a side-trip to Austin every year beforehand, which keeps me happy. Ever heard the South Austin Jug Band? Damn, they're hot. Anyway, starting tomorrow, you'll get a couple days of from-the-show updates, which should include video, assuming all the systems we have in place work right. Let me know if there's anything in particular you want me to summarize, via the comments link right down below this post (see it? You can click on it, you know. It won't hurt). Tonight it's just a meet-and-greet boozefest, but I'm sure I'll have lots to report.

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.

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