Preventing terrorism part of Star Protection president's job
Interviewed by David Butts
Advertiser Staff Writer
Company: Star Protection Agency
High School: Kennewick High School in Kennewick, Wash.
College: Eastern Washington University
Family: Married with four children (one from a previous marriage).
Breakthrough job: Hired on a contract basis to clean a restaurant; that was the start of his building management company.
Q. How has the security business changed since 9/11?
A. The industry and our business has taken on a much higher level of both credibility and responsibility. Everybody has the old image in their mind of the guard asleep in the chair at the front door. That just isn't the case anymore. Our customers are asking us for a more highly trained staff. We are crime prevention. For every policeman, there are three private security preventing the crime. The police, their job is to investigate a crime that already happened. Our job is to prevent the crime.
Q. What about terrorism?
A. We train our people to be on the look for suspicious individuals. We do threat assessments for our properties. A lot of our properties came to us for that especially since 9/11. Terrorism is a very low probability, high-impact event. The first thing we are looking for is the prevention. How can you harden the front of your building without it looking like a prison.
Q. How many employees have you hired since 9/11?
A. We've hired substantially more. We've probably added a hundred employees since then. We have about 400 employees now. We are promoting extensively.
Q. You say customers are asking for more trained staff. Have salaries gone up?
A. We start our guards, depending on the site, from $7 to $12 an hour. The account requirement is the thing. We do some industrial accounts where we are out there in the middle of the night on the side of a mountain. In that application we can hire a guy that maybe doesn't speak (English) very well, but that is on the ball. But you certainly couldn't put that same guy in like a Nauru Tower or a First Hawaiian Bank. It just wouldn't fly. A lot of our business is security/concierge.
We are making an serious effort to raise the professionalism of our managers and guards. If they keep up on training, if they reach higher levels of training, we can afford to give them more money and our customers are willing to pay for that higher level.
Q. How many clients have you added since 9/11?
A. Probably 25. We have definitely seen a big jump.
Q. Does it bother you that you are profiting from the increase in terrorism?
A. Oh, yeah. Ideally you wouldn't have to (hire more security). I think that the security industry in general needed a wake-up call. Private security has become such a main part of our defenses against vandals, property protection, liability. If something happens on your property you want to know that you are doing everything you can to prevent it. This (liability) is really why we get hired. Say you guys didn't have anything going on and some woman gets raped in your parking garage. She is going to sue you and say they are doing nothing to protect us. There is no security here. I'm not saying we can prevent it. But we can be a deterrent. The acid test is minimum verifiable security.
Q. Are companies hiring more security?
A. It has increased substantially. We used to just provide guard service at our offices from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Today we have guards in our shopping centers 24/7.
Q. Where is it going?
A.The projection is it is just going to continue. The police don't have the time or the resources to do the prevention.
Unless we have a major moral revolution in this country where everybody decides to start doing the right thing, it's probably not going to get a whole lot better. The estimates are that private security industry is going to double in the next 10 years. It's clearly a growth industry. We (Star Protection Agency) are looking for 20 (percent growth per year).
Q. How do the national security levels affect your business?
A. When the security level went up recently, we guarded more high-impact type facilities i.e., petroleum plants. We do a lot of augmentation to places that have their own security staff. They may say: "The level has just risen. We need you to come out here and station some guards and cars right out in front."
Here a couple years ago they drove into a supermarket and wrapped a chain around the ATM and (dragged) it out the door. What if that truck had been loaded up with fertilizer and diesel? That's the kind of thing that we're on the look out for.
Q. Where is your growth coming from?
A. Our three biggest growth areas are residential condominiums, office buildings and shopping centers. They are opting up for a higher level of trained security officer and a more responsive management.
Taking on... Using technology to improve service and performance
Technology has changed most industries, and private security is no exception. "For years security reporting has been done through paper," Tilley said. But that is changing. Tilley's guards make their rounds carrying a "pipe," or electronic recording device. Each shop, office or apartment on a guard's route has an electronic button with a computer chip in it. The guards press the pipe to the button as they make their rounds. The pipe records what time they hit each button. The information is downloaded onto a company Web site. Instead of having to call the security company and get someone to dig out a paper log and fax it, clients now just go to an encrypted Web site to see exactly where the guards at their facility were at what time. "That is one of the things our customers really like," Tilley said.
And it helps Tilley keep track of his employees. "If there are no hits from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., we are out there the next night, saying, 'This is not going to cut it. Where were you?' This is how you guarantee the guy is not sleeping at the front door."