A Tour of Guard Patrol Systems.
COMPANIES NEED RELIABLE GUARD tour systems to help them maintain track officer performance and accurate records. These records will be especially important should the company become enmeshed in a lawsuit that questions security's professionalism. While computerized guard tour systems have been around since the late 1970s, they have been troubled by problems, such as a lack of dependability under daily use. The newer generation of products appears to be doing a better job of performing under real-world conditions.
Manufacturers are using various hardware and software components in these new systems (and they can, to some degree, be mixed and matched), but the underlying technical premise is very much the same for all of the guard tour packages: a security officer touches one device (a wand, for example) to another device (such as a bar code or touch button), and a record is generated of the security officer's presence at each point along the officer's route.
The data is stored in the hand-held device and later downloaded into a computer (or, in at least one case, directly to a printer). The accompanying software program typically sorts information, such as the number of times the officer was tardy making rounds, and generates reports, such as an analysis of guard performance over time. Many of these systems also allow officers to record actions taken during patrols. For example, the officer may note that a light bulb was out or that a fire extinguisher needed to be recharged.
What should prospective buyers consider when evaluating guard tour systems? Though the basic principle underlying these products may be the same, the choices are not always clear cut. The following case studies offer some firsthand accounts of how users have put together systems to meet their specific security needs.
On campus. Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, has more than 33,000 students its 638-acre campus during the school year. In addition to protecting these persons and the staff, security officers also help to ensure the safety of assets, such as a priceless collection of wildlife trophies from around the world, housed in the university's three-story museum.
The first goal of the university's security program is to avoid incidents. But because that is not always possible, a secondary objective is to ensure that security can document whether officers were at fault. A major concern at the university has always been that someone would allege that an officer was not where he or she should have been, says Lieutenant Arnold Lemmon, who supervises security operations at Brigham Young. For that reason, the university has used an electronic guard tour system for several years.
Lemmon's team currently uses the Guard1 system, manufactured by TimeKeeping Systems, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio, to monitor building and security operations, including academic areas, student housing, a motion picture studio in a remote campus area, a missionary training center, and a satellite campus facility in Salt Lake City.
The basic system (which can be expanded) consists of the following: a hand-held device, called the Pipe Touch Button Reader (the Pipe); another piece of hardware, called the direct downloader, which is attached to a PC to transfer information from the Pipe (a mobile or modem downloader for remote operations is optional); 100 metal touch buttons; a wallet for incident buttons; a nylon belt holster; and the Guard1 software. The software supports Windows 3.1, 95, and 98 and is Y2K compliant.
As a package, the system sells for $3,090 and includes six months of technical support. The battery-operated Pipe comes with a three-year warranty; the battery itself comes with a one-year warranty, although the manufacturer says the average life is more than two years.
To set up the system, the user installs the software on a PC, then uses the software to set up functions for the buttons, each of which bears a unique ID number. The operator ties that unique number to either a guard, a location, or an incident. For example, one button is identified with each patrol officer. When security officers start a shift, they swipe the reader over their personal button to signify that they are on duty.
The ID numbers of other buttons are tied to specific doors or locations, where those buttons are affixed. Another set of buttons can signify specific incidents, such as "door open" or "coffee pot on." These incident buttons may be affixed to a location or carried by officers in the special wallet that comes with the system. If officers come to an open door, for example, they pull out the incident button and swipe the reader first across the stationary button signifying the location, then across the incident button. When the reader makes contact with a button, it emits a chirping sound, and a light flashes to show that data has been recorded successfully. If an officer makes a mistake by swiping the wrong incident button, for example, it must be corrected by the supervisor via the software on the PC. To ensure data integrity, the officer cannot change data in the wand.
Data collected by the reader can be fed directly into a desktop PC that has the direct downloader installed. The reader can also be hooked to a modem downloader that sends the information over the Internet to remote sites or into a mobile downloader, which can be used at a remote site for transfer later to a PC. The Pipe can hold as many as 4,800 records (readings) before it must be downloaded; batteries are good for 200,000 to 6oo,ooo reads.
The university converted to the Pipe in the mid-1990s, because Lemmon considered the new touch-button technology an improvement over the Durawand, a bar code reader made by Videx (but also sold at that time by TimeKeeping Systems). The bar code readers, he says, were sensitive and stopped working if dropped on the stylus head. Further, says Lemmon, the bar codes placed around campus were more obtrusive and not as weather-resistant as the touch buttons.
The conversion, he says, was easy to accomplish. Officers made the adjustment with little training.
Data sorting. The Guard1 software enables supervisors to organize and sort the data in several ways. There are seven basic reports, the main one being the officer location and incident report. End users can also create their own reports. For example, Lemmon can see whether a station has been consistently attended to by guards or whether a specific guard has been efficient over time.
The new system gives Lemmon the ability to prove that patrols have been carried out. "It gives us credibility with the community," he says. And, he adds, it also lets security officers know that what they are doing is important to the university--important enough to document.
In the news. The Staten Island Advance is a daily newspaper in Grasmere, Staten Island, New York. The news never stops, and that means night work for some staff at the paper. To help employees working on the graveyard shift feel safer, the paper contracts with A to Z Security, a local Staten Island security firm. Between 5.00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., one of two contract guards remains stationary at the four-story building's front door while the second officer circulates around the premises, including the building itself and the company's four parking lots.
To ensure that routes are covered as intended, officers are required to use the SilverGuard Patrol System from Brooklyn Computer International, Ontario, Canada. The system includes a stainless steel wand powered by a lithium battery and touch buttons (SilverTag buttons), along with a transfer unit. When the wand, which guards carry on patrols, is held up to the touch button, the wand beeps, and the security officer's visit is recorded.
There are several SilverGuard systems. Although they are sold by component, a total package will average between $1,800 and $1,900. No warranty is included, but users can purchase a yearly wand repair service contract for $150. Phone support for the software is free.
The simplest SilverGuard system, for small companies with limited guard tour stations, is the "Touch 'n' Tour." With this system, the company does not need software or a PC. The vendor programs the buttons (which cost $8 each) to signify whatever the end user specifies in terms of locations or incidents, for example. The user also needs a wand ($695) and at least one printer transfer station (also $695). With this system, the data collected by the wand is downloaded directly to the printer. Information is not stored in a database.
Larger companies, however, may prefer a more sophisticated system. SilverGuard offers another package that includes not only the wand but also software that is placed on a PC, so that users can store data and create reports. Two versions of this package are available: one uses a software package called SRS ($295) that will generate only four reports; the other uses a software program called GRS ($495), which allows for unlimited customized reports. (The company says that both are Y2K compliant and work with Windows 95, 98, and NT.) These systems require that the user also purchase a computer transfer station so the data can be downloaded into the PC ($695 each). Modem transfer stations are also available for the same price if remote data transfer is desired.
Both software-based systems differ from the Touch 'n' Tour in the buttons they use. Rather than the more costly $8 buttons that are programmed by the vendor, the software-based systems come with buttons costing $4.50 each (called SilverTag buttons) that, like the buttons in the Guard1 system, are not programmable per se. They come with a unique ID number, and the user ties that serial number to given locations or functions through the software.
As an add-on to the GRS software-based system, users can also purchase an incident "notepad" ($195). The notepad has ten buttons, each of which stands for a code, such as "window broken," and security officers can key in the appropriate code as they make their rounds. The newspaper, however, does not use this component.
Records generated by the guard tour system go to the newspaper's circulation manager, Richard Salerno, who handles security matters for the Advance. Salerno says that he likes the accountability and control the system provides. If one of the contract officers misses a tour, Salerno will see "missed" on the report; if the officer arrives at a post later than usual, he will see the term "extra."
In this fashion, Salerno can prove, if necessary, that a guard was not present when or where he was supposed to be. Salerno discusses the reports with the contract guard service provider only if there is a problem.
Before the company switched to SilverGuard, officers patrolling the Staten Island Advance used a Detex product sold by Brooklyn Computer International. It consisted of a device with a plastic head that could easily be damaged. A major reason for the switch, says Salerno, was patrol guard abuse of the Detex devices. Deliberate destruction of the plastic heads by guards had rendered these devices useless, he says.
In implementing the new SilverGuard System, Salerno suspected the same type of abuse was taking place. Each morning, when the stainless steel wands were returned to his desk, Salerno says, he saw clear evidence that the wands had been damaged. He had Brooklyn Computer International put new ends on them. Salerno then told A to Z that the company would be responsible for replacing the wands. The damage ceased.
At the plant. For its food processing plant in Heyburn, Idaho, the food division of The J.R. Simplot Company wanted a way to combine fire safety checks with security rounds. The previous Detex system, says Doni Mallory, security site supervisor for GemStar International (the Caldwell, Idaho-based firm contracted to J.R. Simplot), had become outdated.
The hardware selected was the Micro Wand by Dataflo Consulting of Omaha, Nebraska. One of the unique elements of Micro Wand is its keypad. There is a little display window on the wand, says Mallory, that resembles a calculator. This feature allows security officers to type in specific information, such as "door open."
Micro Wand is Dataflo's high-end guard tour device, ranging in price from $995 to $1,095. The company also sells two other systems: the Durawand (which uses bar code scanning to record incidents, and sells for $495) and the Dura Tracks (similar to the Durawand, with the additional feature of allowing for memory-button technology instead of bar codes; this unit sells for $625).
The Dura Tracks and Durawands are powered by AA batteries (in contrast to the Micro Wand, which runs on a 9-volt battery). Dataflo's Watchdog 2K software, which operates as well with other wands, such as Time-Keeping System's Pipe, sells for $1,695. Metal touch buttons cost $125 per 100; the black-on-white polyester bar code scans cost $85 per 100.
The hand-held Micro Wands, which range in size from four to seven inches (resembling a cellular phone, says Mallory), can read both bar codes and touch buttons. At this particular plant, bar code stickers are used for security checkpoints.
The keypad feature is used to survey the plant's 500 fire extinguishers on a monthly basis, which takes as long as one week. If an extinguisher needs to be charged or needs other action, the officer can type into the wand the appropriate note, such as "needs new hanging bracket."
Training officers to use the wands, says Mallory, was easy. It was simply a matter of learning the scanning techniques (unless held at the correct angle, the wand will not scan) and becoming accustomed to the wands.
Data sorting. As for the software, Mallory now uses the DOS version of the Watchdog software, but the company will soon convert to the Windows 98 Watchdog 2K software, in part because the DOS software is not Y2K compliant. Mallory downloads data from the wands weekly by plugging them into a PC, and she uses the software to generate various management reports.
The reports show whether guards have made their rounds, what they did, and when they did it. The documentation, which makes guards accountable for how they spend their time, has improved performance, she says. She adds that the software also makes it easy to provide information to J.R. Simplot Company management and other clients using her employer's guard services.
While Mallory has been satisfied overall with the system, which is two years old and on the verge of being replaced, she has had a few difficulties. Sometimes, for example, a Micro Wand goes down; that is, it must be reprogrammed. In addition, battery recharging and replacement can be a hassle. For example, the special 9-volt, nickel-plated battery should last several days before it needs a charge, but it has been going down in a day's time, says Mallory.
Wands also fail mechanically and have to be sent in to the vendor. Customer service has been good overall, but the cost of servicing the wands can add up, she says. Simply sending the wands to be checked by the vendor costs $95, which the company has had to do more than once for each of its two wands.
To address these problems, the Heyburn plant is in the process of selecting new, more durable guard tour wands to go with the new Watchdog software.
Each end-user's circumstances are unique, of course. Prospective buyers must develop a checklist based on their particular security needs and then consider how each product measures up to those needs (see box).
Guard tour systems are not a panacea by any measure. The systems can help companies ensure that security officers are where they should be, but whether officers perform competently is still a matter of personnel training and supervision. The same data that serves as incontrovertible evidence showing that an officer patrolled an area might also be used in a lawsuit to show that the guard, though present, was negligent in his or her duties, explains Steven R. Keller, CPP, a security consultant in Ormond Beach, Florida.
In the end, says Keller, guard tour systems, though useful, are only one small piece of an organization's overall security program, which also must include CCTV and alarms. "No one tool is everything," says Keller. "Everything...works together."
Louise Amheim is a freelance writer.
* How durable is the hand-held device? Is it shock resistant? Tamperproof? Waterproof? Resistant to temperature extremes? How do these devices hold up against deliberate or unintended guard abuse?
* Does the device require a special battery? Does the battery have to be recharged and, if so, how frequently?
* How much data or how many "hits" can the device hold?
* How often does the device require downloading?
* What is the warranty on the hand-held device and on the batteries it runs on?
* Will wands, devices be downloaded from several sites and sent via Internet to a central monitoring station, or will devices be collected and downloaded at a desktop?
* What is the rate at which information can be downloaded?
Buttons and bar codes
* Are they purchased, or created separately from the scanning device?
* Where will buttons be placed? How visible will they be? Can someone rip them out easily?
* Can the buttons, or the adhesive used to fasten them, become corroded or dried out?
* How easy is it to program new buttons or reprogram existing buttons?
* Is the software Y2K compliant?
* Is the data exportable to other programs, such as billing or administration?