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Making the right technology choices.

The room was packed--architects, contractors, consultants, county project managers and me. The topic: selection of security glazing for our new detention facility's central control room. The problem: the chosen product failed our ballistic field test.

Also present at this meeting was the sales representative from the company that produced the security glazing in question. Our discussion went on for hours, focusing on the details of the architect's specifications, the appropriateness of the required laboratory standards and the sales rep's position that we had somehow violated the terms of the field test by not properly spacing our three shots at the glass.

Incredulous, I asked the sales rep a simple question: "Are you willing to stand behind your product?" He looked at me curiously. When it was apparent that he had not caught the full meaning of my request, I said, "You are asking my staff to trust you and place themselves literally behind your product on a daily basis. Will you do the same?"

When he finally understood that I was suggesting that he physically place himself behind his bullet-proof glass--they call it "bullet-resistant"--he once again redirected the conversation to specifications and contract terminology.

I offer this true story to illustrate two points. First, the selection of technology and various products for your facility is a process fraught with danger and one requiring the utmost skill, care and effort. Second, it is high time that we as a profession started holding those who want to do business with us accountable for producing solid products and maintaining responsibility for them in the long run. The best time to start is now.

A Matter of Responsibility

We spend more than $6.9 billion each year constructing and retrofitting our nation's prisons and jails. Those of us responsible for technology selection have a very real responsibility to the taxpayers to make sure we spend their money wisely. We have an even greater responsibility to the men and women who work in our facilities to ensure that they are as safe as possible and can rely on the systems we put into place for safe, secure operations.

Contractors, meanwhile, have a responsibility to us as clients to provide quality products and service. They also have a responsibility to themselves and their industry to present themselves and their products in a professional, reliable and trustworthy manner.

Most correctional facilities will consider using a vast array of technological advances, such as closed-circuit television, personal duress alarms, metal detectors, X-ray machines, intercom systems, motion detectors, paging devices, door operation panels, pneumatic and electro-magnetic locks, card access, video imaging--and, yes, security glazing. The amount of money we spend on these products is staggering. The new Arlington County Detention Facility in Virginia, for example, has allocated more than $1.6 million for such devices, about 4 percent of the overall facility budget. And this was a facility in which every attempt was made to avoid installing expensive and potentially difficult-to-maintain technology.

Some larger systems are constantly building, with one or more facilities always on the drawing board. These agencies usually use central office planning and have construction staff professionals with the experience, expertise and resources needed to ensure wise technology procurement. They base purchasing decisions on tightly drawn specifications and either careful testing or documented internal or external empirical effectiveness. These larger systems often are in the enviable position of being able to say to technology vendors, "If it works well, we will use it in our next facility." The prospect of repeat business is a powerful motivator for good performance.

Many new facilities, however, are built in smaller jurisdictions that will embark on corrections construction projects only once in a generation. Staff in these agencies will build one facility in their careers and will not have the benefit of the expertise of a planning/construction division.

Making the Tough Calls

Typically, correctional staff in small jurisdictions will have one chance to attend a corrections conference and tour the exhibit halls, in which all of the big vendors show off their products. Everything works beautifully in the exhibit halls! After being duly impressed by the exhibitor's pitches, agency staff return home armed with product brochures describing technical specifications and impressively written (but non-binding) performance promises. Very often these staff will receive visits from sales representatives from whom no commitment is too great--unless, of course, you ask for it in writing.

The lucky ones will have the help of an experienced security systems consultant on their design team. These consultants can help corrections professionals separate the hype from the facts. Moreover, the power of these consultants to recommend--or not recommend--a particular device for future projects offers smaller corrections agencies some of the advantages of being a potential repeat customer, just like larger agencies.

The less fortunate will have to make million-dollar decisions affecting their project's integrity and staff safety on little more than pitches, promises and hyperbole. For these colleagues, and for the more fortunate among us as well, I offer the following suggestions for selecting security technology.

K.I.S.S., or Keep It Simple, Stupid. The more complex and sophisticated the technology is, the greater the chance of maintenance problems and difficulties with staff training. When you buy complicated machinery produced by only one vendor, you often will encounter difficulty obtaining replacement parts, especially if the company that manufactured the item is not in the business for the long haul. More bells and whistles does not necessarily mean a better system and, in fact, ultimately may doom the essential security need you wanted addressed in the first place.

Use a consultant. The services of an experienced correctional security systems consultant are a crucial component of your architectural design team. Demand these services in your request-for-proposals for design services to ensure thoughtful coordination between the security system and all other aspects of the architectural/engineering design.

Most architects--even those with corrections experience--know little, if anything, about security systems and related products. The consultant can help you develop an overall approach and philosophy for use of technology, product identification and evaluation, preparation of appropriate legal specifications, budget development, document design, evaluation of bids and review of shop drawings. It's money well spent.

Avoid being a guinea pig. In most cases there is no need for you to be the first to use a new technology. While it certainly is exciting to be on the cutting edge, remember that tax dollars are involved and that you potentially are playing Russian roulette with your staff's lives or, at the very least, their sanity. Most necessary systems already are in place somewhere. If you are absolutely convinced that a brand new technology is essential to the project's success, insist on testing at your current facility, field test it or run it by colleagues from other agencies who may be able to offer more objective assessments.

Establish and stick to your budget. It is easy to get carried away with new gadgets, especially when your focus is on protecting your staff or saving hard-to-come-by personnel dollars. The danger is that you can easily exceed the capital budget by purchasing additional, expensive items the company you are using manufactures. Decide on a reasonable budget--your consultant will be able to help you here, and you should also talk to others who have done similar projects--and don't exceed it.

Be skeptical. Don't believe everything you read in product literature or hear from shrewd sales personnel without doing your homework first. Ask where the product currently is being used and go see it if possible. If you can't go see it, call operational and maintenance personnel at other institutions who use the system on a daily basis.

Demand past performance data. Ask the sales staff to provide data regarding the long-term effectiveness of their equipment; then check their references. How long do cameras last before they will need replacement? What are the failure or error rates of a perimeter security intrusion system? Long-term replacement and maintenance of technology carries a potentially huge price tag, and you need to be aware of such data about useful life.

Demand accountability for installation. Nothing is more frustrating in analyzing a poorly working technology than hearing the vendor say, "There's nothing wrong with my device. The guy who installed it did it improperly and that's not my fault, problem or responsibility." By the way, I'm sure you can guess who the installer will blame.

To avoid this nightmare, consider requiring the manufacturer to deliver and install the product itself. In any case, ensure that installation and warranty responsibilities are fixed at a single point. If you fail to do this, you are likely to face one of two equally undesirable options--either you will have to ask the taxpayers to give you even more money on top of the massive amount they already spent to build the facility, or the technology will stay broken forever and your staff will be forced to work around this monument to non-accountability.

Include line staff. Because line staff are ultimately going to have to use the technology, why not include them in the selection and evaluation process? They will probably contribute healthy doses of skepticism and reality testing just in case you get caught up in exaggerated sales claims. In addition, if the concepts and technology look promising and user friendly, line staff can help sell it to one another in a way that management cannot. You might just find that they know more than you do about some things.

Demand long, unconditional warranties. Most warranties don't cover you for more than a year and include exclusion after exclusion for "owner abuse" and other reasons. Moreover, even if something is covered by warranty, who knows how long you will have to wait to get the repair work done and what you should do in the interim?

A company that believes in its product should be willing to stand behind it for years, guarantee 24-hour service and provide "loaner" replacement units. It should not point to staff or inmate abuse except in truly egregious circumstances. Warranties should either be negotiable or should be extended in the original bid documents that purchased the system--even if you might have to end up paying a little more as a result. Extended maintenance agreements also should be included in the documents, unless you are confident that you will have sufficient in-house personnel with the necessary expertise to service the new technology.

Require training as part of the package. The best technology is of little value if your staff can't figure out how to operate it properly and maintenance personnel can't fix it. When selecting a particular system or device, carefully consider including training requirements in the specifications. Operating and maintenance videos can be particularly useful, especially when you consider that many staff who are there when you open your facility will have moved on to other positions within years or even months. Manuals with layman's terminology should be provided in addition to the more technical specifications. Require the company to provide on-site training--tell them how many sessions for how many staff--and to make follow-up visits after six months and one year.

Selection of security and other technology is one of the most critical aspects of your facility design process. Investing the appropriate time, energy, resources and careful thinking can go a long way to ensuring the project's success.

Remember the example about security glazing that began this story? After months of working with the architects, the glazing contractor and the manufacturer, we developed a custom product that performed beautifully. Our deputies, after witnessing the ballistics and forced entry tests, told me they had full confidence in the product.

Responsibility is a two-way street. While you must do your part, at the same time it is essential that you force technology manufacturers to stand behind their products. After all, aren't you going to ask your staff to do the same?

David M, Bogard, M.P.A., J.D., is corrections director for the Arlington County (Va.) Sheriff's Office. He is overseeing the final stages of construction and transition into the agency's new 509-bed direct supervision facility.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Annual Issue: Architecture, Construction and Design
Author:Bogard, David M.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:1993 winter conference exhibit hall presents the best in corrections.
Next Article:Practical advice on designing probation and parole offices.

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