A Sense of Security
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 shined new light on security issues relevant to many facilities. Shortly after the events, everyone became a potential terrorist: Visitors were searched in schools, stadiums, even movie theaters. Buildings erected concrete barriers and metal detectors. Just visiting someone in the hospital became more difficult. Even contract employees were thought to have the perfect access if they intended to disrupt activities and cause harm.
And building service contractors are encountering more security checkpoints, key control and ID checks than before in many facilities.
“We already had metal detectors in use at our school,” explains Mary Jean Fahey, coordinator of buildings and grounds for the Southwest Cook County Cooperative Association for Special Education, a co-op providing teachers and resources to 12 school districts in Chicago’s south suburbs.
“In August, we added proximity [security-card] readers to all school entrances and one door in our administration building. Since Sept. 11, we added one more to the main entrance to the administration building for after-hours security,” Fahey adds.
Contractors can’t enter without a valid security pass, and they must ring a doorbell and state their business before they will be allowed in.
“Since Sept. 11, we’ve had a higher level of security in the main plant, including more checkpoints in the main corridors,” says Frank Rocha, custodial operations manager for Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, Calif., plant. Cleaning employees need to show identification more often than they used to, but otherwise, the BSC is largely unaffected by the new security measures.
So far, these new precautions aren’t as a direct result of any terrorism-related concern regarding cleaning employees, but rather as general measures aimed at all building visitors, to make occupants feel safer.
In fact, Terry Lawver, facility supervisor for the City of Fairfax, Va., doesn’t see BSCs as a significant security risk. Its contractor has serviced the city of Fairfax for several years, and Lawver hasn’t had any problems thus far, and doesn’t anticipate them in the future.
“We’re not looking for trouble when it’s not there,” he says. “Not much has changed since Sept. 11. We really haven’t felt the need to work up into paranoia with new security checks.
But, with the country on a heightened state of alert, some contractors may be concerned that customers might start requesting more detailed immigration or criminal-history verification, or even requiring all contract workers to be U.S. citizens.
But, overall, facility professionals say little has changed.
“We cannot control the hiring practices of every vendor who comes on campus and we realize and accept that,” says Bruce Vaughan, director of business operations for Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Va.
Contract workers need to be legal, but they don’t need to be citizens, or even have clean criminal histories in many cases. And most customers say they won’t start looking over your shoulder at your I-9 forms.
“It’s the responsibility of the BSC, not the customer, to make sure their workers are legal,” says Jerry Staples, director of facility management for North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University in Greensboro.
The exception always has been U.S. government sites, and related government contractors, such as defense manufacturers.
Even before Sept. 11, Lockheed screened all potential cleaning employees for citizenship. Some areas of the facility are restricted and require a security clearance, explains Rocha. Only U.S. citizens may enter unescorted, so any non-citizen working for the BSC can only be assigned to less secure areas.
Lockheed will continue to check for citizenship, but will not change its contractor’s requirements in the near future.
Still, facility professionals agree it’s a good idea to make sure your employees are legal and have acceptable criminal records, even if your customers don’t require it.
“Randomly sample your work force and verify that no security problems exist,” Staples says. “For new employees, you should run full security checks.”
ID-ing the problem
Overall, customers agree that BSCs won’t likely see major new security measures. However, many can expect to see subtle changes, especially with regards to identification and access.
For instance, Richmond, Va., power company Dominion has reviewed its security procedures.
“In my building, employee IDs are asked for more frequently,” says Jim Mallon, supervisor of facilities, project and contract services. Also, non-regular building visitors must be escorted, and until recently, there was a guard present at the vehicle entrance.
In addition to identification, key control is becoming a little tighter in some facilities. For instance, very few people get keys to City of Fairfax properties, Lawver says. The keys themselves only can be duplicated by the original locksmith; the specialty keys cannot be found at a hardware store.
While BSCs aren’t generally considered to be high-risk potential terrorists, that doesn’t mean contractors are off the hook entirely. Everyday concerns, from theft to poor quality, worry customers much more than the possibility of terrorist threats on their buildings.
“We do not view[cleaners] as a security risk as for the terrorism aspect,” says Bob Seals, director of physical plant and property for the Germantown [Tenn.] Baptist Church. “However, like any other vendor or even an employee, the theft risk is there.”
Poor work practices, too, are more likely than terrorism to concern customers. For instance, last year Fahey hired a contractor for evening work. The janitor did a decent job cleaning, but occasionally brought a relative with him to work.
“I feel you don’t have control over an outside vendor, or the same level of trust that you would have with your own employee,” Fahey adds.
The Cooperative has since signed with a well established, national contractor and requires bonding for all employees.
Facility professionals suggest BSCs stay in close contact with their customers regarding potential security measures.
“Ask your customers if they want background checks, and volunteer to do them before it comes up,” Lawver suggests. “Make yourself available.”
“Provide an upfront statement of security,” adds Staples. “Say, ‘These are our standards.’”
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