Checks and Balances

Feb. 27, 2003
Exploring Trends in Background Screening and Access Control
“The [security] industry has evolved from one dependent on manpower to one dependent on technology,” says Bill McGinty, project development engineer, Johnson Controls, Simi Valley, CA. In addition to traditional locks and guards, there is background checking, closed-circuit television, smart cards, biometric readers, and more. Along with the increase in sophisticated security systems, there has also been increased awareness on the part of building owners, facilities managers, security directors, security consultants, and human resources managers – and a greater willingness to communicate and share information.The latest technology allows for an integration of systems, as well as better communication among the building team. The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and a heightened awareness of workplace violence and crime has made the facilities management industry hypersensitive to the issues of security. “I had a 30-year career in law enforcement. Background checks and employee suitability were something that may have been talked about in human resources departments, but no one else really thought about it,” says Max Krupo, director, public safety services, US Investigations Services Inc., North Bethesda, MD.“There is so much more to access control now, from photo cards to retina scans, and along with that comes preliminary checks,” adds Krupo. US Investigations Services (USIS), headquartered in Annandale, PA, was originally a government agency providing security checks for fellow agencies. The company, privatized in 1996, presently meets the investigative needs of private corporations and government clients. “More building owners are concerned about who is going into their buildings and the level that their tenants are making sure dangerous people are not coming into their facilities,” says Krupo.Screening StatisticsIn a recent poll by Alexandria, VA-based Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM), 15 percent of responding companies described their background checks as becoming more comprehensive. According to SHRM studies, one of the side benefits of employee background screening is lowered turnover rates.Background screening is slowly on the rise, according to Krupo, with more building owners and their tenants cooperating to create safer facilities. Increasingly, building owners are recommending security firms to tenants or setting minimum security-related requirements for their tenants. A stronger interest in background screening is especially prevalent in private companies associated with government agencies.Beyond such associations, employee background checking has historically been sporadic. Currently, employee background screening is becoming a more integrated collaboration among security, human resources, and facilities management departments. Depending on the position and the industry, employee background checking during the hiring process can cover criminal and credit history, drug tests, academic qualifications and credentials, drivers’ licenses and records, prior employment history, identification verification, and various licenses and certifications information. Some industries, such as air travel, require automatic periodic re-screening or additional clearance with employee promotions. Because of recent events, there has been an increase in automatic checking in certain industries.Web Surfing for SecurityThe Internet has been both a bane and a boon to the security industry. Security professionals caution people from believing every low-cost offer hawked by anonymous vendors. Instead, know exactly where the investigative information was obtained, such as a specific court, and how it was obtained (in person vs. automated).The Internet serves as an excellent delivery method, allowing security companies to send information to clients quicker than ever before. Building owners can also surf the web to research potential security vendors. Krupo encourages facilities professionals to seek a background investigation firm they feel truly comfortable with by relying on recommendations from other companies, the firm’s reputation, and the firm’s range of services. “In the background investigation business, the devil is in the details,” notes Krupo.Background screening demands respect for individual privacy. “Most people do not realize that all of their privacy rights are completely protected by law. It is just that it is not being enforced,” says John Allan, president, Integrity Center, Dallas. All employee screenings must be done with full disclosure statements and proper authorizations. Allan urges the Federal Trade Commission to better promote the recently amended Fair Credit Reporting Act that covers background checks.“The most important thing is to check and see if you are going to follow federal and state laws,” says Allan. In addition to providing investigations for commercial facilities, the Integrity Center offers an online newsletter, a glossary of security terms, and security-related information to building owners via its website ( Allan cautions building owners not to rely on outdated, stored data during background screening and to take a proactive vs. a reactive approach to security.“The transportation security administration has imposed stricter enforcement of background screening and is looking at installing current technology,” says McGinty. Johnson Controls, based in Milwaukee, has been working with the airport industry as it upgrades its access technology. Adds McGinty, “Right now we are having airports looking at the newest technology, such as smart cards, biometrics, and high-speed integration between the access control security systems and the CCTV systems.”Personalizing Data“Before you hire somebody, you want to make sure they are worthy of being in the location; then you are really controlling the parameter of the building,” says Andy Lowen, director of product marketing, Software House, Tyco, Lexington, MA. According to Lowen, pairing employee background screening with access control, such as controlling which zones employees are allowed to access, can help create secure facilities. Software House works with digital databases and access control and is part of Tyco’s fire and security division.From healthcare to industrial buildings, Software House works in several different applications. “In today’s times, each of those vertical markets is becoming a little more specialized,” says Lowen. In hospitals, access control can be linked to an individual’s personal data. Conversely, global corporations are looking to integrate security systems in disparate campuses to allow executives easy yet secure access in locations around the world.With the evolution of the security industry, there has also been a sea of change among security professionals. In addition to having the traditional background in law enforcement or guard services, many of today’s security directors have computer science and financial credentials. “[A security director] is a financial administrator, he is a personnel administrator, he has to contribute so much more to the organization than in the past,” says McGinty. More often security concerns, such as loss prevention and workplace violence, and their effect on the bottom line are discussed in boardrooms.“Jumping on the latest technology bandwagon can be a little scary. Technology does not necessarily solve all the problems that you see,” says McGinty. He encourages due diligence when it comes to evaluating new technology in a particular application.In addition to an increase in background checking across the breadth of the real estate industry, interest in biometrics in access control for different building types – such as universities, recreation facilities, and daycare centers – is also on the rise. “Background checking is the first step – knowing you have the right person; while access control is about allowing that individual into specific places,” says Bill Spence, director of marketing, IR Recognition Systems, a division of Ingersoll Rand, Campbell, CA. Where once biometrics were used exclusively in high-end security applications, such as airports and nuclear power plants, biometrics are becoming a part of the commercial buildings landscape, according to Spence. He adds: “The general trend in the industry is that if you were on the fence regarding potentially bringing in a biometric device, now [it is done]. There is a lot of awareness that did not exist before and there is an increase in interest in security and convenience.” As the biometrics industry has developed lower-cost solutions, the systems are being used more on their own or in conjunction with card readers.Lowen states that today’s facility manager, security director, and security consultant are embracing new technology, especially LAN and Internet-based technologies. Even during these economically difficult times, facilities management teams are open to learning more about security. Security is a state of mind: If you feel secure, whatever you have is good enough. But when that is threatened, you begin to see opportunities for your security to be breached and you begin to explore different options. Many security vendors are offering training materials and programs, as well as educational seminars, at security conventions to help bring the building community up-to-date. Adds Allan, “In a nutshell, be sure of who you are hiring and be sure the process is legal.” By integrating systems and departments, facilities managers have the opportunity to truly protect their employees, tenants, buildings, and business.Regina Raiford Babcock ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

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