Security firms among few enjoying business boom amid economic downturn
By Jaime Levy
With businesses throughout South Florida struggling in an economy brutalized by Sept. 11's attacks, security firms are one of a few seeing an influx of customers.
Terrorism in New York City and at the Pentagon spawned a new interest in security, with company representatives saying they are concerned about ensuring employee safety in the face of more potential assaults.
"Everyone is so aware of security," said Nick Navarro, owner of Navarro Security Group and a former Broward County sheriff. "It's incredible. This last week has been very busy.
"I spend all my life fighting crime, fighting this kind of endeavor, and all of a sudden, crime is paying me."
Several area security firms are reporting similar spikes in activity from companies interested in reassessing security plans to synagogues looking for increased protection. Lee Larkin, local area director for Chicago-based Pinkerton/Burns International, said his general advice to clients is the same.
"The best advice we can give right now," he said, "is to have a plan. You need a plan of action prior to an event occurring to mitigate these events.
"Be in control," said Mr. Larkin, who said he is a certified protection professional. "Once you lose control, it's chaos theory."
Chuck Fisher, chairman of a private security services council for the American Society of Industrial Security, said control is essential to ensuring a secure environment. From background checks on employees to cameras securing a facility's perimeter, maintaining control is fundamental to businesses intent on keeping harm outside their offices.
"Basically, the thing I'm telling people is to start off putting some teeth back into programs, making sure you're enforcing on a more stringent basis your security measures," said Mr. Fisher, who also owns New Jersey-based security consulting firm SecPro Services. "People want us to tell them what measures they should take. More often than not, recommendations are going to be followed more than in the past."
Mr. Fisher said he has been flooded with calls from clients interested in implementing recommendations that his company made in the past.
The past few weeks' upswing in interest has played out beyond the increased inquiries from customers. The stock market, too, has shown security firms as one of the few types of businesses to see regular growth trading resumed after the attacks.
Palm Beach Gardens-based Wackenhut Corp., the US's largest security firm, opened Sept. 17 the day the New York Stock Exchange reopened at a 52-week high of $24. Although its stock value dropped slightly after that, Wackenhut opened Monday at $23.80.
Wackenhut spokesman Patrick Cannan said the company has established a communications and control center to handle the surge in demand from both existing customers and prospects.
"Based on our experience with the Gulf War, we expect this increased demand to continue," Mr. Cannan said. "But the exact duration is a question mark. We expect that some of the additional work will be temporary, while other increases will remain in place indefinitely."
With its growing customer base, Wackenhut - with a Miami office on Blue Lagoon Drive - has openings for 5,000 security employees nationally, 300 in Florida.
"I think it changes the security industry a great deal," Mr. Cannan said. "There are already more security officers in the US than there are law enforcement officers. They are a necessary supplement to law enforcement and work closely in support of public safety.
"Those security officers who are now working double shifts and many extra hours are doing so willingly, with a sense that they are contributing to the efforts to thwart terrorism," he said. "I trust that their uniformed presence will reassure many people that someone is looking out for their common safety."