Anchorage security firms experiencing a surge in business

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The terrorist attacks in New York and the Pentagon this month are generating a surge in business for Anchorage security firms.

While expressing grief for the families of victims and concern for the nation amid a U.S. military buildup, security company owners said they've never been busier since the events of Sept. 11.

''We're swamped,'' said Ned Hahn, president of Guardian Security Systems Inc.

Oil producers, chemical plants, refineries, shipping ports, airports, high-rise buildings and government installations are driving the market, industry insiders say. They're seeking a gamut of services ranging from armed guards, metal detectors and surveillance cameras to background checks, threat assessments and retina scanners.

On Wednesday, the Port of Anchorage rolled out tighter security procedures that require all commercial and private vehicles to pass through a checkpoint and search. Drivers must present identification, and individuals entering the port must have a ''confirmed sponsor,'' port officials said. Bicycle and foot traffic are no longer allowed. Future plans call for a window decal and pass system.

Elsewhere in Alaska, the current climate of suspicion has caused existing clients to beef up protection for their employees and assets while calls from potential customers are streaming in at an unprecedented rate, said Eileen Nielsen, operations manager for Pinkerton Security Services.

''We're all sort of reeling from what happened in New York,'' said Ron Otte, general manager of Purcell Services, a subsidiary of NANA Management Services that provides security around the state. ''Businesses across the board are a lot more sensitive to security today than they were two weeks ago.''

Otte, a former state public safety commissioner and veteran Anchorage police officer, said he's never witnessed a more heightened level of concern for security in Alaska than what exists today. The closest comparable time was during the Persian Gulf War a decade ago, but that was for a defined period. The current climate will last for ''years to come,'' Otte predicted.

''We're not as secure as we thought we were,'' said Mark Huber, vice president for Doyon Universal Services.

With roughly 300 armed security officers, Doyon Universal is the largest industrial security provider in the state, Huber said. It guards the oil pipeline and production facilities on the North Slope. The company has upped all aspects of security for those structures, including physical, aerial, electronic and intelligence methods, Huber said.

With tightened security at airports and other potential terrorist targets, and the prospect of new systems and procedures being mandated at airports nationwide, Anchorage security firms say long-term opportunity abounds. Several companies, including Doyon, Guardian and Purcell, plan to or have added workers.

''We're looking at expanding our work force by between 15 to 30 percent'' by middle to late October, said Huber.

An Anchorage security company that specializes in biometrics expects lots of future growth. Biometrics, a high-tech side of the security industry, uses biology and mathematics to identify people through body characteristics. It's an emerging field that includes devices like retina, facial and hand geometry scanners, said Mike Nolan, vice president of Action Security Electronics.

Action provides such equipment and expects to see more of it applied at airports, federal buildings and other locations that need to control access and electronically audit employee movement, Nolan said.

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