MAC sows access control at Gardner

Delicate job at art museum where security is part of history
Saturday, July 1, 2006

BOSTON--As Boston made national news in early June for its record rainfall, Canton, Mass.-based MAC Systems was just finishing up the installation of a Casi Secure Perfect access control system that was also outside of the norm. The location, the prestigious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, has some requirements you won't find elsewhere.
"It's a palace," said security director Anthony Armore, "and can't be changed in any way." Well, sure, you're thinking, every customer thinks his facility should be treated like a palace. In this case, however, it's the dictate of Isabella Gardner's will, which left the museum, her home, to the public, that nothing be changed in any way. Thus, for example, there are still empty picture frames hanging on the wall, the result of a famous, still-unsolved $300 million art heist in 1990.
"So what that means to security," said MAC's Don Beers, "is that it has to be unbelievable unobtrusive, you can't have things that look like cameras. There are accommodations they have to make, but virtually anything that goes in has to be approved by the conservators of the museum. No place in the world has that unique criteria. Nothing can be changed."
It was MAC's clear understanding of that tenet that got them the job, said Armore. "Other companies came through and they were here for 45 minutes," he said, "and then MAC came in and spent a couple hours." He also said their local connection was important. They were the only company to bring the museum's security director to their facility, and MAC showed Armore how they track their vehicles and personnel to be able to respond quickly if there's any trouble. Further, Armore praised their training program for the guards managing the new system.
"Rather than throw 10 people at it for two weeks," said Beers of the installation, "it was more like two people for 10 weeks."
Armore, who came to the Gardner last September from Logan Airport, where he helped institute security upgrades following the 9/11 hijackers departing from Boston, knows what it's like to rehabilitate a security image. Articles about the 1990 theft, said Armore, "always refer to the 'lax security.' If you came here now you'd see that we have very good security, in 2006. I want at least for industry people to understand that."