Security industry seeks access to disaster areas

Proper credentialing key for security personnel to access emergency zones to restart critical security/life safety systems
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

IRVING, Texas—In the aftermath of a tornado, hurricane, flood or other disaster, the security and life safety systems of everything from homes to banks to medical facilities need to be quickly restored to aid in the recovery.

But without official procedures in place to ensure they have the proper credentials to enter emergency zones, critical security industry personnel may be unable to gain access to rewire and restart their customers. How to establish such credentialing procedures was the topic of a webinar this week jointly sponsored by the Security Industry Association and the Electronic Security Association.

“I urge [everyone] to begin the process in their own state of having these procedures adopted,” said Keith Elliott, president of the Mississippi Alarm Association (MAA) and one of the speakers at the Jan. 31 webinar, titled “First Responder and Security Industry Access to Disaster Areas.”

Elliott added: “This is not a federal program but done state by state, and each state is different in its requirements.”

Elliott said Mississippi and Louisiana are the only two states that have adopted standard operating procedures that provide security personnel and others access after a natural disaster or other crisis.

But he said he believes efforts will be made this year by the Department of Homeland Security’s Emergency Services Sector Coordinating Council to urge other states to adopt standard procedures modeled on those adopted by Mississippi and Louisiana. The Texas-based ESA is a member of the council, which also includes law enforcement, fire service, medical personnel and other first responders.

Elliott said efforts to adopt credentialing standards already are under way in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Minnesota, and in Houston and Dallas.

The Mississippi Alarm Association is actively involved in an advisory council in that state which will help educate business groups there, including the security industry, on the process of securing credentials to enter an emergency area, Elliott said. Requirements for such credentialing include background checks, he said.

Although Mississippi’s most recent natural disaster was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, “each year in the summer and fall we anticipate a hurricane season that could impact our business and residential customers [who have security or life safety products or are monitored by a central station],” Elliott said.

After a hurricane or other crisis, he said, “we want access to these impacted and affected areas to rewire and restart our customers. … Access to those areas is key to our economic survival, and therefore access to emergency zones controlled by police, sheriff’s deputies and other first responders is an issue.”

Bob McVeigh, chairman of the ESA’s Industry Affairs Committee, who moderated the webinar, asked Elliott what type of places might need the services of security personnel after a disaster.

Elliott said places that needed assistance after Katrina included banks, medical facilities, schools and casinos.

In Mississippi, he said, credentialing to enter disaster areas is done on a color-coded tier system. “The first tier is first responders,” he said. “Our business community is within Tier 3, titled ‘rebuilding and repopulation.’ We would receive vehicle place cards and letters of access.”

Among the speakers was Roger Roehr, principal of Roehr Consulting, who said that anyone entering an emergency zone must be responding to a demonstrated need, have the requisite capabilities to respond, and have the proper credentials.

McVeigh said information discussed in the webinar would be posted on the ESA’s website: www.alarm.org.