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Keeping Tours on Track

METRO PROTECTIVE AGENCY provides contract security officers to companies throughout Salt Lake City, Utah. A good electronic guard tour system was critical to meeting client needs, but the system that the provider had in place was proving problematic. Aaron C. Theriault, the company’s assistant operations manager, knew that it needed to be replaced.

To use the system, Metro Protective’s 100 or so guards would carry a wand and then touch that wand to metal buttons attached to specific locations throughout the properties. The wand was supposed to record the location of the metal button and the day and time the guard was there. All of this information was uploaded to a database maintained by the guard tour system provider. It could be retrieved by Metro Protective when needed.

However, when the company retrieved client information from the database, it was often incorrect, says Theriault. In one instance, a client had trouble with vandalism at certain spots on the property and asked Theriault for the guard records to be sure that regular patrols were being performed. The report showed that no one had been by the location on certain nights. The guard on duty was called in and reprimanded, but he denied missing any part of his patrol. When Theriault checked the report more closely, he found that the patrol times were 14 hours off, as if the guard had checked the property during the day when he was not on duty.

Time discrepancies were minor, however, compared to what happened next. When Theriault tried to retrieve information for one client, he found that all of his company’s information on all of its clients was gone. Theriault worked with the vendor to try and address these issues, but the problems continued. “We lost huge amounts of data,” says Theriault. “Everything was gone.”

Fortunately, by the time this major mishap occurred, Theriault was already looking at a new system. A former colleague who had begun working for a guard tour system provider had contacted Theriault a few weeks before the data was lost and told him about the GuardTrax system, manufactured by NovaTracker of Cranford, New Jersey. He researched the system and found several features he liked. One was that, instead of being stored on a server out of Theriault’s control, the patrol data could be stored by the guard company and the client. Another was that guards could be tracked in real time via the Internet.

Based on these points, he recommended the system to the CEO, who signed off on the change. As a result, when Theriault went to inform all the company’s clients that their information had been lost, he was also able to tell them that the GuardTrax system was being implemented. “This helped smooth things over,” he says.

With the new system, each guard carries a handheld unit that is a little larger than a cell phone. In addition to containing a GPS locator, the unit has a number pad with four programmable buttons. One of these is a red panic button for use in emergency situations. If pushed, the system will contact whatever number is programmed by Theriault. Currently, the system will call the field services manager, who in turn will call the police if necessary. If the police are not needed, the manager will send out another guard or a supervisor for backup.

The other three buttons—numbered 1, 2, and 3—are used to give more specific information about a site using codes (which can be a single number or a combination) predetermined by Theriault and programmed into the unit. For example, a 1 could mean no problems, while 2 could mean a broken or burned out light. Theriault gives guards a laminated card with a list of the codes and what alerts they relate to. Each unit also comes with a sticker for the back of the device on which the guard company can list the top 10 codes.

When a guard punches in a code, the system notifies the company of the guard’s exact location and matches it up to the code so that the company is notified of both the state of the location and the exact address.

The GPS locator within the unit makes it possible to track the guards in real time. Theriault and the client can see where the guards are at any time from a password-protected Web site that is maintained by GuardTrax. The Web site provides a satellite image of the property with information about the guard’s movements throughout the patrol. As noted earlier, patrol data can be stored locally by Metro Protective and its clients.  Setting up the system was easy, says Theriault. Initially, he had to work with GuardTrax technical support to program in a name for each of the 36 units. Theriault chose to assign names to the units by referencing the location where they would be used, rather than tying each unit to a specific security officer, because a site is not always patrolled by the same officer. The data collected can, however, be retrieved by guard or site, among other factors. Theriault can change the names via the Web site as needed.

Theriault is currently working on a pilot program to use the units for time and attendance purposes. Guards are assigned a five-digit PIN number. When they come on or go off duty, they punch the PIN number into the unit, using the number pad as they check out the unit.

Using the same wireless capability that enables the unit to send the GPS signal, the system sends the PIN number, sign-in time, and location information to a Metro Protective e-mail account accessible only by payroll personnel. “Before, we depended on guards to call in on a cell phone to a company representative when they arrived at work,” says Theriault. “Now we know if someone is logging in to work from their sofa.”

According to Theriault, the time-and-attendance pilot is working well and will be made permanent. The guard tracking aspect of the system, which has been fully operational for almost a year, is also meeting expectations.

The system has been used to determine whether guards are actually making the required patrols. In one case, a guard was going home instead of working her assigned patrols. She would then leave her home and return her GuardTrax unit to the company’s main office. Because the system could track the guard’s movements, Theriault was able to stop the behavior before it affected any clients. The device also gave Metro Protective the evidence to prove that the employee committed fraud by collecting thousands of dollars in compensation that the company should not have paid her.

The system also allows for easy verification of compliance with client requests, such as adjustment of patrols to meet client needs. For example, at one property, the guard was patrolling the outside of a building but rarely going inside. After noting this pattern, the client called and asked that the guard patrol inside more often. Theriault told the guard about the change, and the client could see the guard on the new patrol route the next day.

(For more information: Michael C. Petty, vice president of sales, GuardTrax Division, 908/458-4127; e mail:[email protected])