Security In The Glades

Long road to the top finally pays off

Rob Hile’s security career started somewhat quietly, in sales and business development with a leading manufacturer of HVAC controls and security platforms. Little did he know that times were going to be changing in a big way.

On a parallel course in South Florida, John Peterson was working for Simplex as an operations manager, all the while thinking of his own dream of establishing a well-regarded integration company. Peterson, an electrician by trade, always had an interest in infrastructure and partnerships.

Their two courses would not intersect for several years, but when they did, both Hile and Peterson were ready to talk business.

Along the way, Hile worked for TAC, the now defunct GVI, Convergint Technologies, Adesta and, most recently, Siemens Building Technologies. For him, the road to Florida was filled with key mentoring opportunities and necessary management growth. Meanwhile, Peterson departed Tyco and, seven years ago, started Integrated Fire & Security Solutions, watching as Hile matured in the business world.

IFSS seemed to take South Florida with the fury of a hurricane. Peterson and his team, including sons Justin and Michael, worked on installations at the Port of Miami, the Port of Jacksonville and the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville.

“Our approach in the security business has been to integrate the marketplace,” Peterson said. “We were following the approach of addressing the critical infrastructure challenges before it was cool to do that. We wanted to treat each customer as if they were a member of our own family.”

With IFSS up and roaring, Peterson’s company has become the integrator of note in Florida, competing with the likes of Siemens, Simplex and Johnson Controls. Headquartered in Fort Myers, IFSS has regional offices in Miami and, as of July, Tampa. It was with the summer opening of the Tampa office that Peterson decided to enjoy life a little more and hit the links more often, and he hired Hile to be the company’s CEO and take things to the next level.

Leaving Chicago, Hile finally had the opportunity to realize his one longterm career goal: to take charge of an integration company that was well run, profitable and ready to grow.

“When we go after work or individual jobs, we will always provide higher detail in the proposal and show alternate ideas to make our effort the best possible solution,” Hile said. “Sometimes, the agencies that we are bidding don’t always know the ins and outs of the security business, and we’re happy to tell them there might be a better, less expensive way, but we never cut corners or details.

“We have walked away from a bad deal because we don’t want anyone to get hurt or suffer because of a lack of attention to safety and security.”

In today’s security industry, logic and forward thinking seem to be the measure of good integration. Hile said an integrator is not doing anyone any favors by not thinking three, five and 25 years down the road. He also said training a staff and making sure they are certified is a tell-tale sign a company is ready to perform faithfully and be true to its word.

“Our focus is on keeping people safe and secure,” Hile said. “We want to make everyone aware we are as professional as they want us to be. We are accountable for our work and our reputation as a security and fire integrator.”

IFSS has enjoyed success everywhere it has worked, including at Key West International Airport, a well-known tourist hub in the Florida Keys. When the company started the installation in 2006, the airport accounted for nearly 95,000 aircraft operations per year, or nearly 260 per day. Key West International Airport serves travelers from all over the world and is located at U.S. Mile Marker 1.

Key West was experiencing growing pains due to an increase in travel, and it determined that expansion was necessary. The airport, operated by Monroe County, broke ground in 2006 for a 30,000-square-foot expansion to the terminal, a parking facility and the renovation of the existing terminal building. This meant an update to security and life safety technologies. It also gave airport officials the ability to leverage technology to increase security for public-use areas.

Existing products such as legacy CCTV cameras were no longer effective tools. The airport needed a security integrator that could use existing infrastructure with new networked-based products to provide its security team with smart tools to enhance situational awareness.

“We loved being the integrator for this job,” said IFSS President Justin Peterson. “Key West is getting ready to grow when travel opens between the United States and Cuba. It was critical to get everything in place, and get it right.”

IFSS was selected to install and manage the expansion, as well as upgrade the security and life safety systems.

“At IFSS, the same person who will shake your hand before the deal will be the same person who shakes it again after the project is complete,” said John Peterson.

Larry Flowers, director of project management in Monroe County, said the county needed an integrator that was not only considered an expert in the security and safety fields but also one that understood the challenges the airport faced from a budgetary perspective. Justin Peterson, who also is the Fort Myers branch manager, approached the airport job with different solutions designed to keep the airport well within the allocated budget. “IFSS went above and beyond to help us solve our problems,” Flowers said. “If we were unfamiliar with a specific technology, they demonstrated it to us; and if we had to work around a budget issue, they helped us build the most comprehensive solution, staying within budget.”

Not long after the airport project, IFSS set its sights on Tampa Bay Water. The local public utility supplies water to the Tampa Bay region and needed a fresh approach to its security. IFSS responded to a security survey and made various recommendations.

The public utility has facilities in the threecounty area including Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough, all of which needed some form or fashion of security system improvements. Network cameras are being installed at facilities and monitored by a central monitoring station.

In 2004, Tampa Bay Water conducted a critical infrastructure vulnerability assessment of its facilities. That assessment continues today and improvements are made as its board of directors approves the security budget.

Tommy D. Brown, senior contracts manager, said, “Annual capital improvement funding continues the progress of security at all our various sites. Its importance is critical because 2.5 million people depend upon safe drinking water.”

If things could go wrong, a first place might be at the local school district. Schools have been the focus and an unfortunate playground for those who ignore the safety and security of innocent students. IFSS didn’t hesitate when a request for a quote came from the Collier County School District (CCSD) in Naples, Fla.

John Peterson knew the company could make a difference in the lives of thousands of students and that this was an area where proven partnerships would be critical to security. It’s also a partnership with the community, something in which he holds a lot of pride.

As an IFSS customer, CCSD takes a proactive approach to security and enjoys a strong relationship with local law enforcement. When looking at upgrading its security technology, the district sought out a solutions- and customer servicebased blend. School officials wanted to partner with an integrator that could be a long-term provider and make sure security and technology work hand in hand.

When IFSS entered the picture by being acknowledged as the most responsive bidder to the district’s RFP for security, it brought with it an extensive network of cameras, video management and other options that included monitoring, intrusion detection, access control and motion detectors. Working with IFSS, CCSD has found a strongly aligned partner that guides its stakeholders through technology transitions and services and is invested in making the schools as safe as possible. That equates to a win-win situation for the school district.

The security business in Florida is a busy enterprise. John Peterson has taken a different approach to building his empire. Florida is his home. He and his family want to be part of the community. In order to grow the family business, Peterson has increased the size of this family and will undoubtedly be thinking about more Florida territory— maybe Gainesville or Jacksonville for a new office. For right now, he is focused on providing the best solutions possible and customer service.

After all, it is the family name at stake. And nothing means more to Peterson than his family.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Security Today.

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