Pro-Tec Design and Premier Electrical demonstrate success in the field of security

In 1966, a Chicago-based electrical contractor landed a job working on the main runway at the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) International Airport. The owner of that company (Premier Electrical, Brooklyn Park, Minn.) liked the business climate in Minneapolis (though probably not the weather) so much that he expanded the company from Illinois to Minnesota. That was the beginning of a long-term relationship between Premier—which employs about 250—and MSP airport that continues today.

That relationship has expanded to include another NECA member company, Pro-Tec Design Inc., which has about 30 employees and is based in Plymouth, Minn.

The two contractors, who find a steadily increasing amount of work in the area of security, are still deeply involved with the airport and the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) in making the Minnesota transportation facility—recently rated as one of the 10 best business-oriented airports in the country—a secure facility for all travelers.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the country’s focus has been on increased security at public places, and most dramatically, on security at the nation’s airports. This emphasis has brought more than just attention to a unique need; it has created substantially increased work for Pro-Tec, whose entire design business is security related, according to Chief Executive Officer Tom Hagen. It stepped up the security component of Premier’s business, too. Doug Olson, president of Premier, estimated security at “10 percent of our work. We increase our security business 5 percent a year, and we expect it to [continue to] increase.”

Premier has been in business for a remarkable 102 years. Pro-Tec is a more recent arrival on the scene, yet still boasts longevity, having started operations in the 1980s.

Security has had the more pronounced effect on Pro-Tec: “We are a security systems integrator,” according to Hagen. “That is what we do and where we focus all our resources and effort. We are often involved in projects as a subcontractor to an electrical contractor.”

“In our involvement with Premier at the airport, for instance, Premier will pull the low-voltage cable while they’re installing the raceway or conduit, then follow up and install the field devices and control panels. We’ve grown a lot in the last five years,” he said. “We plan on 15 to 20 percent growth per year, financed internally.”

“We do a lot of work through subcontractors,” he continued. “We carry a Class A electrical contractors’ license; we have people who are master electricians.” That focus works well for Premier.

Premier’s Olson explained that Pro-Tec and Hagen got involved with the airport in about 1995. That was the beginning of what would be an ongoing relationship. “We’ve expanded out from there into other areas,” he said.

For instance, a Premier customer came to Olson looking for a turnkey security system: designed, built commissioned and turned over. For that, Premier went to Pro-Tec to design the security part of the project; Premier then designed the nonsecurity part.

For Pro-Tec’s part, Hagen said, “We spend a great deal of time and attention to try and design the systems that we put in and the infrastructure that it operates on, often working with electrical engineers, electrical contractors and/or security consultants. In today’s demanding security environment, owners want to ensure that the systems they purchase permit expansion as their requirements change and expand,” he explained.

There are, of course, constant enhancements in expansion; for example, the number of cameras at the airport has grown from about 20 to more than 800, he said. There are two terminals (the Lindbergh being the major one and Humphrey significantly smaller); the camera systems are networked because running cable between the two would be nearly impossible.

“As time goes by, we’re installing cameras to provide good views in low-light areas. They do a lot of work to keep key areas well lit, but there are still plenty of low-light areas,” said Hagen.

The most recent installation, Hagen added, involved “working with the airport police on the installation of a network of more than 50 digital video recorders to provide live and recorded video of the hundreds of existing cameras.”

An unintended expansion of Premier’s business came as a result of the work at MSP: the airport told Olson they no longer wanted security equipment that depended on proprietary software. At first he was stymied.

Then some of the company’s employees suggested that a staff member, a professional engineer who had an electrical engineering degree, write the software.

“From here on out,” he said, “we did all of the software in-house.” Vendors, he added, have had no problem with the fact that Premier is now writing its own software.

Security is ever-changing, and Pro-Tec has learned to adapt and readily adopt new technologies. “Many people fail to recognize that everybody is attracted by the fact that the security market is growing, but what they don’t appreciate is the increased level of complexity,” Hagen said.

“Ten years ago, the nature of most of what we did was electromechanical. Today there are still control panels, and there is still wiring, and there are still devices like card readers and cameras, but they are much more software-driven as opposed to electromechanical. There’s a move toward putting all these systems on the corporate network,” he said.

“All the systems are similar and yet different. That’s probably the biggest challenge for us—to have the people in place who understand software operating systems, specific software applications and to keep up with the constant training.”

Pro-Tec and Premier work hard at keeping current. They make use of training offered by vendors such as Vicon, Lenel Systems International, Apollo Security and Fiber Options as well as take advantage of business education training provided by NECA.

Hagen said, “A supplier like Lenel Systems usually comes out with one or two major software systems every year. Each time, we send one or two people in for training [beyond the original factory training]. We also do a lot of online and in-house training,” he said. Hagen said the company invests heavily in test equipment. “When a system fails at the airport, although the equipment was manufactured elsewhere, they’re not expecting the manufacturer to show up, they’re expecting us and the only question is how soon?

“Project warranties on mission-critical systems are usually 24/7,” he continued. “These warranties differ from the typical construction warranty where the owner would be responsible to take down the failed component; ship it to the supplier, who would then ship it back to the manufacturer, to be either repaired or replaced. Then it would go back to the owner to be replaced. That can take a week or two, and that’s often not acceptable for a security system. So we have an increased cost of warranty.”

It turns out that security can be a double-edged sword for contractors, too, as far as just getting to the airport job site. “There have always been stringent guidelines, but even more so since 9/11. All contractor employees are required to go through a formal screening administered by the airport police department. If the employee passes this process, an identification badge is issued and it must be displayed at all times,” Hagen said.

“The foundation of our business,” he added, “is threefold: we want to provide professional, responsive service, whatever it may be. We’re trying to develop and maintain long-term relationships, and part of that is to develop a staff that’s long-term.” (Four or five people who were with the company in the early ’80s are still there, and there are many more who have been with Pro-Tec for 10 or 15 years.) “We put a lot of energy and planning into the design and installation of systems so that they will permit expansion and meet the tests of time.”

HARLER, a frequent contributor to SECURITY & LIFE SAFETY SYSTEMS, is based in Strongsville, Ohio. He can be reached at 440.238.4556 or curt@curtharler.com. STEVENS is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer who covers various fields including construction, retailing, and marketing. He can be reached at 612.871.3698.