Guards and Patrol
Customer-oriented security personnel
Securitas employees in Alaska include armed and unarmed security officers and emergency medical technicians.
Securitas Security Services
At the height of the Alaska gold rush era, the Iditarod Trail was an important link from the remote Interior goldfields to tidewater at Seward. In 1910, Bob Griffiths and his dog team moved a quarter-million dollars’ worth of gold nearly 500 miles from Iditarod to Seward. It took thirty-seven days. Along the way he stashed the gold in the roadhouses he slept in or, in the more remote areas, he left it in his dog sled. After all, there was only one trail in and out, and any thief foolhardy enough to try to steal the gold wouldn’t get far.
He repeated the trip many times until the start of World War I, transporting millions of dollars’ worth of gold. He was never robbed.
Alaska’s security needs have changed dramatically in the ensuing century. Today’s gold mining companies would certainly never leave their treasure under the table of a roadhouse. Security is a top concern, but today it’s more about keeping people safe than it is about the gold, says Anna Atchison, external affairs manager for Kinross Fort Knox.
“As a gold mine, we’re always mindful of security,” she says. Fort Knox mine, twenty-five miles northeast of Fairbanks, produced about 381,000 ounces of gold in 2017. The company doesn’t discuss how it transports its gold, but security at the mine itself is directly tied to safety.
“They’re the first person visitors see as they come in the door,” Atchison says of the mine’s security team. “They are an exceptionally friendly, customer-service oriented team.”
The team consists of about eight people.
“They are the boots on the ground people for supporting safe operations and all the other safety measures we have,” Atchison says.
They also check-in mine visitors, keep the participants in a popular local running race on a trail that skirts the mine safe, and keep an eye on the 257.1-ounce gold bar passed around to visitors during tours.
Securitas Security Services
Security guards often act as a deterrent for crime.
Security and Safety
For security companies throughout Alaska, security equates to safety and customer service is paramount. Companies range from small local operations to branches of national companies. They watch and protect property from trespassers, theft, and vandalism. They provide security at public events such as concerts, political gatherings, races, and other events. They also provide personal security and emergency medical treatment.
Security guards act as a deterrent for crime, says Bobby Gardner, who started B&G Security Guard Agency in 1998.
“In a city like Anchorage, you’re basically looking for the night watchman. In the daytime it’s security for retail,” Gardner says. “It’s more of a guard presence. You’re typically being a deterrent. The real work is done by the police officers. We’re the eyes and ears on the ground.”
One of the largest security companies in the state is Securitas, which has 350 branch locations throughout the United States. It employs 153 people in Alaska.
Securitas provides services via what it calls the six pillars: on-site guarding; remote guarding; mobile guarding; electronic security; corporate risk management; and fire and safety.
“Securitas takes a different approach than most competitors,” says Adam Koehler, marketing manager with Securitas. “We don’t believe one solution fits all clients. We look at things holistically and offer protective services. We perform a comprehensive risk assessment and propose a customized solution based on the client’s needs while taking into consideration the actual risks at the job site.”
Fairbanks’ Pioneer Park, a forty-four-acre collection of museums, historic buildings, and theaters, also includes a popular restaurant and playground. It’s open year-round and accessible to the public around the clock, which has posed some problems with vandalism in years past.
The park, run by the Fairbanks North Star Borough, has security patrols through a contract with Securitas. Guards make regular patrols through the park. Park Manager Donnie Hayes says the goal isn’t to eliminate vandalism, which is “basically impossible.”
“The goal is to make it less enticing,” he says. Would-be vandals know they’re being watched and that tends to minimize the problems.
In Anchorage, Securitas works with the city of Anchorage to oversee the local Safety Patrol and a sleep-off facility for inebriates near the jail. In November 2017, the company also was awarded a short-term contract to oversee an overnight homeless shelter at a community soup kitchen, which gets some of the city’s most vulnerable residents off the frigid winter streets.
Led by account manager Jason Cates, the company set up procedures to ensure the residents were cleared medically and kept safe in the shelter, which hosted about sixty-five residents nightly. The program was a success and Securitas’ contract was extended.
“The homeless issue brings a whole new set of unique issues for our staff to handle,” Koehler says. “They deal with the mental illness some of these men and women bring to the alcohol issues.”
It isn’t uncommon for staff working with Anchorage homeless population to use life-saving measures such as CPR or a defibrillator, Koehler says. The existence of the warming center is also important.
“The service we provide at the warming center literally saves lives almost daily,” he says. “Due to extreme temperatures, if one is homeless, they would die out in the elements overnight without having a warm place to safely stay.”
Securitas Security Services
Securitas provides security for ships, including tasks like screening passengers and luggage through metal detectors.
Spectrum of Security
Securitas employees in Alaska include armed and unarmed security officers, emergency medical technicians, supervisors, lead officers, and account managers, says Koehler. They protect properties from theft, vandalism, and trespassers, as well as watching for and reporting suspicious individuals. They also will escort people to safety in the event of a threat, such as from a disgruntled ex-employee.
Securitas employees also do security for cruise ships, including Transportation Security Administration tasks such as screening passengers and luggage through metal detectors. Others work with the state of Alaska to transport people in the court system to and from hospitals or other facilities. Other Securitas employees are emergency medical technicians that work for a client on the North Slope.
“Our officers deal with anything from identifying potential safety issues to dealing with active shooter situations,” Koehler says. “They are specially trained to handle a wide variety of situations.”
One situation Zachary Alsterberg and William Sera, who own the franchise for Signal 88 Security in Anchorage, have noticed is an uptick in property crimes such as vandalism, petty theft, and vehicle theft since the passage of state legislation two years ago that removed criminal punishment for such acts.
“The thing that has been plaguing Anchorage for the last year or so has definitely been the relaxed criminal punishments,” Alsterberg says. “It’s kind of tied the hands of law enforcement and private security agencies like ours. A lot of people know there’s not much that’s going to happen if they walk outside a grocery store with $200 worth of groceries. They basically get a slap on the wrist. Vehicle theft also has been very, very large.”
Coordinating with Law Enforcement
Alsterberg says Signal 88, which employs thirty to thirty-five people, typically works with commercial, multifamily residential, and construction companies. They maintain a respectful, professional relationship with law enforcement.
“If we show up to one of our clients’ properties and the police are there, we’ll assess the situation and see if we can assist in any way,” he says. “We personally feel there’s a large difference between private security and law enforcement. We never want to overstep or abuse any power—power that we don’t feel we really have.”
The security agents often work as a liaison between the property owner and police, getting case numbers and information to the owner if there’s a problem.
“We’ve always had a very good relationship with the local law enforcement here,” Alsterberg says. “We’ve been doing this since 2010 and we’ve always kind of prided ourselves on being the company that doesn’t call for non-common-sense reasons. We make sure that when we do call and do ask for assistance from law enforcement that it’s for a legitimate reason.”
As a result, he says, law enforcement seems to respond more quickly when a Signal 88 employee calls, especially in one of the high-traffic areas of Anchorage in which they have clients.
“They know when we call, there’s usually a very good reason for it.”
Security Security Services
Security personnel watch and protect property from trespassers, theft, and vandalism.
Alsterberg and Sera both have deep roots in Alaska and spent time in the military before going into the security business. Sera met one of the company’s early franchisees while he was in the military and was impressed by his success, so he and Alsterberg decided to open their own Signal 88 Security franchise in 2010. The company recognized the Anchorage franchise as its most-improved in 2017.
“We just worked on developing relationships with clients we’ve had for a while, finding out what they need in their communities and how we can protect them,” Alsterberg says, noting they specialize in patrol-based services.
It takes a particular type of employee to work successfully as a security officer. John Rambo types don’t wash.
“We really look for somebody with customer service skills,” Alsterberg says. “Anybody can be taught the security aspect of it. But we want somebody who’s going to be able to give a good customer service approach. Somebody who can take a situation, understand what’s going on, and get the situation to go the way that they want it to and absolutely not have any type of authority or power position. People who have even a law enforcement-style approach working with our company typically don’t last too long.”
A military background is ideal for many of the security jobs in the state. Atchison estimates half the security team at Fort Knox served in the military. Securitas, which employs 86,000 people across the United States, is a veteran-friendly workplace, Koehler says. Securitas USA employs more than 11,000 veterans and supports those with ongoing commitments through the National Guard and Reserves, he says.
Security jobs can give workers a chance to see places and events that they might not be exposed to in other walks of life, says Gardner of B&G Security Guard.
Gardner says he started out doing security in local parking lots before taking hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues as clients. Kulis Air National Guard Base was a big client until the facility reverted to state ownership in 2011. B&G has provided security for big movie premieres and for the event centers in Fairbanks.
The company also focuses on providing security for celebrities and entertainers touring the state, Gardner says: Sarah Palin on her book tour; “Ice Road Truckers” television shoots; Gladys Knight; Stanley Cup winner Scott Gomez; Senator Mark Begich; actor George Clooney; the Beach Boys; and jazz legends Boney James and Nagee, among many others.
“Some of the guards got a chance to see parts of Alaska that they would have never seen,” Gardner says. “We went to all different areas of Alaska. It was a great experience.”
Sera and Alsterberg say they’ve enjoyed getting to know their clients better.
“We’re here to help out whenever somebody needs somebody to help,” Alsterberg says. “We’re not interested in creating a huge problem if there isn’t one. We enjoy developing solutions for our clients and making sure they’re cared for the best way they can be. And if they need something else, we hope they come to us.”
Julie Stricker is a journalist living near Fairbanks.