PHOTO I.D. and BEYOND
Like other state governments, Washington State faces an increasing barrage of security threats from irate citizens and terrorist groups. To help head off these threats, officials of Washington’s Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS) have installed photo ID access control systems at 70 percent of their facilities statewide. E. Robert “Spike” Millman, though, doesn’t think current precautions are quite enough. He wants to take security to the hilt, giving all DSHS offices throughout the state protection through interchangeable access control.
“The northwest is a wonderful and beautiful place, but we have our distractions. Washington State is home to a number of potential security threats. It is also a northwest transportation hub accessible to international threat elements,” says Millman, security manager for the DSHS, an agency that employs more than 18,000 people in more than 250 offices and institutions statewide.
“I am a one-man traveling medicine show of security, safety, emergency management, and employee preparedness,” says Millman, a 16-year DSHS veteran. Before moving into security, Millman served as a building manager, auditor, consultant, social worker, and internal affairs investigator for the agency.
Beyond the hazards posed by anti-government and international terrorism, Millman worries that ordinary citizens might carry out threats of violence. “The DSHS is very vulnerable, because we serve so many different types of clients,” he says. “Parents of children served by our Children’s Administration office [for example] can become upset if their children are moved into foster care. Meanwhile, our Community Services office has been reducing the rolls of welfare recipients.”
As security manager of DSHS headquarters in Olympia in 1988, Millman oversaw the installation of the building’s first photo ID system. “In January of 1999, we started to bring things statewide,” he recalls. Now, Washington State’s DSHS has distributed a grand total of about 7,000 photo ID access badges.
Millman has much bigger goals in mind, though. Beyond extending photo ID access control to all DSHS sites, he foresees a uniform system. Under a proposal from Millman now being considered by the agency, badges issued in one DSHS location could be used interchangeably in any other DSHS office.
The agency has already instituted a statewide color-coding system to denote specific access privileges. Vendors, for example, are outfitted with orange-colored badges. Visitors’ badges come in two different color schemes: Hot pink badges provide visitors with building-wide access and bright yellow badges require visitors to have an escort.
According to Millman, what’s most needed right now is the statewide installation of access control devices that are able to read both proximity and bar code photo IDs.
Some DSHS offices are now using proximity cards, while others are using bar code IDs. Although some offices have issued cards that use both technologies, others still rely on older magnetic stripe card technology. “We’ve been trying to eliminate mag stripe, but we haven’t been able to do so entirely yet, due to economic factors,” Millman says.
A uniform system would also help ease waiting lines in DSHS buildings for ID card distribution. People would need only to obtain one ID card that would grant access to all DSHS offices with the appropriate access rights, he says.
“One photo ID/access badge could access many different systems, provided each local office granted access. The computer at the local office would be able to control the access system as well as the levels of employee access,” Millman says.
Millman’s proposal also calls for a centralized budget and purchasing process. All planned or future access control systems would need approval from the DSHS security manager. Currently, the agency is using access control systems from Galaxy, Westinghouse (now NexWatch) and Northern Computers.
“Right now, however, the proposal is on hold. Some people are in favor of it, and some are not,” Millman says.
Some DSHS offices have already installed motion sensor devices and “customer-friendly” glass barriers in reception areas. “The glass barrier prevents someone from jumping over the counter. At the same time, it can help reduce the spread of viral germs,” says Millman, who is also a member of the Washington State Committee on Terrorism, as well as a state agency liaison to the state’s Military Department.
In a proposed security manual, Millman identifies other possible future precautions such as the installation of panic alert buttons and microphones in DSHS offices. “Panic alert buttons in the receptionist area and interview rooms would either go directly to a security alarm monitoring company, or trigger a blue strobe light installed away from the reception area, but visible to other employees,” he says.
Panic alert lights in interview rooms would also trigger lights in the hallway, flashing on and off directly above the door to identify the room that is in danger.
The panic lights would also activate listen-in microphones. “The microphones would be monitored by a security alarm company, which would advise local law enforcement as to the nature of the problem, and whether any weapons are involved,” Millman says.
Millman is looking toward eliminating the current use of keypad locks on doors as well. “These codes are easily observed and obtained by lobby visitors and clients. The codes need to be changed whenever any employee resigns, retires, transfers, or is terminated,” he says, but points out that codes are rarely changed in that circumstance.
Millman readily admits, however, that security devices alone are not enough. He envisions development of a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan, with frequent practice through emergency drills. Topics covered would include procedures for events such as “fires, earthquakes, evacuations, terrorism, bomb threats, assaults, clients yelling threats or brandishing a weapon, workplace violence and medical emergencies.”
Above all else, employee cooperation is essential, according to Millman. “You can have all the security devices in the world, but employee cooperation and involvement will still be needed. Employee training and continuing education are paramount to the success of any security system.”