Originally created 09/08/02

Safety precautions

It takes quite a while longer now than it did a year ago for cargo trucks to get inside the DSM Chemicals plant in east Augusta.

Before Sept. 11, security performed random searches on randomly selected vehicles. Today, every truck gets the rubber-glove treatment.

Cut the engine; pop the hood; use mirrors attached to poles to check the undercarriage. It's all part of the way business is conducted in a post-Sept. 11 climate.

"We've made a lot of changes, and we're really no different from any other chemical plant in that respect," said DSM spokesman Harold Pitchford.

Across town at Solvay Advance Polymers, a high-performance plastics manufacturer, a complete overhaul of the security policy is under way. In a post-Sept. 11 environment, in a mid-sized city considered an unlikely terrorist target, companies are trying to discern an appropriate level of security spending.

Solvay has hired a company to assess its security risks and submit a report by May. The manufacturer beefed up security immediately after Sept. 11, but wonders now whether it isn't spending money on overzealous precautions.

"We're trying to assess the right level of security to the point that we're secure, but not wasting resources," said Pam Barbara, site services manager at Solvay. "Obviously, we'll need to err on the side of caution, but whether that means adding more people or video cameras or whatever, that's what we need to determine."

While industrial companies in particular are protecting their fence lines with increased personnel and high-tech security systems, businesses might be doing more on the front end to secure the work place.

Businesses are looking harder at job applicants before they are hired. Background checks are a big part of the post-Sept. 11 business world.

A spokeswoman for Premier Infosource, an Atlanta employee screening service with customers in Augusta, said the company has been "extremely busy," since Sept. 11, though she would not say how much business has increased.

Other employee screening services have experienced explosive growth during the past year. Rapsheets.com, an online firm that digs up criminal records from city and county governments throughout the country, saw business increase 500 percent in the eight months after Sept. 11.

"We've got history on 35 million criminals dating as far back as 15 years," said Peter Schutt, Rapsheets.com president. "Since Sept. 11, we've definitely seen more interest from businesses that want to see just who they're hiring before they hire them."

Security staffing agencies in Augusta report no unusual change, except for an increase in interest from industrial facilities for a short period after Sept. 11. Growth in the security business has been steady for the past several years.

"We had a slight uptick after 9-11, but nothing spectacular," said Keith Kreiger, senior consultant with Sizemore Security International, one of the largest security staffing agencies in the Augusta area. "The security business has been growing 5 to 6 percent each year; this is no different."

Of the area's largest employers, Savannah River Site has spent more than $10 million and Fort Gordon more than $2.1 million on security upgrades since September, according to recent reports.

"Time has a way of eroding the significance of the past," Mr. Kreiger said. "I wonder how much we've learned, and how much we've forgotten. I don't think the business world will ever really forget. There are a lot of daily reminders."

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or john.banks@augustachronicle.com.


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