Spotting a need before it becomes a trend sometimes is the key to helping a fledgling business thrive, which is why learning the ropes in private security years before the demand for such services exploded proved a boon to Marian Pierre’s company.
During its 20-year history, Crescent Guardian Inc. has become one of the go-to providers for area businesses and government agencies looking to secure their premises and operations and keep employees and customers safe.
Pierre hatched the idea for the New Orleans firm during the 1990s while working at City Hall, where she was a legislative aide to City Councilman and former New Orleans police Chief Joe Giarrusso, who owned one of the first private security companies licensed in Louisiana.
“He was always involved in police matters and security, and it sparked my interest,” Pierre said. Her association with Giarrusso also coincided with the startup of a new industry in Louisiana.
“Casino gaming coming to the city seemed a golden opportunity,” she said.
Pierre started her business in the same way that many service businesses start: She was her own employee. She trained and became licensed as a security guard and started looking for work. “At night I worked as a guard, and in the daytime I called on clients,” she said.
Small jobs gradually multiplied, and Pierre added personnel. As she had suspected, one of her company’s first significant contracts came from a riverboat casino owner who was required by State Police to have 24/7 surveillance on his new slot machines until they were safely installed on the boat.
Larger contracts followed, and Crescent Guardian provided security for Harrah’s when the giant gaming company opened a temporary location at New Orleans’ Municipal Auditorium.
The security business at large surged to a new level in 2001 as a result of the 9/11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Businesses and governments around the country went on alert, as did local clients.
“Security used to be the last thing most people would think of, and now it was one of the first,” Pierre said.
The new mindset helped Pierre build her portfolio of clients and her payroll, but not without interruption. In 2005, Crescent Guardian fell victim to the post-Hurricane Katrina flood that inundated New Orleans. The flood disabled the company’s Mid-City office and wrecked a handful of company-owned vehicles.
Despite having insurance, Pierre said it was a struggle to put the business back on its feet. But the disaster also presented an opportunity for the company to demonstrate its value during an emergency.
Pierre pulled together small teams of armed guards to protect clients in need of immediate security after the storm. As she repaired the business and worked to replace employees who had relocated elsewhere, she saw that once again unexpected events had produced heightened interest in security and brought more business to her door.
Today, Crescent Guardian’s clients include federal agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers, along with the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, the Regional Transit Authority, First NBC Bank and French Market Corp.
In 2012, Crescent Guardian won a contract to install an advanced surveillance system at Port Fourchon, the strategically important offshore oil and gas industry port located on the Gulf of Mexico, south of New Orleans. The installation won Crescent Guardian the Best Application of Technology award from the Louisiana Technology Council.
Recently, Pierre also received the 2014 Women in Business Champion award presented by the Louisiana Economic Development Department and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Over the years, Crescent Guardian, now with about 280 employees, has become one of the stalwarts in the fairly stable ranks of Louisiana security firms. Pierre is exploring opportunities to capture business outside of the state and has opened offices in Dallas and Atlanta.
“After Katrina, we had an influx of new security companies, but some of them only operated for a short time before moving on,” said Wayne Rogillio, executive secretary of the Louisiana State Board of Private Security Examiners, which licenses and regulates security guard services.
Rogillio said about 250 companies currently are licensed to provide private security services in Louisiana, and roughly 10,000 individuals are licensed guards. Those totals have not fluctuated much in recent years, he said.
That seems to track a nationwide trend: While continuing to employ trained people to protect their premises, businesses and governments are investing more of their resources into technology that augments guard services rather than adding security personnel.
Rising demand for technological enhancements is expected to expand the private security business — now a $50 billion industry by some estimates — by as much as 40 percent over the next five years, according to a study by Dallas-based consulting firm Markets & Markets.
Today’s security systems commonly include advanced video surveillance equipment, employee identification and access control devices, all with a high level of connectivity between the equipment and the people who monitor it.
Pierre said that’s the direction her company is heading as well. “We’re trying to grow in the fusion of electronic security with physical security,” she said. “You never get away from needing men and women to provide the service, but you need good technology too.”
Crescent Guardian’s technological arsenal includes a range of video surveillance systems, radio frequency identification, sensor technology and access controls.
In addition, Pierre has partnered with technology firms to provide specialized solutions she thinks will be of increasing interest to her clients.
Her company has designed a “permission switch” she says can block anyone except an authorized person from turning on a vehicle. She sees the switch, along with tracking technology that enables the monitoring of a vehicle’s location, as being well suited for use by the RTA and other owners of vehicle fleets.
Another technology likely to find rising demand is analytics-based video surveillance, such as that the company implemented at Port Fourchon. The system uses behavioral analytics software that instantly detects small anomalies in movements and human behavior that could indicate unusual or dangerous activity.
The technology automatically alerts the appropriate person that something is out of the ordinary, enabling a fast response. The use of such software reduces the need to have humans staring at banks of video monitors for hours on end.
“It’s security that never blinks,” Pierre said. “This is the kind of security we’d like all our clients to have.”