Lisa Williams, a licensed private investigator for Pipkin Detective Agency in Visalia, discusses business security with people in the Valley’s manufacturing industries attending last week’s 3rd annual South Valley Industrial Summit in Tulare. Photo by David Castellon

published on October 24, 2019 - 2:20 PM
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A courthouse may seem the last place to expect a crime or security breach to occur, but such threats can come from unexpected places, Lisa Williams said.

The licensed private investigator for Pipkin Detective Agency in Visalia recounted being called to an undisclosed courthouse to investigate a computer filling nightly with data that shouldn’t have been on it.

It turns out the computer was being left on after work, and between a search of its browser history and a hidden camera, they discovered the night custodial staff was using the computer to watch porn, play online games, communicate on social media and transmit selfies taken in the court chambers.

It was a case of the last people you might expect to be a problem being the problem, Williams said during a seminar she helped lead on business security during the 3rd annual South Valley Industrial Summit in Tulare.

The event, put on by the South Valley Industrial Collaborative, promoted manufacturing in the Valley and gave people in manufacturing opportunities to network and attend seminars on topics ranging from robotics to helping personnel to become leaders.

Use forethought
As in the case of the unauthorized computer use, Williams said her detective agency often is called after security problems occur or after a potential problem is identified, but most problems can be dealt with earlier with some forethought and setting policies to prevent them, which in the case of the courthouse should have included employees turning off their computers before leaving work.

At the same time, a business needs to watch its workers for risky, illicit or illegal activities, which may include selling proprietary data to competitors.

“You have to treat your organization not in a big brother mode, but in a vigilant mode. As long as you’ve created the DNA within your environment, and you let you staff know, they’re going to be aware of it, and you’re going to have less issues and less problems,” Williams explained.

Lack of consistency
Another common security problem is a lack of consistency, she said, offering, as an example, a business where people coming in are searched, but some people are let by unsearched because the security staff knows them.

Williams said she investigated a case of reported threats from a worker involved in a love triangle involving coworkers, and the investigators found him in the business with a gun he had gotten past security.

She said the man said he had brought the gun previous days and might have used it but hadn’t yet worked himself up to it before he was caught.

In another case, she said, investigators wondered why workers who were searched as they arrived to work weren’t searched as they left work. When she and her fellow investigators initiated searches of the exiting workers, they discovered “Drills are walking out. Computer software is walking out. You know this didn’t just happen today. It’s been happening for awhile.”

Threat within
As for computer security, probably the most prevailing threats most every business faces today are cyber threats that include the theft of customer and proprietary data and ransomware that could destroy key business data.

Williams said it’s not only important to have protections against viruses, hackers and other threats, but employers need to regularly check they’re working and randomly check individual computers to ensure employees aren’t engaged in risky online activities that could introduce threats to computer systems and to check if stolen data is being sent out.

“In addition, you need to know what is your protected information and how to protect it,” which includes knowing who has access to that data and whether access should be limited to certain people.

Hard, soft barriers
There also are threats outside a brick-and-mortar business, which often can be helped by installing security fencing, but it also helps to install fencing and lighting that gives officers on patrol clear views, so they can spot intruders or unwanted activity, whether it’s a theft in progress or teenagers partying in a parking lot.

“So start thinking about those issues when you start developing a plan and start looking at your business,” Williams said.

Another relatively simple security fix is to remove or limit trees or shrubs that obscure buildings from police or others passing by on the street, said Hanford Police Capt. Karl Anderson, who led the seminar with Williams.

While security cameras can help detect outside and inside threats, it’s important to reassess those systems to determine if they have blind spots, Williams said.

“I used to run a 175-security camera program at Porterville College. We had cameras in every place,” but there still were blind spots, and some people had identified them, she said. “So we had things going on in the library in the blind spots. We had things going on in the cafeteria in the blind spots. Make sure you have somebody come in to assess your security system, and make sure you have the flexibility to move it.”

Similarly, she said, experts can be brought in to assess gaps in fencing, guard placement, etc. so security gaps there can be remedied.

“If you can identify a weakness to a facility prior to a threat, fix those,” as that usually is less time consuming and expensive than fixing it after a problem has occurred, Williams said.

Identify yourself
Fences and security cameras can only help so much, said Anderson, noting that it’s important to have badges or some other ways to identify workers and to have one or more entry points where those workers are checked to ensure non-employees aren’t being let into a business.

Among the biggest worries among employers and employees is the potential for workplace violence, particularly the threat of somebody with a gun walking into a business and shooting people.

In fact, the worry has gotten so prevalent that the Hanford Police Department is among a growing number of departments in the nation offering to assess businesses and public offices to offer training on increasing their odds of deterring and surviving workplace attacks.

“It doesn’t cost you anything,” he said, adding that there are programs businesses can buy offering emergency plans for active-shooter incidents, though his department offers role-players to help with the workers’ training.

Early warnings
A key component of the training is determining a way to let all employees know a bad guy walked in the front door with a gun.

“And if you don’t have that in place, we’ll work with you to get that in place.”

The assessment and training also includes showing employees where they should go in such situations, how to barricade doors and how managers can communicate to employees the description and location of the gunman, in part because if the threat is far enough away, some workers may be able to get out of the business or at least get to better-secured areas.

If the gunman shows up at a room and can force his way in, “we’re all going to have chairs, we’ll have a bunch of stuff — we don’t have guns — and as soon as that guy opens the door, we’re going to throw everything at him and hurt him as bad as we can,” Anderson said.

Without a plan to respond to such a threat and evacuate, the risk is having people run around in panic or unaware right into the path of a gunman, he added.

“If you don’t have that in place, you don’t have a plan, you’re screwed. It’s going to be chaos,” said the captain, who suggested that business operators call their local law enforcement agencies to see if they can help them develop active-shooter response plans.

“If you have a plan, everybody practices the plan, everybody knows the plan, bad things might happen, still. I won’t lie. But it’s going to go so much smoother for you,” he noted.

“You want the best chance of survival.”

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