At the Frontline: Woodruff Arts Center Security Director Tim Giles

Giles discusses access control and security management measures for Atlanta's sprawling arts complex


So I’m in the process of starting to install some access control, and I’ll feed off that system to do some security alarms. I’ve already installed some cameras systems down there, and we’ll be tying those together. And all that will tie back to our systems here over our internal network, which, of course, is a lot more cost-effective than trying to wire it back direct.

Most of the facilities in the center are open facilities—the public wants to come in and wander freely, but you still have to protect them, your employees and your assets. How do you maintain this balance?

Well, I wouldn’t want to get into too much detail on the alarms, but we have different kinds of alarms set up depending on the type of art structures that are in there, besides which we always have security officers posted during throughout the museum to make sure people don’t get too close. And of course after hours it’s all locked down and monitored and secure, and even more alarm sensors are activated then.

On the Memorial Arts side, a lot of people since I’ve been here have come to me and said, “This is a public facility,” and my answer is, “No, it’s a private facility.” We get no public funding; our funding all comes from donations and the money we raise through people paying to see the performances and things like that. So it’s a private campus although it’s open much of the time.

While it’s open, I’m trying to set it up on the Memorial Arts side to make sure we have good security around those areas where we don’t want the public to go, while we make the public area open and inviting and friendly. That’s always a challenge in the security business—to make people feel good about being in their environment but at the same time keeping it secure. When you’re in the entertainment business, as we are here, that becomes an even bigger challenge, both from a technology standpoint and a security officer performance standpoint. Our officers receive a lot of training, not just in all the normal kinds of security things but also in the customer interface. They’re kind of our ambassadors, and we expect them to be friendly and welcoming to the public, making them feel good about being here, and being helpful while they also enforce all the rules.

The High Museum regularly hosts traveling exhibits that require significant changes in the position of the works and the flow of guest traffic. How do you deal with these changing requirements?

The security system was designed with that in mind. The exhibition rooms were set up to where they had fixed security around the perimeter, but those rooms change shape and change position all the time, so we’ve done some wireless setups in those rooms so you can freely move around which kind of sensors you want where, and how you want the people to flow, and we move walls and all those kinds of things on an exhibition-by-exhibition basis.

Of course, when you have artwork being shipped, you have to worry about your shipments, and we built a secure dock that when the shipments come in, the dock is locked off from everybody else. And then when the dock’s not receiving secure shipments, it’s an open dock. So we’ve focused on everything from the shipping and receiving end to the exhibition end and designed the systems to make sure we had the flexibility to choose as the exhibits change without a major cost factor.

Midtown Atlanta doesn’t have a bad reputation in regards to crime, but it’s still an urban atmosphere. How do you help protect your employees when they’re coming and going at odd hours, such as after late theater performances?