At the Frontline: Woodruff Arts Center Security Director Tim Giles

Aug. 29, 2006
Giles discusses access control and security management measures for Atlanta's sprawling arts complex

[Editor's Note: This month we caught up with Tim Giles, CPP, director of security of the Woodruff Arts Center, a multi-building campus of arts venues in Atlanta, Ga. The Woodruff Arts Center main campus includes the High Museum of Art, the Atlanta Symphony, and the Alliance Theater, and the center also encompasses the 14th Street Playhouse in the downtown area. Giles was hired as the security director in 2005 after a number of years as a security consultant. Prior to that, he worked for 20 years in security for IBM. As director of security for the Woodruff, Giles is responsible for physical and information security, though he does not oversee the IT function. He came to the center while it was nearing completion on an extensive expansion, which included new buildings and security upgrades. Another portion of our in-depth interview with Giles appeared as the “Back Page” interview in the August 2006 issue of Security Technology & Design magazine.]

How did the recent campus expansion impact your overall electronic security system operations and design?

GILES: We have a dual setup here. We have the High Museum, which of course has a lot of high-tech security and always has. We have motion sensors, all kinds of alarm programs, CCTV and access control throughout the High Museum. On the other side, in the main building, which is the Memorial Arts Building, they’ve basically had very little security technology over the years. They had a few cameras.

And we also have a college dorm on site, because we had the Atlanta College of Art here for 100 years, but it’s now combined with Savannah College of Art & Design, and they have a campus just down the street from us. They had some access control readers on the dorm for the college students, but there were no readers on the main building. There were a few cameras on the main building, but even all the entrances didn’t have a camera on them.

I’m now in the process of expanding all that. I’ve put access control readers basically on all of our back door entrances. At our main floor entrances, we have people come in for the symphony, or for the Alliance Theater, or for some event that we’ve rented space out for—so those doors are typically unlocked and open during normal hours. So I haven’t put any readers on those doors yet, although I will on a couple, eventually, so that we have that for after hours. But because people considered that an open environment, they really didn’t do a lot with security, and it’s actually quite important that we protect the back side of the house, where all the performers and all that stuff goes on. So we’ve now got a lot of that in place.

I’m putting more camera systems in place and trying to tie that in and make my control center more event driven, with motion sensors and alarm sensors instead of just the old technology.

Were you able to participate in the security design of the new buildings?

In the new buildings they did consider security, because they had a chief of security for the museum, but they didn’t have anybody who was really overseeing security for the whole campus. So I’m like the campus director of security. But I give functional guidance to the chief of security for the museum, whereas I manage directly the security for the rest of it.

He was very knowledgeable about the technology and made sure they had cameras and card readers and sensors and all the different technologies put in place. They don’t have some of the latest technology—for example, there’s no bio technology in place—and I’m going to be looking at that down the road. And we don’t really have any video analysis in place, but I think we need to look at that too for the museum.

What made the Woodruff Arts Center migrate from single building security to a campus-wide security program?

The primary driver was emergency planning and crisis management. They really hadn’t had a campus-wide focus on those issues, and when they started looking at those issues they recognized they also didn’t really have a campus-wide focus on security.

The center not only includes multiple buildings, those buildings are all multi-use. You’ve got several different types of public and internal performances and activities going at all times, which must make emergency planning complicated and challenging. How do you focus your efforts to cover all the possibilities?

We have six different divisions that operate between the theater, the symphony, the High Museum, the main division—which is called the Woodruff Arts Center Administrative Division, which runs our campus—as well as the youth educational division. The other division was the Atlanta College of Art, but as I said we’ve now closed that down. So the primary focus was to make certain we have a good understanding of each division’s needs, because they vary considerably, and at the same time try to pull them together in a cohesive response program.

You do have to do different things. In the memorial arts building in certain kinds of emergencies you would just evacuate the building, whereas in the High Museum you would want to take some steps first to do some protection of the artwork before you evacuated the building, unless it was life threatening. So we do have to do different focuses on how we handle and respond to emergencies.

I’m also trying to make sure we do a much better job of pre-planning and doing some scenario testing, so that people have a good feel for when you do have different kinds of emergencies, how that’s going to roll out.

Here in Midtown we have a great group called the Midtown Alliance, which has a group working for them called Midtown Blue, which is basically ex-police officers that are retired, but also reserve officers, so they still have police powers. They work with us very closely on all those kinds of issues as well. For instance, you may remember back in November of last year, Atlanta did a terrorist exercise at one of the MARTA stations. Well, that MARTA station was in Midtown. And so Midtown Blue was involved in that, and they also involved a number of businesses including us, so we saw how it played out. We actually played a role interacting with them and got information fed to us so that we knew what was going on. They set up what we call a business operations center for that event, just like you might set up an emergency operations center. So we’re trying to work with them to make sure we’re well coordinated with the city in any kind of major disaster that might happen.

Your campus spreads through Midtown and parts of Downtown Atlanta. What types of challenges does this type of widespread, multi-building camps present?

One of the situations I had in the past was that most of those remote buildings were not tied back on all the different systems. We would get fire alarms from the buildings, but not much else. For instance, we have the 14th Street Playhouse, which is down on 14th and Juniper. We have three stages in there, and there are plays going on all the time, and while we always had a security officer posted down there when there were events, we actually had no security systems down there at all.

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?

Our parking garage is a good-sized garage, but it doesn’t handle anywhere near the amount of people that we have come for a symphony performance. So there’s another garage right across the street from us that gets used when that happens. Of course we have the Arts Center MARTA station right across the street from us in back, so we’ve focused a lot on perimeter lighting and perimeter camera systems, and when we have performances that are going to be late at night, where we know people are going to be going across the street to different garages, we work to make sure they’ve got security patrols in the garages at those times, and we frequently hire off-duty police to help out on the streets.

We don’t have the kind of crime rate here as in other parts of the city, but we still have some, and you can’t ignore that. But there’s a strong focus by the Midtown Blue group to keep down the low-level kinds of crime, the break-ins and things like that, and because of that it keeps the crime rate really in good shape. And of course, when we have lots of people here late at night we do extra patrols through the garage to try and help prevent car break-ins and those things.

You’re also the chairman of the ASIS Atlanta chapter, so you regularly meet you’re your peers in the area and hear about the security concerns they’re facing. How does this impact your own security decisions?

In the security business, if you keep your ears open, you learn something new every day. I frequently remind people that God gave you one mouth and two ears for a reason. It’s been very beneficial to me to be actively involved in ASIS. At every monthly meeting we have a different speaker that speaks from an educational viewpoint, so you’re always learning something from those, plus I always try to get to the meetings early and hang around late and meet with people and talk to them. I always learn things from people like that. If you don’t, you’re just not listening.

I got involved because I’ve been a member of ASIS for 20-some years, and I feel like I’ve benefited a lot from that, so I volunteered to do the board duties because I felt like I should give back to that. We have an extremely active ASIS chapter here in Atlanta.

Are you an art lover yourself?

I am, but probably not as educated in art as I should be. But I enjoy all kinds of music and theater as well as traditional kinds of art and sculpture. So it’s been great to be here and to be able to experience a lot of those things, and see more than I’d have time to if I worked someplace else. It’s been really wonderful.