How one new security services franchisor is finding its way.
The time was 4am on Saturday morning, March 7, and Surveillance Secure president, Kim Hartman, was on the phone with a panicked customer of the franchisor’s company-owned location in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The client had just received news that during the previous day, a person who tested positive for COVID-19 had walked into the headquarters of their elderly community services organization. At that time, only three COVID-19 cases had been identified in Maryland.
By 7am, Hartman and his team arrived on-site to the customer’s building, which was surrounded by EMS vehicles, health officials, police and the media. The Surveillance Secure team quickly got to work to ensure that all access points to the building were properly locked down. They then completed an analysis of the building’s surveillance camera footage and coordinated with authorities to determine who may have been exposed to the person in question.
Over the following days and weeks, as the crisis continued to build, more calls rolled in. With the local closure of gyms, multiple property managers asked Surveillance Secure to help them remotely lock down the gyms across their residential communities. Other business managers and owners working from home required remote access to cameras and security systems to monitor activity at their places of work while under lockdown. Fortunately, Surveillance Secure had the know-how and IT tools to get the job done.
While the COVID-19 crisis has taken an undisputed toll on many franchisors worldwide, a few franchise concepts have been fortunate to be deemed “essential” to keep their doors open and employees working. Security-related products and services are certainly in that category of “essential” businesses during these times of crisis.
The security sector, in general, is fragmented into various products and services segments, but its future looks bright. According to Modor Intelligence, the electronic security segment – the niche of Surveillance Secure – was valued at about $41bn worldwide in 2019 with an annual growth rate of nine per cent. American franchisors in security have a wide range of specializations, including electronic security systems, alarm monitoring (commercial and residential), as well as security guard services, locks and safes, document disposal, etc. A review of the FDDs of the U.S. security franchisors shows solid franchisor expansion and healthy unit-level financial performance. In short, it’s an upward trending market.
Surveillance Secure is a very new franchisor. After more than 10 years of successful growth of its commercial security business in the Washington DC area, the group decided to begin franchising in 2019 and sold its first franchise in March 2020.
Their first franchisee, who recently opened in the Philadelphia area, is Jerrod Littleton. “In early February, I made the decision to quit my financial services job and invest my 401(k) into the Surveillance Secure franchise,” explains Littleton. “Ironically, the timing of the investment was very good. With the crash of the Dow in late February, my earlier decision to pull my 401(k) out of the market turned out to be one of the best financial decisions of my life. Now I’m running a local surveillance and security business that’s positioned for massive expansion in the post-COVID world.”
The overlapping niche of commercial security and technology solutions is indeed well-positioned to address the unique challenges confronting us as a result of COVID-19.
The role of technology and security
High-tech security solutions are emerging to face COVID-19 challenges. Many of the most useful technologies include surveillance cameras, access controls and analytics software.
Thermal cameras: One need arising from the recent pandemic is to quickly identify people with fevers, which can be a common symptom of COVID-19. Some thermal imaging technology can serve as a fever-screening solution to detect the body temperature of individuals as they enter public spaces, hospitals, multi-unit residential buildings, retail spaces, transportation hubs and other areas. In the U.S., a number of these technologies are certified for this purpose by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some of these cameras have the ability to measure temperatures of multiple individuals simultaneously, which enables rapid screening of larger crowds. Some imaging technology is able to detect human temperatures to within an accuracy of about 0.5 degrees F (about 0.3 degrees C).
Facial recognition: Cameras linked to facial recognition technology have created controversy regarding personal privacy rights. That said, some countries, like Russia and China, have claimed to use facial technology to trace individuals, who had tested positive for COVID-19. The idea is to use archived footage across multiple camera systems, to identify where a person has visited recently, in order to evaluate contact risks. Another use of facial recognition is to enforce compliance of quarantined individuals, who should not be circulating in public.
Security drones: As a flying surveillance platform, security drones have played an important role in the COVID crisis. Police, in particular, have found that drones can extend their ability to enforce COVID-19 containment and social distancing compliance in large outdoor areas. For example, in Spain, the police used drones in cities to identify individuals who were violating lock-down protocols. With built-in audio systems in the drone, police were able to speak directly to their citizens to order them to return home. Similarly, in the U.S., as various states began to reopen their beaches, local police deployed drones to monitor and enforce social distancing rules.
Touchless access controls: In the world of hand sanitizers and facemasks, people worldwide are much more conscious about what we touch, especially in public. This has driven businesses and public facilities to seek touchless access technologies to upgrade or replace keypads, touch screens or other “touch-based” access control systems for doors, garage entry and other access points. The most common touchless technologies include key fobs, Bluetooth and facial biometrics.
Analytics software: The software and artificial intelligence behind the camera and other hardware plays a critical role in surveillance solutions. As it relates to the COVID-19 crisis, the software technology is able to tie together diverse visual data to turn it into useful solutions to mitigate the pandemic. For example, when thermal imaging cameras work in tandem with facial recognition, these systems together are able to efficiently track and prevent spread of the virus. Some analytics software solutions use “heat mapping” of foot traffic data to determine locations where people tend congregate, which enables proactive detection of mounting traffic to avoid overcrowding. Camera analytics can also provide guidance and automatic alerts for “queue monitoring” when social distancing lines protocols are in effect.
An Orwellian future?
All the technology, artificial intelligence and prolific video surveillance may bring to mind “Big Brother” from Orwell’s dystopian world. Throw COVID-19 into the mix, and it might look like a dark future come to life.
However, Kim Hartman of Surveillance Secure sees things differently. “During this crisis, our team has appreciated a deep sense of satisfaction that we’ve been able to respond to our customers’ needs. We’ve been busy keeping people safe, and in the process, we didn’t need to lay off a single employee. That gives me a sense of hope for the future.”
Ray Hays is a 30-year franchise veteran and Managing Partner at FranLaunch USA, a franchise management firm that focuses on the expansion of US emerging franchisors and international concepts entering the American market. The FranLaunch USA team offers its clients over 100 years of combined executive experience in franchising, as well as funding through its capital partners, to maximize a franchisor’s early-stage US growth.