Distribution center replaces shoe leather with technology
Distribution center replaces shoe leather with technology

Oct 1, 1997 12:00 PM

Huge. Mammoth. Immense. That's the size of the Distribution Fulfillment Services Inc. (DFS) distribution center in Columbus, Ohio, and it's the size of the task of providing security for the facility - a two-story, 4-million-square-foot building.

During the last two years, new security technology has replaced shoe leather to protect the immense space, which includes 192 loading docks and more than 100 doors.

"Our challenge," says Richard H. Frank, CPP, manager of security and loss prevention, "was to retrofit a huge facility, using some existing systems, and blend them into a seamless customization at minimal cost and with minimal disruption to our associates."

DFS met the challenge, on time and within budget, and expects full recovery of its initial cost of $1.4 million within two years. The company credits intense planning with Acree-Daily Inc., an electrical systems integration company, and Elliot Boxerbaum, CPP, a security/risk management consultant, for its success.

It is not Fort Knox, says Frank, "but we have a high level of security at a cost-effective level." DFS now sets the standard for loss prevention in the distribution facilities industry.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Spiegel Inc., DFS distributes merchandise to a growing chain of Eddie Bauer retail stores and the Spiegel catalog operations. In the spring of 1994, in a move designed to increase efficiency and accommodate future growth, DFS consolidated several small distribution facilities on Columbus' west side into a single hub.

Shoe leather security

In May 1995, when DFS began operations at the former Sears Midwest catalog distribution center on Columbus' west side, numerous guards, with a weekly payroll of about $10,000, walked hundreds of miles a day around the clock. The building hosted an assortment of electronic equipment installed over 20 to 30 years.

"We looked at the existing facility, how it had been run and focused on how we could work within it," Frank explains. "We quickly determined that what we had here was not going to work for us."

The previous operation depended primarily on guards rather than electronics, Frank says. "It was very people-intensive."

There was an existing alarm system with some 15 fixed cameras, but the system was unable to scan an area and transmit information to the control center.

Summing up the situation, Frank says "we always had the option of doing nothing and sticking with the status quo, but no one felt that was feasible to manage our risks of fire, intrusion, internal loss of goods, and to protect our associates."

Special security issues

Sheer size places the facility in a special security category. Its two-story floor space covers the equivalent of 91 acres and contains 17 miles of conveying systems. A lunch-hour jog around the building exterior would be a mile. The property is enclosed by an 8-foot-high, barbed-wire-topped chain link fence.

In addition to the usual issues of controlling access of the public and employees, the building presented challenges of protecting an on-site power generating plant and permitting full use of an Eddie Bauer retail store and other leased space. Undocumented renovations to the 1970s-era building presented further complications. Built during the energy crisis, five generators powered by diesel fuel and natural gas produce electricity for the facility, which uses waste heat for heating and cooling.

Planning key to successful installation

Planning and regular meetings of the project participants were key to getting the security project done - on time and within budget.

As merchandise and personnel moved in, Frank and his associates - Matt Drager, supervisor, loss prevention; and Tim J. Schwalm, manager, loss prevention - launched an intensive security planning process, using guards as a stopgap measure. During this period, DFS security managers were stretched thin with involvement in construction of the 2-million-square-foot faci- lity in nearby Groveport. Thus, Frank asked Boxerbaum of Security/Risk Management Consultants Inc. to provide information on the latest advances in technology, write the bid specifications and assist in installation oversight.

"First we had to assess what we needed to protect - the physical plant, people and merchandise - and look at the risk associated with each asset," Boxerbaum recalls. Elements such as vandalism, breaking and entering, parking lot security, theft of merchandise and trespassing were considered.

"We looked at everything from the perspective of how it could be protected," Boxerbaum explains. Viewing the system as a whole was equally important. For instance, if lighting was changed, the camera positions had to be reviewed, he says.

At the same time, another assessment was made of what electronic equipment already in place could be used. The equipment included door monitors that were set up to operate in groups consisting of about 20 doors. "We decided the new system must read each door separately," Drager says.

The basic plan went through four major revisions and compromises "to best balance costs of people and technology," Frank says. This included relocating the central station control center into a more spacious area. When all bases were covered, the team took the plan to management for approval. Management decided to maximize the efforts of a minimal staff with an arsenal of the latest access control, closed-circuit television and fire alarm devices.

In determining the best way to do the job, DFS reviewed installations at major facilities in and outside of Ohio.

Frank says that once management saw the cost effectiveness of the installation of electronic equipment, they concluded that it made sense financially. Frank believes the system enables operators to use higher skills, reduces job tedium and raises awareness.

Bidding and customization

Bids went out in the fall of 1994, with the security component awarded to Acree-Daily in early spring of 1995. Romanoff Electric of Columbus, Ohio, was the prime contractor.

DFS selected the SAFEnet system, manufactured by Monitor Dynamics Inc. (MDI), Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and Acree-Daily won the installation and maintenance contracts. Both decisions were cost driven, Frank says. Acree-Daily was able to keep costs low by its proximity to the facility; it is located within 10 quick freeway miles of DFS. The five-year service contract calls for 24-hour emergency service.

"We also have had a lot of experience in retrofits and integrating a variety of systems with MDI controls," says Dale Acree. "This past experience in both integration and installation helped control costs."

Frank views security equipment as a "living entity" and was looking for a dynamic system that could handle inevitable changes in both technology and DFS' operation. "We looked closely at future costs," Frank says.

A wish list of technology

MDI was selected because of its ability to integrate separate systems into a single monitoring site. The system was designed to provide the platform to control and monitor security, access control systems, fire and HVAC, and read information from more than 500 intrusion points and 350 fire alarm points.

The system fully integrates the old with the new. A matched set of file servers with two work stations are the heart of the central control facility, providing for redundant hot backup. Four Burle video controller units and a pair of Burle time-lapse VCRs record and store all movement in the building. Completing the central station equipment are a Burle TC 8800 128-input video switcher, 18 Burle TC 1909 9-inch black-and-white monitors and 20 Burle TC210 13-inch color monitors.

Some 98 Burle Auto Dome surveillance cameras with tilt and zoom capability are mounted in strategic areas, 18 transmitting in black and white and 36 in color. These are augmented by information from 33 Burle fixed position cameras, a pair of JVC 35-inch color video monitors and 35 MDI card readers.

Turnstiles don't turn

Acree-Daily was given the requirement of providing a card access system and turnstiles that were compatible with a photo identification card already in use at the DFS Groveport facility.

"We installed seven Omega optical turnstiles," Tom Ibaugh, Acree-Daily sales engineer, says. The components were used because they can handle high-volume traffic at high speed. The model has no physical barrier or anything to turn - flashing green and red lights signal access or denial.

The turnstiles operate with a reader that decodes information contained in a magnetic stripe on the user's ID card. The card contains information about whether the associate should be permitted access and also has information to determine "whether the person is in the right place at the right time," Ibaugh says. Information from each card reading is logged into computers in the central station and can be retained for future reference. The system can double as a time clock.

Special design features

Special assignments included separating group monitoring of doors so that each produced its own door alarm.

Drager says the biggest challenge was integrating and sequencing the fire alarm system. In the event of a fire, the system automatically turns off the heat and air conditioning to avoid spreading heat or smoke, and opens an exhaust fan to draw smoke out of the area. It must work precisely, because the fan can draw with sufficient force to collapse a heat duct.

The bid specs also required use of one of two preferred camera systems, because DFS wanted to integrate some cameras from former facilities to cut costs.

In an additional cost-saving move, DFS asked technicians to salvage equipment from various buildings around the city that DFS had vacated. The equipment was relocated to the new facility and installed as part of the new system.

Fiber optics upped quality, cut costs

To avoid running miles of copper cable, Drager says more than 4,000 feet of fiber-optic cable was installed to carry CCTV signals from three major collection points back to the central station. The cable was used to improve the quality of the signals, since the quality of information received through the old cable at such long distances was questionable.

Acree-Daily, in a cooperative engineering effort with Boxerbaum and Romanoff Electric, designed a three-hub, fiber-optic cable configuration that allowed use of a hybrid fiber-optic/copper cable plant for video delivery, thereby reducing installation costs while enhancing system performance. Working around an on-going business, sometimes during the third shift, further complicated the installation.

Payoff in pride, good insurance rating

Frank says the company's insurance carrier was apprised of the security installation and is kept abreast of major changes. He noted DFS has received a "highly protected rating" that ensures its overall insurability and low risk rates, which translates into additional annual savings through reduced insurance costs. Intense monitoring in the facility also has led to a significant reduction in shrinkage.

"We are very proud of our effort and our program," Drager says. "Management has a very high commitment to maintaining the physical equipment and keeping it in top functioning order. There's a real emphasis on maintaining the state-of-the-art level of the system."

"We maintain a very secure facility but in an open environment," Frank says. The bottom line is that the security system is working and paying off, made possible by the use of advanced technology, a team approach and the ongoing support of DFS management.

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