Friday, September 9, 2005

Security companies yesterday said they have seen an upswing in demand for services in the ravaged Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina blew through the region 12 days ago.

Most firms said that work could continue for years as Gulf cities emerge from the rubble and flooding to start repairs and reconstruction.

“Most unfortunately, this looks like a long-term construction process for any one of the cities affected,” said Tom Kennedy, senior vice president for protection services at Vance International Inc.

The Oakton investigation and security-consulting company last week sent about 20 employees to New Orleans, Biloxi, Miss., and three other Gulf Coast sites to assess property damage for 10 companies.

Mr. Kennedy, who would not name any of the clients, said the company expects to send more employees to the region as buildings are reopened.

“It’s a metamorphosis, but we’re there mainly to protect the facilities,” he said, adding the company has not helped law enforcement with quelling looters.

Blackwater USA, a Moyock, N.C., security services firm, also has sent about 150 of its workers to the region, said spokeswoman Anne Duke.

The company’s guards started helping the U.S. Coast Guard Sept. 1 with search-and-rescue missions, lending one of its Puma helicopters for the missions, Ms. Duke said.

Additionally, Blackwater guards are protecting facilities that house “priceless art pieces” and special landmarks, Ms. Duke said, refusing to disclose which cultural centers or landmarks are being guarded.

Securitas Security Services USA Inc., part of a global security firm with 100,000 employees in the U.S., sent an additional 160 to 175 officers to the Gulf Coast region to support the affected cities and outlying areas that are taking in thousands of refugees.

The firm is working with other companies to bring their facilities back on line with running water, communications and electricity while supplying guards, said Jack Serpas, president for the Southern Central region, which covers Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

“We are preparing for a rather long deployment for this work,” Mr. Serpas said, adding the company may pick up work in the areas from government defense contractors.

Security companies generally expect to have increased business after natural disasters, said Chris Stuart, general manager for Top Guard Security Inc., a Hampton, Va., security guard company.

“Communities and businesses just want an extra sense of comfort,” he said.

After Hurricane Isabel rolled through Hampton in 2003, Top Guard spent more than a year providing security services for companies rebuilding in the area, Mr. Stuart said.

The company this week was asked by a church to provide security for a “tent city” the church had planned to set up on a 10-acre spot in Hampton for Katrina evacuees, Mr. Stuart said.

“But we are still working with them on the logistics to see if that is possible,” he said.

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