Hines Sees Security Potential

July 23, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — With his own play on a country-music slogan, Thomas Hines says that he was “security before security was cool.” The president and CEO of local security consulting and technology development firm SecureMatrix, and co-founder of the Michigan Homeland Security Consortium, Hines has been working to secure corporate and public interests since the early 1980s.

It was half a lifetime ago that Hines launched his first security firm, Network Security Systems, in Grand Rapids. A decade later, as president of his second venture, Chicago-based SeNet Corp., Hines raised alarms over the potential security threats of ideological groups. Writing in the April 1994 edition of Illinois Issues, he cautioned, among other things, of the disturbing rise of groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, which that year launched a bombing campaign in Chicago.

Then came Oklahoma City, Columbine, and finally Sept. 11, 2001

“It all changed after Sept. 11,” said Hines. “Terrorists took down the WorldTradeCenter, a private office building, and we’ve never been the same. These types of things can and do happen. Whether it’s someone blowing up your building or walking off with your computers — a real loss or a risk liability that the trial lawyers will exploit — you have to be prepared, because they happen to companies everyday.”

Hines was a firsthand witness to the dawn of homeland security. Then a Grand Rapids-based sales executive working with the dealer network of a major security system manufacturer, Hines spent much of his time on airplanes, often flying to multiple cities over the course of a week. Although he helped deploy and maintain the security systems at a number of the airports he passed through, he went through the same security procedures as everyone else.

Working with military, law enforcement, utility and other critical infrastructure clients, along with many corporate customers, he saw the other side of the nation’s increased security concerns.

“I’ve been in a number of roles in the industry, and it’s brought me to the point now where I can perform and/or interface with all the different aspects of the industry,” Hines said. “If my clients need guard force management or to interface with information technology or logical security, I can do it. If I need to bring in a third party, I can talk their language.”

Three years ago, Hines launched SecureMatrix in Grand Rapids. He sold Network Security Systems in the early 1990s, and under the conditions of a non-compete agreement, sought new opportunities in the Chicago area, eventually launching SeNet, a first-generation online brand that served as a clearinghouse for security news and information.

“Some people are content tinkering, and some people want to go out and do things themselves,” Hines said. “The entrepreneur bug is something that lives within you. Once you’ve got it, you can’t get rid of it. It becomes part of your DNA.”

Incorporated separately as SecureMatrix Technologies LLC and SecureMatrix Consulting LLC, the combined brand is both a high technology startup and conventional security company. On one side, Hines is the only security professional in the state certified as a Physical Security Professional and Certified Protection Professional by the American Society of Industrial Security, formally known as ASIS International. As a consultant, he designs and implements security systems and programs for companies, law enforcement agencies, municipalities and other organizations with unique security needs.

Hines is careful to make a distinction between physical security, his expertise, and the field known as logical security practiced by information technology professionals. As an example, he cited the “Die Hard” movie franchise, which contained both logical and physical security assaults in three of the four movies, including the latest, “Live Free or Die Hard.”

“If you watch that movie, there are these devastating logical security attacks, and they’re able to do a lot of that remotely, but in the end, they actually have to break in to get to the servers,” Hines explained. “Look at what happened in Colorado (last week): A guy runs into the capitol building waving a gun and screaming, ‘I’m the emperor.’ They have to shoot him. He didn’t do that over the Internet.”

The boundaries between logical and physical security often blur, Hines noted, such as the almost constant loss of data by large corporations and government agencies via stolen or lost mail, laptops and flash drives. But while it is information at risk, the concerns are conventional and physical.

As such, a significant portion of Hines consulting work is based on liability issues. He has an appreciation for the sense of history in that field as well.

“It all goes back to Connie Francis,” he says. “She was a singer in the 1960s and ’70s, and when she was still famous, she was attacked and raped in a hotel room. The hotel said, ‘We’re not responsible, it says right here. …’ Her lawyers pierced that. They said, ‘You were responsible. You should have known better. You should have had better security.’

“And today it doesn’t matter whether it’s in the parking lot and your employees are leaving, or if it’s your product or your customers’ information: You’re responsible.”

Today there is even a subgroup of the American Trial Lawyers Association known as the Inadequate Security Litigation Group.

On the other side of SecureMatrix, Hines holds a number of patents and is working hard to bring these and other technologies to market for homeland security uses. Still a field in its infancy, homeland security is a hybrid of defense, physical and logical security focused on national and local infrastructure. In essence, homeland security involves the prevention and response to corporate and community disasters.

While there is a great deal of interest in homeland security in many regions, particularly in Silicon Valley, New York City and Washington, D.C., there has yet to emerge a national cluster for the industry. Here Hines saw an opportunity: Michigan has a number of federal homeland security agencies, a large number of nascent firms such as his own and companies such as General Electric, Delphi and Honeywell that are making homeland security products or components that could be used for homeland security, and an economy in desperate need of new industry.

Michigan is one of the world’s largest producers and users of sensors, for instance, almost entirely for the automotive sector. If these companies found a new market for these and other products in homeland security, Hines reasoned, perhaps they would begin converting their shuttered automotive plants for that purpose.

“I started talking to different people about a way to unite these different players together, and the more I talked to, the more I realized that we really needed something like this,” Hines said.

One of the individuals he reached out to was Keith Brophy, president of NuSoft Solutions in Grand Rapids. Together, the two launched the Michigan Homeland Security Consortium last year, the nation’s only regional homeland security organization.

“One of the most striking things about Tom is that he really believes in making a difference in the state’s economy,” said Brophy, consortium chairman. “He’s a high-energy, get-it-done guy that really believes that individuals working together can make a difference.”

Hines confessed that in launching the initiative, he had to subordinate his entrepreneurial ego, asking Brophy, the more recognizable businessman, to take a larger and more public role in the group’s launch.

In only a year’s time, the group has grown to 75 members, Hines said, 75 more than any other regional homeland security group in the nation.    

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