Janitors are the latest to join an ever-expanding list of people keeping an eye out for terrorists. Commercial cleaning company Jani-King International will give employees formal antiterrorism training this month so they know what to look for while making their rounds.
“We have so many people in buildings at night,” said Rick Robinson, president of Jani-King Southwest. “We see a lot of strange things out there, so what we just wanted to do was to give them basic awareness on what to look for, and, if you do see something peculiar, who do you call, how do you handle it and what do you do? It makes sense. We're out there all the time anyway.
We might as well give them some basic training, and, if it helps spot one thing across the country, it's well worth the training.” Robinson oversees 225 Jani-King franchisees in Arizona and New Mexico. There are 40 franchisees in the East Valley.
“If they average a half-dozen employees each, that makes 900 people or so in buildings at night,” Robinson said.
Jani-King International, which says it's the world's largest commercial cleaning franchisor, cleans more than 50,000 buildings in 17 countries. Some 10,000 franchisees will be trained in the company's Workplace Awareness Program to assess potential building and workplace security threats and report them to authorities.
“We definitely don't want our people overreacting and reporting every small thing,” said Robert Kindred, a company spokesman.“But the small things can turn out to be something, and we are in so many different facilities from nuclear power plants to banks, schools and universities . . . In stadiums, we pick up the trash in Dumpsters and in the trash cans that are right outside where the grandstands are. People could drop a bomb in there. Well, we're the ones that are pulling that trash out, and we'll recognize when there's something in there.”
The company has a client list that includes PepsiCo, Nabisco, Xerox, OfficeMax, Coca-Cola, Verizon Wireless, Marriott Hotels, American Airlines Center, Texas Motor Speedway, Xavier University and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Custodians aren't the only blue-collar workers on the the first line of defense against terror.
More than two years ago, the trucking industry said about 3 million truckers would create a rolling army looking for anything suspicious related to terrorism or national security.
Under an antiterrorism action plan, commercial truck drivers were trained to spot and report any questionable activity, mainly so 18-wheelers are never used as a weapon in a potential terrorist attack.
Cliff Puckett, Mesa emergency manager and assistant fire chief, said anything that raises terrorism awareness among any employee group is a good idea. “Everybody is changing their philosophical approach to the way we live on a daily basis and the way we manage our businesses, and I think that's what we have to do,” he said. Jani-King's security initiative will include training from a former employee of the the Department of Homeland Security who is now a Jani-King franchise owner in Tampa. He will train employees in recognition skills and how to ask the appropriate questions, Kindred said.
“We're definitely not teaching our people to confront anybody, but even a simple ‘hello’ once in a while will scare someone off,” he said.
Employees also will be taught what to look for in parking lots including “vans that may be weighed down or vans that don't have any windows or that may be parked extremely close to the building,” he said.
Robinson expects to receive training material from Jani-King's home office sometime this month. Franchisees will be trained and they, in turn, will tell their employees what to look for.
While background checks are done on franchise owners, rank-and-file janitors only submit to one if the job requires it. “Nuclear power plants require a 10-year background check,” Kindred said. “We have other accounts that aren't as demanding. We have a government contract in Tampa Bay where we clean all of the government buildings. They had to go through extremely thorough background checks . . . A car dealership is obviously not going to require as much as a government building.”