VARs Help Customers Brace For Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

Ferguson, Mo.-area business and property owners are bolstering video surveillance and business-continuity protections in preparation for a grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case.

Two St. Louis-area solution providers said that proper IT investment can help businesses protect their assets and keep operations going should violent protests arise following the grand jury announcement on whether charges will be brought against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson, a white police officer, fatally shot the black 18-year-old Brown Aug. 9.

"Unfortunately, things like this typically make business better in a lot of ways," said Mason Lipp, vice president of sales for Watchtower Security in Maryland Heights, Mo.

[Related: VARs Urge Cities Like Ferguson To Archive To Ease Public Records Retrieval]

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Much of northern St. Louis County has been on edge since the August protests led to the looting of some businesses in Ferguson and neighboring Dellwood. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon Monday declared a state of emergency and activated the state's National Guard citing "the possibility of expanded unrest" once a decision is announced in the Brown case.

GadellNet Consulting Services in St. Louis has been putting together and testing disaster-recovery scenarios for its customers over the past two or three weeks.

Nick Smarrelli, GadellNet's co-founder and chief operating officer, said the company is ensuring that businesses have full remote enterprise access and won't lose data if riots erupted near a vital site.

"The fact is that people could be burning buildings down," Smarrelli said.

Watchtower's clients -- most of which are multifamily apartment complex owners -- have been reaching out and asking what they should do if tensions flare up. Lipp has advised them to be proactive and identify who should be on the property and reach out immediately if a problem arises.

"They [complex owners] know who their residents are," Lipp said.

Watchtower's offering goes far beyond a video camera, Lipp said. The solution provider offers managed video surveillance, a monthly subscription-based model that includes plans for locking down a property and intense monitoring of "pinch points," the locations where a pedestrian or vehicle can enter or exit the property.

Business-continuity services also are vital for companies in a potentially dangerous area, Smarrelli said, since off-site servers replicating essential data ensure that downtime is less than a day, rather than a week or two.

"People are recognizing that backup is not enough," Smarrelli said. "Continuity is more important."

Most of GadellNet's new clients had only a data backup solution from their previous provider, Smarrelli said, and learned that restoration could take a while if they had no off-site capabilities. Still, 80 percent of the customers Smarrelli consulted with had already made the right investments.

Watchtower has urged prospective customers to be cautious before signing up for managed video surveillance because much of the interest seems to be driven by short-term fears.

Even if video surveillance were the right option for a week or month, Lipp feared some of these potential clients would have buyer's remorse.

"Eventually, it's going to die down," he said.

NEXT: How Watchtower Responded To An August Attack

For existing customers who want to improve their surveillance coverage, Lipp said Watchtower could either install more cameras or adjust the camera angles.

Although GadellNet has many customers near the St. Louis County Courthouse in Clayton -- where the grand jury is deliberating -- Smarrelli said fortunately none of them sustained any damage during the August protests.

Watchtower received an unusually high number of requests in August for forensic reviews and surveillance footage from their clients, many of which are located in St. Louis' northern suburbs.

Lipp said one of those reviews uncovered men ripping down the conduits on cameras that were part of Watchtower's monitoring system for a particular property.

"They were mad at the cameras," he said.

Fortunately, Lipp said all of the surveillance footage is backed up to the cloud, meaning Watchtower's reviewers were able to pull down a high-resolution version of the offending footage and pass it along to law enforcement.

Police departments were reaching out to Watchtower in August and asking for video in hot areas, Lipp said. Only law enforcement and property owners are allowed to request video footage, Lipp said.

Law enforcement collaboration also has been important for GadellNet, which has been relying on friends in the police force to cue them in on rumors about when the grand jury decision will be released, Smarrelli said.

Given the location of their customer base, Smarrelli said GadellNet is ensuring they have strong mobile access on the day of the announcement and can provide prompt email alerts.

"Most people are going to be leaving their offices preemptively as soon as the decision is made," Smarrelli said.

Similarly, significant unpredictability surrounds how long employees would need to be out of the office if the building sustained damage from looting or riots.

For this reason, GadellNet is encouraging its clients to ensure that all employees have general server access, VPN, laptops and chargers (rather than just a docking station).

"People need to be able to work from home for an extended period of time," Smarrelli said.