Q&A: Kirk Cote, DEMA chairman


In January, Correctional News reported from the American Correctional Association’s 2008 winter conference in Grapevine, Texas on the formation of the National Association of Architectural Metal Manufacturers’ newest division — the Detention Equipment Manufacturers Association. DEMA chairperson, Kirk Cote, a senior project manager with Sierra Detention Systems, spoke with Correctional News about the detention market and the new association, which aims to promote the use and development of quality detention products and services and to provide information and support to design professionals, contractors and facility owners in the detention market.

QHow did DEMA come about?

A: Jim Stapleton, of Habersham Metal Products, Tim Browne, of Trussbilt, and myself have been members of NAAMM for 20 years and all three of us were aware of the coordination required between the various stakeholders involved in the design, construction engineering and outfitting of correctional facilities. We had talked for a long time about the void that existed with regard to this market and about the need and opportunity within NAAMM for the creation of a distinct division devoted to detention equipment manufacturers and contractors/integrators.

Q: What was dominant rationale behind the formation of DEMA?

A: One of the major problems that we encountered consistently was the variable specifications that were arising between different architects from job to job. With the insight of many years experience in the industry we felt that a national association of detention equipment manufacturers was needed so that we could all work together in a better, more effective and smooth manner.

QWhat is the mission of DEMA?

A: The main mission of DEMA is to educate architects, contractors, owners and even manufacturers about what it takes to put together an effective detention system and what can be done in terms of products and systems.

As an association, we can establish testing and standards to create the best possible products and end-user experience. In that sense, DEMA’s main focus will be in the development of standards, specifications and educational programs that will help design professionals and contractors acquire and use reliable detention products and services for correctional facilities.

The association is also set up to take input from end-users, owners, architects and contractors in order to improve what we as manufacturers can do for them to create more effective detention equipment and security solutions.

Q: Who makes-up your membership?

A: Full membership of DEMA is restricted to manufacturers of detention equipment, but detention equipment contractors can gain associate membership. Southern Folger joined recently, which increased our membership to 13 companies. I have set a goal of expanding our membership to 24 companies by the end of 2009, which marks the end of my chairpersonship of DEMA.

Q: What are the benefits?

A: DEMA provides an ideal environment for manufacturers and contractors to learn what the industry is doing, stay abreast of innovations and developments, and facilitates ongoing networking opportunities for information-, experience- and knowledge-sharing and business development.

I think not being a member of this type of organization means you are not keeping up with the latest developments as they happen in the industry. In my experience, not keeping up to speed and doing everything to stay at the forefront of your industry can hurt your business.

DEMA also establishes a forum through which members can have substantive input in the development of product testing, standards and specifications. Standardization is all about raising the bar and improving products for the end-user and members can play a role in improving the industry and changing the market: what we do and the way we do it.

Q: How has the detention market changed in recent years?

A: Changes in the detention equipment market are often influenced by changes in the corrections market and other related industries.

Only 15 to 20 years ago, block-wall construction was the standard in correctional facilities. That method relied on skilled masons and involved extensive, time-consuming and costly on-site work. It also limited what you could do with detention equipment and security systems.

About five to 10 years ago precast construction began taking hold and in the last several years we have seen the emergence of metal wall paneling. This kind of evolution in facility construction has had a direct impact on the detention equipment market because structural components of the facility take up less and less space, which gives the detention equipment contractors more space to work with and provides them with more latitude and flexibility in designing and installing detention and security systems.

Evolving possibilities for the end-user and contractor create changing demands from both, which prompt changes and advancements at the manufacturing end in the products produced.

Q: What about other major changes have you seen?

A: Perhaps more than anything else in recent years, the integration of electronics represents area of fundamental change in the market and we had the emergence of security electronics contractors alongside detention equipment contractors.

End-users are trying to integrate everything from simple steel locking devices to security electronics and complex controls systems. You want to be able to operate all these elements as a single compatible and integrated system, where the design, installation and operation of all the various components are coordinated.

The detention equipment contractor wants to tie all these elements together for the end-user, so ideally the DEC should have overarching responsibility for everything from detention equipment to security electronics. In the past several years, we have seen a trend toward the integration of security electronics and detention equipment contracting services to match the evolving integration of traditional hardware and electronic products and components.

Q: What about future? How do you see the detention market changing?

A: The area of electronics is one where we will likely continue to see advancements that change the detention market in a major way.

We have also begun to see manufacturers recognize and move toward environmental sustainability and I feel the manufacturing side will be pushing to go green in their facilities and the products they offer. 

At the spring NAAMM meeting, we actually had a speaker come and talk on the subject and a few manufacturers have already started doing things toward getting green. I’m sure some of it has to do with tax incentives and some of it is just being environmentally conscious, but it is also a function of changes in the market and the changing demands of end-users. Although, given that it may be a requirement some day in meeting specifications, everyone needs to be aware.

Q: Does the emergence of DEMA have the potential to change the market?

A: As far as DEMA goes, I think we will see a move toward more integration of the various aspects of and products associated with the corrections and detention market. As a detention equipment association with a membership of manufacturers and contractors, we can play a leading role in developing a coordinated approach to the design and installation of detention and security products and integrated facility systems.

Q: What is your barometer reading of the current state of the market?

A: My forecast is for the market to remain strong for the next several years.
Our suppliers have had order backlogs for some time now and those backlogs are getting longer and longer. The way the market is at the moment, you could have to wait until next year before getting hold of some products from your suppliers.

Of course, having a strong market is great but the backlogs create problems for the contractor and make it harder to do business. Contractors really need to keep track and plan ahead in terms of their project workload because each project has a certain amount of lead time and it takes awhile to go through the necessary process from inception to completion. Contractors need to know that manufacturers or suppliers can meet the order for each project.

Q: There was a little disquiet in the market in 2006 when one major equipment manufacturer began requiring DECs to complete a product installation certification program in order purchase the company’s detention products. What is your take on this kind of development? Is it good for the market?

A: I think this all comes down to the manufacturer wanting to ensure that they offer a good product and that the end-user has the best possible experience with the product.

The problem lies in the fact that the relationship between the manufacturer and end-user is an indirect one where the installation contractor sits in the middle. When a problem arises with a detention equipment system, product or component, but the DEC is no longer in business, the facility owner will automatically turn to the original equipment manufacturer to fix the problem regardless of whether the problem is the result of substandard or inappropriate installation or substandard product. That has been a major concern for manufacturers: you can make a good product, but poor installation of your product can give you a bad name in the market. As a manufacturer, you want to protect yourself and your reputation.

Q: Is the lack of a DEC umbrella association part of the problem?

A: Yes, the absence of a certifying organization for DECs is part of the problem. As a manufacturer, you want qualified, capable, reliable people working with and installing your products and you want to able to have confidence in the contractors you are supplying.

But in the absence of an independent certifying body for DECs, how do you as a manufacturer protect your reputation and ensure best-practice installation? I guess one of the ways to protect yourself and to ensure the quality installation of your quality products is to establish your own training and certification process and to do business only with contractors who agree to participate.

Q: If all manufacturers followed suit, DECs could be required to gain certification each company they work with. That seems like a highly inefficient, costly and time-consuming practice. Can DEMA assume a role in developing a standardized manufacturers’ certification program for installation contractors?

A: DEMA becoming involved in the development of a single certification program is an interesting proposition and the type of thing that we would address in meetings of our association.

It may be something to look at in the future. In theory, we could develop a series of standards, protocols and training and certification programs for the installation of detention products and equipment from locks to doors to glazing, everything.

Personally, I think that would certainly improve our place in the market and would improve the products and services that manufacturers and contractors deliver. But I am not sure how feasible it would be to craft a unified certification program or that every manufacturer in the market would go for something like that.