Centerra celebrates 35 years protecting Savannah River Site
Centerra, the Savannah River Site security contractor, is this month celebrating 35 continuous years of protecting SRS security interests. Centerra, formerly known as Wackenhut Services, Inc., has been providing security services at the 310-square-mile Department of Energy nuclear facility since 1983. Wackenhut, founded by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent George Wackenhut in 1954, was purchased by Centerra Group, LLC, in 2014. Centerra is owned by Constellis, a leading global provider of risk management, security, humanitarian, training and operational support services to government and commercial customers, with over 24,000 employees worldwide.
“It’s been a rewarding 35 years and we have been fortunate to have a great team of employees and leadership at Savannah River,” said Paul Donahue, Chief Operating Officer for Constellis and Chief Executive Officer for Centerra. “You have always represented the best of what we do and how we do it and the Corporation is proud of your work and accomplishments. I want to thank each of you for your hard work and dedication to our mission, and also express my appreciation to our client for their guidance and oversight.”
In 1983, the Savannah River Plant, as it was then known, had been operating as a nuclear fuels production plant since the early 1950s. The Site produced materials used in nuclear weapons, primarily tritium and plutonium-239. The materials produced and stored at SRS were necessary to maintain our Nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal but also posed a serious risk if not maintained in a safe, secure location. Although DuPont had provided security since the 1950s, the world political environment was continuing to evolve. As the threat of terrorism had increased across the globe, it became increasingly important to ensure that Site operations, nuclear material, and employees were safe from those who wished to harm our Nation.
In April 1983, DOE announced plans to enhance Site security and solicited proposals from specialized security companies. After a competitive bidding process that included 19 organizations, Wackenhut Services, Incorporated, of Coral Gables, Florida, was selected to protect the Site’s National security interests.
“Wackenhut initially hired approximately 460 uniformed security professionals and 50 administrative support personnel,” said Mark Bolton, the Centerra-SRS General Manager, who was hired as a Security Inspector in 1983. “The organizational culture was and remains paramilitary, team oriented, with a specific focus on safety and mission accomplishment.”
The Company assumed command and control of Site security functions over a six-month period that began in late 1983 and provided highly-trained security professionals that the client was expecting for day-to-day protection of the Site. The Special Response Team which provides tactical capabilities was a critical component of the contract bid and remains key to the operational structure to help mitigate potential terrorist activity.
Over the past 35 years, the Company has enhanced security and operational capabilities to meet changing mission requirements. The SRS Aviation Program, managed by Centerra, was initiated in 1984 with the acquisition of two American Eurocopter Corporation BK-117 twin-engine multipurpose helicopters. Although the primary role of Centerra’s Aviation Operations Department has always been to support the security mission, they also provide other important services, such as observing for wildfires that could endanger Site operations or employees, emergency medical evacuations, ecological programs, and aerial photography.
The Canine Program, established in 1986, quickly gained a reputation for excellence among the DOE complex, the United States Police Canine Association, and local law enforcement. The SRS canines provide narcotics and explosives detection capability and are an essential element of the overall security posture.
In 1984, the Company won the first of what would eventually become ten National Championships in the DOE Security Protection Officer Training Competition. Centerra also has had nine employees selected as either the Security Police Officer of the Year or Team Leader of the Year, an exceptional record in the competition among teams from across the DOE complex that validated the company’s training and security operations capabilities.
In the late 1990s, the Company embarked on a journey to embrace and implement policies, practices and a quality management system based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria. Through the Department of Energy Program, the Company won the Accomplishment Award in 1997, the Achievement Award in 1999, and in 2000, the Excellence Award, the highest total quality award within DOE. In 2004, the Company was awarded the South Carolina Governor’s Quality Award, the highest award presented by the South Carolina Quality Forum, the state authority on organizational commitment to total quality. Over the years, the Company used the principles of Total Quality, including self-assessments to evaluate and improve security and administrative operations. Performance Testing and the use of force-on-force tactical exercises played a significant role in evaluating and driving performance improvement.
The SRS firearms ranges transitioned from small, basic training areas to the state-of-the-art Bobby Davis Range that opened in 2011. The enhanced training facilities now provide the capabilities necessary to maintain firearms and tactical proficiency to counter potential security threats.
In 1995, the Company’s Law Enforcement Department became the first private security agency to receive accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, the first under the control of DOE, and the first in South Carolina to earn South Carolina Law Enforcement Accreditation. In addition, Centerra also became the eighth agency in the U.S. to achieve CALEA Public Safety Training Academy accreditation in November 2005. Centerra also earned DOE Training Approval Program certification, validating the Company’s ability to provide effective, efficient programs to ensure personnel receive appropriate initial and refresher training.
In 2001, the 9/11 attacks brought terrorism to our Nation’s soil and became the driving force for further enhancements to the Site security posture. Centerra met the challenge and increased security capabilities to meet the emerging threat. Part of that initiative included significant enhancements to the Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Weapons of Mass Destruction response program. This capability greatly enhanced the Company’s ability to respond to these type threats, and became the model employed at other locations in the DOE complex. The Company’s expertise in Chemical response became important in 2005 when a train crashed in the nearby community of Graniteville and released toxic chlorine gas. Along with SRS Fire Department personnel, Centerra provided important oversight and support for first responders at the scene and helped mitigate the repercussions of the accident.
In recent years, another threat has emerged nationwide with an increasing number of active shooter situations at public and government facilities. Once again, Centerra led the DOE security contractor complex in training and preparing the Protective Force to respond to and mitigate this type event. Centerra worked closely with DOE, the FBI, SRS Fire Department, the SRS Vulnerability Assessment Group and other Site organizations in developing a comprehensive SRS Active Shooter Plan to ensure a consolidated Site response to any potential active shooter situation. The plan involves a seamless integration of all Site resources, including security, fire, medical, and emergency management. This plan was successfully tested in a Site evaluated exercise in 2017, the first exercise of its kind at a DOE Complex involving a full Site emergency response to a simulated active shooter incident. There were over 600 players, controllers, evaluators, observers and other key technical personnel involved in conducting the exercise that tested the Site’s capability to respond to an event of this type.
The Centerra contract is designed to be self-sufficient with minimal corporate support, and administrative functions have provided critical support needed to ensure the security mission is conducted effectively, safely, and in a cost-efficient manner for 35 years. Facility upgrades and enhancements as well as new Protective Force equipment and armament have led to security improvements over the years, including the Reactor Safeguards Improvement Project, upgraded weaponry, Bearcat armored vehicles, Plantwide Alternate Alarm Center, Electronic Safeguards and Security System, and new Barricades 1 and 2.
The Company has integrated environment, safety, and health processes across all organizational elements. ISO 14001 is the international standard that specifies requirements for an effective environmental management system and Centerra maintains ISO 14001 Registration, signifying compliance with applicable standards and certifying our environmental management system. Centerra has an overarching commitment to safety throughout all organizational operations and every aspect of the contract is managed with a focus on employee safety and health.
The Company also has a strong history of supporting both active duty and reserve components of the military.
“Over 60 percent of the nearly 700-member workforce are military veterans and a substantial number continue to serve in the National Guard or Reserve,” said Mr. Bolton. “We recruit military personnel based on their unique skill mix and our Company earned numerous awards for support for veterans, including the Employee Support of Guard and Reserve 5-Star Award, Pro Patria Award for being a top employer in South Carolina for National Guard and Reserve members, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Employer of the Year.”
For over 35 years, Centerra has recognized an obligation that extends into the surrounding cities, towns and communities of South Carolina and Georgia, contributing time, talent, expertise, and resources to charitable organizations. The Company places high value on employee involvement in activities that positively impact local communities and remains dedicated to community support. Centerra and employees have donated $4.4 million to United Way charities in combined employee and Company contributions.
“Centerra is not only the premier paramilitary security force at SRS, but you’re also a wonderful corporate partner,” said Sharon Rodgers, President/CEO of United Way of Aiken County. “United Way is only as good as the communities we exist in – it is through you and your generosity and your belief that all in our community deserve to have a better life that we are able to meet critical needs.”
Centerra-SRS has also supported numerous other charitable and community impact agencies over the years, including Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, Wounded Warrior Project, Leadership Aiken County, American Cancer Society, CSRA College Night, Toys for Tots, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Child Advocacy of Aiken County, Child Enrichment, educational institutions, and other organizations.
“As a Law Enforcement Torch Run agency, Centerra began a crusade in 2004 to raise funds and awareness for this population that had for so long been underserved,” said Barry Coats, President/CEO of Special Olympics South Carolina. “In all, Centerra has raised well over a quarter of a million dollars over the years and helped lead a generational change program for the past 16 years, but the awareness that was generated by your involvement has been priceless.”
The Centerra organization remains driven to continue supporting the community in coming years.
“We are extremely proud of our commitment to local communities,” said Mr. Bolton. “We remain dedicated to helping meet community needs and the sustained commitment by the Company and our employees will continue to enhance the quality of life for residents, families and neighboring communities in the coming years.”
The day-to-day performance of Centerra employees – both Protective Force and administrative support staff – drives the organization. The employees have worked hard 24-hours a day, seven days a week, for 35 years, to ensure that contractual obligations are conducted safely, effectively and in accordance with applicable Federal regulations, DOE Orders, and Company policy and procedures.
“It has been through this daily commitment that we have been successful in ensuring Site security has evolved to meet changing requirements driven by Site mission changes,” said Mr. Bolton. “Every employee in our 35-year history has contributed to our successful tenure at SRS and we are extremely grateful for their commitment to doing the job right, every day.”
The Company name changed from Wackenhut to WSI to the current name, Centerra, but the dedication to mission has not wavered. As the Company moves forward, Centerra looks forward to future challenges as Site missions continue to evolve in support of National security, environmental management, and energy needs.
“The SRS has experienced many evolutions over the last 35 years, transitioning from a production mission to one now focused on storage and environmental management, but one thing has not changed – that is the amazing job by our employees in protecting the Site against a growing list of potential adversary threats and capabilities,” said Mr. Bolton. “We appreciate the trust and confidence that DOE has placed in our organization during this time. Our employees have been our most important and appreciated resource for 35 years and we are confident they possess the skills, expertise and experience needed to meet future challenges at the Savannah River Site.”
Centerra Group, LLC
Centerra Group, LLC, , a subsidiary of Constellis Holdings, LLC, is the world’s leading international Government solutions group and specializes in business processes in sectors where security and safety risks are considered a strategic threat. The Company has provided security services at the Savannah River Site since 1983. Centerra, headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, with regional and subsidiary offices in Louisiana, Maryland, Texas and Virginia, is a multidisciplinary service provider with more than 8,800 employees worldwide. For further information, please call 800-325-5432 or visit www.centerragroup.com.
Constellis Holdings, LLC
Constellis is a leading provider of operational support and risk management services to government and commercial clients worldwide. From security, training and crisis response to logistics, life support, munitions clearance, and technology services, Constellis helps its clients achieve and sustain success, no matter where they are in the world. With a commitment to highly compliant and ethical business practices, Constellis leverages its operational excellence, world-class training facilities and global network of partners to quickly deliver tailored, cost-effective and innovative services to its clients. Employing more than 17,000 personnel in approximately 40 countries spanning five continents, Constellis provides its clients with creative solutions in the most challenging environments around the world. For more information, visit www.constellis.com.
Savannah River Site
The Savannah River Site is a key DOE industrial complex dedicated to environmental management and cleanup, nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship, and nuclear materials disposition in support of the U.S. nuclear nonproliferation efforts. The 310-square-mile site also develops and deploys technologies to support environmental cleanup and energy independence. The site is approximately 23 miles southeast of Augusta, Georgia, and 20 miles south of Aiken, South Carolina, the two closest population centers. For more information, visit www.srs.gov.