To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we’re showcasing 90 artifacts that represent reasons why Caterpillar has thrived for 90 years.Learn More
Welding down manhole covers, changing every single lock in the facility and “basically taking the building apart” were just a few of the preparations made when former president George W. Bush visited Caterpillar’s SS facility in East Peoria in 2007, said Jeff Schaeffer, emergency management district manager.
“The Secret Service told us they had never worked with a group that was so ready and prepared,” Schaeffer said.
Schaeffer and his colleague Scott Kelso, security manager in East Peoria, have worked in security at Caterpillar since the early 1990s when they began their careers as security guards in East Peoria. Their colleague Robin Smith, district security manager for enterprise security risk management, started his career as a security officer at the Tech Center in 1978.
The three agreed that prepping for a presidential visit has been the highlight of their careers, but made it clear that the safety and security of Caterpillar employees, facilities and the communities in which it operates has been their main priority on a daily basis.
“Safety and security have been here as long as Caterpillar has. Other departments and divisions have come and gone. We’ve been a constant,” Schaeffer said.
Dating back to Holt and Best, each Caterpillar campus had its own fire brigade. The members of the brigades were Caterpillar employees and were responsible for fighting fires on the facility campus. The brigades had their own fleet of fire trucks and were specially trained to fight fires occurring in production facilities.
By the time Smith joined Caterpillar in the 1970s, there were around 18,000 employees and 200 security officers in the ranks in East Peoria. But there still wasn’t automated security. No proximity badges, no turnstiles. There weren’t even stoplights. Security guards directed traffic with whistles during the shift changes.
Security has become more advanced over the years and security staff continue to undergo intensive training. Schaeffer and Smith received instructor certification at the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute. In past years, they’ve used this expertise to host training for the Illinois Fire Chiefs’ Association.
“We put on demonstrations in hazardous materials, fire and skimming hazardous materials off of water,” Smith said. “We put on training for them because we were the first people in the area who had experience. The Tech Center had more hazardous materials than any other location in central Illinois.”
The three former security guards shared other instances where the expertise of Caterpillar was called on to solve security or safety concerns in surrounding communities.
In 1998, when an inmate brought a vial of mercury into the Tazewell County Jail and dropped it on the floor, Schaeffer and Smith were called.
“They moved all the inmates out for us, and we were crawling around in the cells on the second or third floor cleaning up mercury in their jail cells for over an hour because we were the only certified mercury spill clean-up team in central Illinois,” Smith recalled. “But that’s what we did. All the surrounding communities knew, hey, Caterpillar’s got this.”
Not only is Caterpillar concerned about the safety of its employees and facilities, but it also takes a strong stand to protect the environment where its facilities are located.
When river pollution occurred near its Peoria-area facilities, whether it was Caterpillar’s fault or not, the East Peoria security team made sure it was taken care of and the river was restored to normal.
As Caterpillar grew globally, so did its security. When Caterpillar opened facilities in Mexico, Smith went to train the fire brigades at those facilities. Those brigades have been called on to fight fires in the communities surrounding the facilities.
Caterpillar has also donated fire trucks and other safety equipment to communities in need.
“Through the years, we’ve been community-oriented. If the community needed it, and we could do it, we did it,” Smith said.
No one can say what Caterpillar will look like in another 90 years, but here’s one safe prediction: No matter where we are or what we’re doing, dedicated security and safety experts will be there – protecting their communities and fellow employees.