Meet Paul, Security Technology Executive
During 9/11, Paul J. Schmick was working as a District Manager for a telecommunications firm in New York City. After working in Ground Zero’s harsh conditions led to a family member’s diagnosis with lung disease, Paul felt an urge to serve his country. Looking for a place to start, Paul pursued a low wage job in the private security industry to gain experience. While working his way up from his weekend part-time security job, Paul pursued a role within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. On March 17, 2008, Paul was sworn in as a Transportation Security Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Transportation Security Administration and by 2011, became the most decorated Officer in the history of TSA at John. F Kennedy International Airport. Today, Paul serves as Vice President of Security Technology at Alliance Security in New York and serves as an Adjunct Professor instructing students in Homeland Security and related topics at both the Long Island Business Institute, and Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa. Paul has also contributed to on-air media stories for CNN International in the areas of airport security, transportation security and global terrorism.
Why did you choose to pursue a job in security?
Security became a passion for me after 9/11. I was a little bit older, so for me, serving my country by joining the military wasn’t an option. However, there were great government and private sector roles that I could get involved in. Living in a suburb of New York City and feeling the pain of having a family member stricken with a 9/11 related illness from working at Ground Zero made my pursuits feel like a calling to serve others. My passion pushed me to gain experience in security as I pursued opportunities with the U.S. government. Then in 2008, I began working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Transportation Security Administration in New York City.
Can you tell me a bit more about how you got your start in the field?
As an Adjunct Professor at two different institutions, the biggest area I see students struggle with is where to start. A lot of my students struggle with the idea of an entry level job and I often tell them - I didn’t always sit in this seat. In 2006, I started as an entry level security guard for a private security firm on the weekends while I worked my full-time job during the week. I knew nothing about the security industry when I began this journey, but I had a passion to pursue public service and contribute to helping people who aren’t able to help themselves. That was my starting point.
During the journey from beginning to current, every six months I just kept looking for the next advancement. I spent eight great years working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Transportation Security Administration where I was promoted a few times, and also served on some very interesting security details with the department. There is a saying “opportunities come before us, or we create our own.” I believe I have built a great career by creating my own opportunities through working hard every day to pursue a goal. In the end, a passion to succeed makes you feel like the wind is always at your back, pushing your forward no matter what circumstances arise.
Can you tell me about your job at Alliance Building Service?
I serve as the Vice President of the Security Technology division at Alliance Security, whose parent company is Alliance Building Services. We are a security technology Integrator, and I manage organizational strategy, the day-to-day operations and all the bright and wonderful technical and administrative employees who choose to work at Alliance. My most important role at Alliance is to promote professional growth in whatever position an employee serves. I have a firm philosophy that my purpose in the organization is to identify talent and empower employees to unleash their gifts to do great things for our customers and within the company.
You’re also a media contributor on CNN International. How did you get that great opportunity?
It all started by having a great mentor named Matthew Horace who is a renowned law enforcement and security expert, and a Media Contributor on CNN International and several other networks. I thought to myself, now that I have some credibility and accomplishments in the security industry, why can’t I serve as an objective voice on security and terrorism related events impacting transportation and the aviation sector? Through networking and demonstrating my passion, my mentor made the connection leading to my first interview. Leading up to my first appearance on January 8, 2017, I put together a wish list in late December 2016 of great things I wanted to accomplish in 2017. One of the top items on the list was to perform one interview on a national headline news program. Consequently, on January 6, 2017, five people were killed at Fort Lauderdale International Airport by a lone gunman. When I received the call on January 8, 2017 I had the flu, but nothing was keeping me from offering commentary on the story. I also received a call for a second interview on Monday, January 9th to cover the story on the News Magazine Program - Inside Edition, but I couldn’t muster the strength considering I had the Flu.
Can you explain what you do as a Media Contributor?
In terms of security, law enforcement and terrorism related stories, the media is always looking for a credible point of view. A security or law enforcement Media Contributor needs to provide valuable insight on how an event occurred, why it may have happened and what can be accomplished to make sure similar events do not occur again. Working in the security industry, specifically transportation security for eight years, allows me to provide a perspective on airport security and terrorism related matters. The events I’ve covered in the media are of grave concern to society, but it’s important to note we have great men and women on the front lines who work hard every day in the U.S. and globally to prevent acts of violence and terrorism.
What was your day-to-day job like when you worked at JFK International Airport?
In my last appointment with the department, I spent three years supervising both training personnel and security technology assessment programs to support airport security operations. I managed the Threat Image Projection (TIP) assessment program, which is a training tool deployed during live passenger screening that tests federal officer detection aptitude of virtual explosives and firearms utilizing next generation x-ray technology. For anyone who has flown on a plane and put their bags through the x-ray equipment, I managed the program that would detect dangerous items in passenger’s carry-on property using these capabilities. My mission was to assist operations in building a formidable defense against terrorism and improvised explosive device (IED) threats targeting U.S. aviation infrastructure.
JKF is a busy airport. Was it stressful working security there?
There is a lot of pressure put on the front-line TSA Officers and they do not always get a fair assessment by the public or media. In my view, TSA Officers are somewhat picked on, despite carrying out an important homeland security mission. While serving in my last role, I spent a lot of time with new recruits and attempted to serve as a mentor and share my time in uniform. I would always try to summarize the mission as simply as possible, even though it can be very complex and dynamic. I would tell my mentees, “When the FBI fails, the CIA fails, and the NSA fails; the front-line TSA Officer is potentially a last-line of defense.” As a motivating point for front line Officers, I would communicate “your name may end up on the President of the United States’ desk for one of two reasons: either you worked on a team that prevented a bomb from getting on a plane, or you worked on a team that let that bomb get on a plane.” JFK International is one of the highest risk airports in the country where 100,000 people are flying through daily. In the end, there is an enormous amount of pressure on the TSA frontline workforce to get it right every time working in an environment of controlled chaos.
How did you receive so many awards in 2011, coining you JFK’s most decorated official in the history of TSA at JFK International?
I was very fortunate to serve under a few different commands and be promoted several times in the short eight years I served with the department. Having a passion for every role I was privileged to serve, leadership acknowledged the hard work and dedication I displayed toward the mission of public safety. One of the biggest honors of my career to this day was being named as a National Core Values Award recipient in 2011. It was an affirmation that even while working in a challenging environment with thousands of colleagues who work just as hard every day, you can still stand out and be recognized for your efforts.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Without question moving from someone who had great mentors, to now a mentor of those who seek help in advancing their careers and living their dream. This is where serving as an Adjunct Professor provides me a stage to work with future industry leaders who aren’t sure where to start, but have a drive to pursue higher ambitions and make a difference in the world. Regardless of how busy my career and lifestyle are, I always make time for those who are hungry for help and direction form an industry voice and perspective.
Another rewarding aspect is knowing that you are doing your best to protect those that may not be able to protect themselves. This is why you have to love people. The goal for us, whether on the private side or on the government side, is to really try to assist and help those who can’t help themselves.
Has there been a standout moment in your career?
That is difficult to answer since I am always looking forward and I do not believe my greatest achievement has been accomplished yet. In hindsight, receiving my Bachelor of Art Degree in Homeland Security & Security Management in 2012, was my biggest accomplishment. Considering my mom was not even a high school graduate and my dad did not have the resources to go to college, receiving my Bachelor of Art Degree and showing it them the piece of paper when it arrived was my most fond memory. While I was 39 years old at that time, it is memorable that I got to share that moment with my parents, considering they have both passed.
What advice do you have for students who are pursuing a career in security?
Whatever your passion, take small steps daily to pursue your goal. Follow what you love and never take the words of “no” or “failure” as a finality. If I took “no” or “failure” as a final position, I would not have accomplished half of what I did in my career. Accept that you will have failures, false starts and setbacks, but keep your drive alive and never be discouraged by failure. My absolute favorite quote in history is by Dr. Martin Luther King and it reads - “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”
In the end, never give up, never stop challenging yourself and embrace you have something unique and special to offer the world – be relentless in all you pursue!