Adrian Arriaga is the Executive Director of Security Services for the Wellstar Health System, one of the largest healthcare providers in Georgia. Prior to moving into the private enterprise security sector, Arriaga spent 15 years in the Marine Corps, living in places ranging from Okinawa, Japan to California and everywhere in between. He also has pursued extensive academic credentials, receiving his MBA in 2019. Arriaga is the Vice Chair of the Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Healthcare Safety and Security (IAHSS). With 10 other professionals, he recently co-authored the workplace violence prevention certification program through IAHSS.

I had the chance to connect with Arriaga and dive into a variety of topics, including the unique experience of leading the corporate security function inside of a healthcare environment throughout the response to COVID-19.

Burke Brownfeld: Given your extensive background in both military and law enforcement, I’d love to hear about your experience transitioning into the private sector. What did you find to be challenging? And what about your background helped you be successful in your private sector roles?

Adrian Arriaga: I would say, personally, my transition from military to law enforcement to the private sector was tough initially because in the military and law enforcement sectors, you develop a unique relationship with the people you work and train with. Coming into the private sector, there’s a difference in culture. Trying to learn that new culture is what’s tough.

I remember preparing my resume and thinking, ‘How do I take my lingo and skillsets and turn them into something that an employer in the private sector will understand?’

In terms of what was helpful from my background, I think it’s my comfort in working in a high-stress, fast-paced, ever-changing environment. That has benefited me, especially in the healthcare world, because things are very fast-paced and can be very fluid. Having that background has allowed me to maintain that calm, cool approach.

Brownfeld: As a security leader inside of a large healthcare organization, how do you approach the concept of being a value-add to the organization?

Arriaga: What I’ve learned is that we are functioning inside of a business and that we need to treat security as a business. Security is not just an incident response mechanism. The program needs to be built like a department with tangible, realistic goals and show the financial impacts based on mitigating certain risks, like workplace violence prevention programs.

Ultimately, we want to be able to identify what the return on investment is for security programs with the end goal of providing a safe environment. So, if we are able to provide a service that, in turn, makes our employees feel like they are walking into a safe environment, we are providing value because they can now focus on the main goal of the organization, which is patient care. Staff members that are concerned about their environment and safety aren’t going to perform at their peaks. Providing an environment where staff feel confident in their safety provides a direct return to the organization through customer satisfaction.

We try to focus on three categories including the people, which are directly tied to promoting and supporting the culture of the organization; technology such as cameras, or access control or other tools that can provide a safe space; and the environment, including teaching people how to make safe choices in their work environment.

Brownfeld: During the height of COVID-19 response, I can imagine it must have been particularly challenging to keep your facilities and offices open and continue to provide services to the public. How did you find yourself leading and contributing in a response to such a long and complex crisis?

Arriaga: Honestly, for me, it was a learning opportunity. In the healthcare world, we didn’t have the luxury of just shutting our doors. We needed to keep taking care of patients. It presented new challenges for us. It was being able to adjust to a new mission, which was to try to provide a service in an environment that had completely changed.

I was able to leverage my professional background by staying cool, calm and collected and being fluid and flexible because so many changes were coming so fast. Things as simple as the visitation policy at a hospital had to keep changing. And as this changed, it affected how the community felt because loved ones suddenly may not be able to enter the hospital to visit a patient. And these types of changes really reminded us to take an empathetic approach and be even more mindful of how we communicated these policies and changes to our community members.

Brownfeld: What is one thing about you that may not be on your resume, but that you feel is an important part of who you are?

Arriaga: For me, it’s being a follower of Christ, a Christian. I went on a retreat when I was early in my Marine Corps career and ended up becoming a follower of Christ. My faith and trust in God have given me all the opportunities that I’ve had. It has led me to where I am today.

Brownfeld: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to become a corporate security leader?

Arriaga: For people wanting to venture into the security genre, my advice would be to understand the importance of business acumen. Those with military and law enforcement backgrounds bring a lot to the table, but need to be humbled in the sense of constant learning when converting into the private sector. Focus on reaching, connecting with people, and understanding their mission.

Another priority is treating security like it’s a business instead of treating it like an occupation. For so long, we’ve observed the security persona as the guy with a hat, flashlight and keys. Rarely were we looked at as business professionals who illicit value through data mining, key performance indicators, visual management, risk assessments, and financial stewardship. So, by thinking more in those business terms, we are able to provide organizations with a return on investment in terms of security.