Longtime security manager Ralph W. Schreiner remembers when many companies thought security involved little more than setting somebody in a uniform near the front door.

"In the old days, some places hired people off the street and made them security guards," said Schreiner, 85, a former security inspector at General Electric. "This doesn't happen anymore."

As one of the charter members of ASIS International, an Alexandria organization of security professionals that is marking its 50th anniversary this year, Schreiner has witnessed the dramatic growth of a trade that has tried to move beyond its former reputation.

Now ASIS has more than 33,000 members and an annual budget of $25 million. The organization said more than 19,000 participants attended its annual convention last week in Orlando, where the seminars had titles such as "Writing Your Crisis Management Plan," "Corporate Check Fraud 101," "Mailroom Security in the 21st Century" and "Unleashing Your Inner Mother-in-Law: How to Do an Adversarial Vulnerability Assessment." (That last one urged security experts to think like "people who want to find flaws, such as hackers, peer-reviewers and mothers-in-law.")

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "everybody had to increase their security and security awareness," said Schreiner, who is retired. "That has elevated the profession."

The rise of the Web and corporate computer networks also created new security concerns and demands.

Along the way, corporate security ballooned into a multibillion-dollar enterprise, with companies increasingly relying on cutting-edge systems to guard their computer networks, offices and parking lots.

U.S. companies spent an average of $1.03 million on security in fiscal 2004, up 22 percent from $844,982 in fiscal 2001, according to security report by an ASIS-affiliated foundation.

The group, originally called the American Society for Industrial Security, changed its name to ASIS International in 2002. It has members in Asia, Europe, South America, Africa and Australia. The association offers classes and certification in security management, investigations and physical security systems. It also publishes a monthly magazine called Security Management.

"The industry has to be prepared," said Michael J. Stack, the organization's executive director. "There are so many threats out there, it is hard to count them all."

-- Mark Chediak

Retired security executive Ralph W. Schreiner, at home in Alexandria, can recall a time when security companies "hired people off the street."