During recent months, I have been involved in several large proposals for security guard services. My role is to evaluate, on behalf of our clients, their security contracts and the companies and officers meant to support those contract services. After reading hundreds of RFP pages, and talking to everyone from the CEO to the most novice officer, my concerns about the security services industry have been reaffirmed. I am forced to conclude that the security industry is unable to provide . . . security. Before everyone jumps on my case and takes offense, allow me to explain.
I have been conducting interviews with security officers from small security companies to the largest in nation. I ask them how they would respond (not based on corporate guidelines, but with their own common sense) to various potential scenarios. For example, I describe the following: while on post at an access controlled property you see a large man walking towards the entrance. You ask him to stop and he pushes you aside saying he doesn’t have time for this, he needs to see Mr. Smith. He keeps walking towards the entrance. My question to the guard is: how would you respond in this situation?
Over 95% of the interviewees say something along the lines of:
I would monitor the situation.
I would call for backup.
I would report him to my peers and superiors.
To my mind, the right answer is that the guard would put himself between the pushy man and the people and property he is protecting; that the guard would not let it happen. That his job is to secure the protected environment. The pushy man was trespassing and used force. It may turn out that he is simply a company employee in a bad mood and in a hurry. But we don’t know that until we engage.
Security companies have become completely focused on peripheral issues rather than on the main thing: to protect, prevent and mitigate. These are terms one rarely hears mentioned. Instead we hear about the need to report, to monitor a situation, to observe, to provide customer service, to maintain a certain appearance. Those are the key terms, today.
Ninety percent of the security trainings have almost nothing to do with security but rather with emergency response. But how many security officers actually manage emergency response? They may be in charge for the first few minutes of an event until the police or fire department arrives to take control. It’s nice to know something about ER, but it should not be the main focus of their training.
Allow me to anticipate another comment from readers: it comes down to money. If the client pays more, they will get more. Not really. We’ve seen security officers who are paid $25/hour and are clueless, and others who make a mere $9/hour but who do a really good job. The money incentivizes long term employment and recruitment. But it will not motivate anyone to stand up in the face of threat.
Some will blame the situation on our litigious society, one that forces companies to curtail their activities to avoid liability. But I think this sad situation derives from more than that. It is informed by a lack of demand by the clients themselves who purchase security. Over time they have come to believe that they should not expect any more than they presently get. Some of my clients, upon hearing the answers to the interview scenarios are stunned and disbelieving. Yet these clients were never willing to ask the hard questions themselves and instead just make assumptions or hope for the best or are content to complain but not demand change.
For the situation to improve, clients need to establish security requirements for officers that include being in decent physical shape, having an aptitude for the job and the right threat-oriented attitude, decent cognitive skills. The client needs to be clear about the deliverables of the services he is buying. Is it for a guy in a nice uniform that performs customer services duties and, is that what you really want?
I expect that the security officers who are paid to protect my clients and their assets do so as they would protect their own homes and families. Nowadays, that attitude seems reserved for security services at nuclear sites and for VIP protection. But why shouldn’t we expect that level of security at a supermarket or school where the likelihood of an attack is higher?
The clients whom my company represents are intent on getting real security protection, for their people first, their property second. Yes, reporting, monitoring and calling for backup are functions of security but they do not serve the primary objective.