Best practices for airport security contracts

Airport security experts discuss the elements of a good contract security program


Managing an airport security program is no easy task. It not only involves the implementation of various surveillance, access control and perimeter security technologies, but also the hiring and oversight of security personnel and compliance with federal, state and local regulations managed by an alphabet soup of agencies.

In a SecurityInfoWatch.com webinar on Thursday, Lori Beckman, president and founder of Aviation Security Consulting, and John Dean, senior manager of aviation security at Portland International Airport, discussed the topic of airport security contracting best practices and the keys to creating a good working partnership between an airport and its contract security personnel.

Beckman, who also formerly served as director of security at Denver International Airport, said that there are several things airport security managers need to consider if they want to create a good security contract and paramount among them is employee retention rates.

"If you take care of the employees, they are going to take care of you," she said. "If your retention rate is low, you are always going to be training new employees."

To keep employee retention rates high, Beckman noted that they need to be offered competitive wages, a viable benefits package that includes affordable healthcare coverage, vacation time, as well as incentive, reward and recognition programs.

When evaluating a security provider, Beckman added that she usually looks for those that have a minimum of five years experience working in large airport environments. The workers should also have various industry certifications, management experience and training that focuses exclusively on the airport environment.

Beckman said that the provider also needs to have received SAFETY Act certification, or SAFETY Act designation at the least.

The Department of Homeland Security's Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act provides liability protections for the providers of qualified 'anti-terror' technologies. According to www.safetyact.gov, SAFETY Act Designation means that "the seller's liability for products or services that are deemed 'Designated Technologies' is limited to the amount of liability insurance that the Department of Homeland Security determines the seller must maintain." Certification means that "In addition to the benefits provided under Designation, Certification allows a seller of an anti-terrorism technology to assert the Government Contractor Defense for claims arising from acts of terrorism."

Beckman also noted that airports should look into when they would be better served by using a contract security guard rather than a law enforcement officer, considering such things as the training costs between the two.

Dean also pointed out several other keys to choosing a good fit when it comes to a contract security provider including evaluating the company's overall corporate culture, paying careful attention to their employee moral, chain-of-command and communication channels to ensure they are in line with your own. In addition he said that it's important to look at the contractor's mission and vision to see if they are driven strictly by the bottom line, as well as if they are flexible and/or scalable when it comes to staffing.

Optimally, Dean said that the airport should become familiar with contractor's management team to make sure they're ready and available when you need them and that they enjoy what they do.

"You have got to make sure you get a good management team in place," he said. "You don't want to get locked into a long-term contract and not enjoy the people you are working with."

Both Beckman and Dean said that contract security employees need to understand the importance of customer service and be involved with any internal programs along those lines. Other programs that the contract security personnel should be involved with include internal breach drills; the updating and review process for standard operating procedures; stakeholder, contract and operation meetings; and, meetings relating to any construction going on at the airport.

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