SACRAMENTO (AP) - More than 80 percent of California's buildings, power facilities and other vital structures are in private hands, watched over most closely by security guards on the lookout mainly for burglars, vandals and shoplifters.
Now many are also being trained to also watch out for terrorists.
"It's a simple concept, but it's like a 10 times increase in the number of eyes and ears out there," said Gary Winuk, chief deputy director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security.
The state Department of Consumer Affairs last month began requiring licensed security guards' training to include a section on what to look for and whom to alert if they see a mysterious package, someone dressed inappropriately for the season, a person taking pictures of a facility or any other suspicious activity.
"It's all about seeing something that doesn't look right," Winuk said.
Four hours of the guards' 40 hours of training must be in counterterrorism, and those four hours are among the first training the guards receive, said Steve Giorgi, who helped develop the curriculum as a deputy director at the Department of Consumer Affairs, which licenses guards. Giorgi is also a former deputy director for the state Office of Homeland Security.
Guards who are currently employed also will get the training, which includes sections on potential terrorist weapons, weapons of mass destruction, and how to respond in the event of a terrorist attack.
The lessons include a book, DVD and compact disc developed with the help of the California National Guard, the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, the University of California, Irvine and the security guard industry. The materials were paid for with a $200,000 federal grant, and are being distributed free to businesses or security firms nationwide through the federal and state offices of homeland security, Giorgi said.
"There's no state that does anything like this," said Steve Reed, security manager at Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento, who helped develop the lesson materials and taught his first class last month. "We're trying to get them into that mind-set of knowing what to look for and who to call."
There are about 200,000 licensed guards in California who mainly work through contract security agencies, and another 200,000 who aren't licensed because they are employees of a business and guard only that facility.
"This is basically 400,000 additional eyes and ears out there to observe suspicious activity," compared to about 90,000 sworn law enforcement officers in California, Giorgi said. "Cameras and security officers in the right place really can make a difference."
State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require background checks for the roughly 200,000 unlicensed private guards who are hired directly by businesses, but the measure does not require the same training. However, Giorgi hopes the businesses voluntarily require the training for their guards, using the state materials.
Two previous bills requiring background checks were vetoed or failed to pass the Senate in the last four years, but the bill by Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, has been amended to avoid objections by the California Retailers Association and Motion Picture Association of America.