The Changing Role of Private Security

Oct. 27, 2008
Hiring a force of protection officers isn't as easy as it has been in the past

In the ever-changing world of private security, protection officers' roles and responsibilities are quickly adapting to a heightened security environment. Protection officer suppliers are turning to advanced training – in everything from the latest high-tech CCTV system to anti-terrorism – in order for their officers to be ready for whatever corporate and government security assignments come their way.

Security Technology & Design magazine recently held a roundtable discussion on the issues facing private security, featuring Ronald R. Rabena, the MidSouth Atlantic Division president for AlliedBarton Security Services; Rick Shannon, senior managing director for uniformed protection at Vance, a Garda company; and Don Walker, chairman of Securitas Security Services USA Inc.

Here is what they had to say:

ST&D: How has the role of private security changed since September 11, 2001 in both the private and public sector?

Shannon : In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, many companies undertook risk analysis and vulnerability assessments and then updated their security plans in reaction to that event. Longer term, companies are being more vigilant about performing criminal screening and comprehensive background checks on prospective employees and more comprehensive screening of vendors and strategic business partners. They also recognize the value of highly trained security officers to protect access control points, employees and corporate assets. Corporate risk managers now have a better appreciation for the value that comprehensive security provides. In the public sector there is a realization that effective security requires a partnership between public and private security organizations to meet the challenges we now face.

Rabena: Many organizations are calling on the services of companies such as AlliedBarton to design and implement emergency preparedness plans. As an example, we are working with companies in the chemical and petrochemical industries to help ensure they are in compliance with pending new Federal security regulations.

Post 9/11, new federal regulations require that chemical and petrochemical industries take a critical look at the methodology in place to secure their facilities. Many companies are facing security regulations for the first time while others are already in compliance with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulations developed in 2002. As the rulemaking process evolves, we are continuing to work with our clients to assist them in recognizing, understanding and addressing security requirements. We can assist them in developing security programs that will address existing and new government standards.

Walker : Additional training has been provided to include being alert to surveillance and possible terrorist activities. There is a greater use of technology and faster notification of suspicious activity. There has been an increase in reception/concierge coverage for commercial high-rise buildings and increased training and drills for emergency evacuation of commercial high-rise buildings.

ST&D: Training and pay are constant hot buttons in the industry. How do you address critics who say there is inconsistency in training and disparity in pay for officers in the field?

Walker : The critics are correct -- Securitas has been working with other firms in the industry to improve selection and training of security officers. We encourage states to increase professional standards that, in turn, should result in higher wages and more benefits. Securitas launched a “living wage” initiative in 2000 aimed at providing security officers with a level of pay that is above market wage data.

Shannon : Those critics are right. There are inconsistent industry standards for training of security personnel and performance of security services. It has been an unregulated industry despite 30 years of regulation efforts. In large part, the problem is one of market forces -- comprehensive security training and improved pay and benefits packages require investment. To remain competitive, many security services firms provide the bare minimum required.

Major Wall Street financial institutions made the financial commitment post-9/11 and enhanced their security programs. For many companies, however, security service is still subject to standard “low bidder” procurement processes. Until legislation imposes uniform standards for the industry, the issues of training and service quality will remain inconsistent and problematic.

Rabena: In a people-based business such as the security officer sector, training plays a tremendous role in a company's success. The goal of a successful training program is to not just train the entering security officer but also to nurture careers and foster management and leadership skills. This type of training results in long term employees and therefore, long term clients. It is important that training be always available online to fit any employee's schedule and that topics are site-specific and relevant to our customers' facilities.

Competitive wages are also very important. Security officers play a critical role at many types of facilities and should be compensated accordingly. Security officers who receive meaningful benefits, competitive wages and an opportunity for advancement are dedicated to their company and their post. As security personnel are performing a critical job that is of paramount importance, it is vital that they are paid fairly and are given opportunities to advance within the company. But wages, training and career opportunities alone do not guarantee a quality security officer. Recruiting and screening, identifying the right position for each employee, and strong management support also play critical roles.

ST&D: Should there be an established national standard for the guard industry? Should background screening be a mandatory part of that standard?

Rabena: The most significant issue facing the security sector is standardization -- this industry is not standardized in any way and that is especially critical in terms of background checks and training. Information about arrests and convictions across the country are available in the NCIC, the National Crime Information Center , but those computerized records are only available to law enforcement except in select states such as Florida and Arizona . State-wide information is not enough. We need a clearinghouse similar to the banking industry.

Training is another area in gross need of standardization. Training requirements and practices vary greatly by state and security company. Additionally, most existing requirements are based on quantity, not quality. Not all states even require licensing for security officers. Standardization will help to shift the perception of security officer positions from jobs to careers. Better trained and regulated officers are not only more effective but also more invested in their positions.

Walker : Currently, standards are established by the states and there is a great disparity among those regulations -- even in adjoining states. Securitas has been working with legislative groups such as NASCO, ASIS and IASIR to improve standards and develop a consistency in regulations between states. This effort has been met with mixed results and the only real solution is consistency of a national standard in every state. Background screening should be a part of this national standard. The standard should at least include the ASIS guideline for Selection and Training of Private Security Officers.

Shannon : Background screening and requirements for certified instructor-based training will elevate the profession significantly beyond where it is today. Professional business and security standards are sorely needed in our profession. Realistically, it will require legislation to achieve a national standard, but the benefits of upgrading the professionalism of the uniformed security personnel are long overdue.

ST&D: How does your company blend technology with personnel? Is today's emphasis on Web-based technology making your officers' jobs easier or more difficult? Why?

Shannon : The convergence of physical security with information technology is having a profound impact on all aspects of our profession. As has been the case in numerous other professions, intelligently applied technology tremendously enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of people. Security officers can now monitor remote locations within a building, an office complex or a facility from another location. Wireless communications help to ensure that personnel in the field are linked to command centers and are always responding based on the latest information. These officers are better-trained, more capable and more responsive to the needs of their clients. That more than offsets the cost of the technology and the training required to enhance the operation.

Rabena: How security personnel interact with technology is of critical importance in any security deployment. The ability to use technology has become a basic requirement for the job of security officer. Many clients require security officers on duty at a post, for example, to use computers to log arriving vehicles and verify visitor lists. Integrating technology into security engagements makes the job of the security officer easier. Not every form of technology is appropriate for every engagement, but the proper integration of technology empowers officers to absolutely do the best job that can be done for the client.

On the training front, the use of Web-based training allows us to keep thousands of security personnel expertly trained and certified with up-to-the-minute personalized training. The e-learning system allows for quick deployment of new information to security personnel through courses added to the system based on new policies and procedures, State or Federal regulatory changes, new equipment procurement or modifications or environmental changes.

Walker : The combination of technology and our people is an important development for future growth. The increased use of Web-based technology increases the professionalism of our industry by providing a better quality, more professional security officer. Upon conducting a needs analysis for the client, we build a security solution that combines technology and professional security officers to meet those needs.

ST&D: What is the single biggest issue facing the private security industry?

Rabena: The single biggest issue that faces the security industry is the lack of standardization. National regulations and guidelines for training and background checks would revolutionize this industry. Our government needs to work with the private security sector and place a high priority on establishing a clearinghouse where we can electronically review the background of all applicants across the country and immediately uncover criminal records and other liabilities that may exist. The manned guard sector is a vital business that is continually seeking to hire bright and talented employees. Attracting qualified applicants to the security sector is a big issue for the sector.

Training standards will also ensure that all security officers, regardless of what company they work for or state they reside in, are properly educated and prepared. Officer training should be regulated according to the material taught and knowledge retained – not the number of hours. Industry-wide standards will support the efforts of some of the leading security providers in their attempt to elevate the responsibilities, training and wages of the men and women who watch over our homes and businesses.

Walker : The biggest issue facing our industry is the lack of consistent professional standards for the private security industry and the lack of commitment by governments and the private security industry to develop national standards.

Shannon : The major issues are standardization of professional practices; comprehensive, initial and on-going training; and efficient, cost-effective delivery of services. Resolving those issues will elevate our profession to the level required for companies, organizations and other institutions to operate securely and successfully in today's global environment.

About the Roundtable participants:

Ronald R. Rabena is president of the MidSouth Atlantic Divisionof AlliedBarton Security Services. He has been with the company for 27 years. Rabena is responsible for operations in 22 district offices in 14 states. He oversees a budget of $450 million and approximately 13,000 employees.

Richard B. Shannon is senior managing director for Vance Uniformed Protection Services Inc., a Garda company. He joined Vance in 1998 and is responsible for developing new business in markets throughout the United States . Prior to joining Vance, Mr. Shannon held a similar position with a national security firm.

Don W. Walker is chairman of Securitas Security Services USA Inc.