Enabling the Security Officer: A Lesson from ASIS 2006

Sept. 26, 2006
Why investments in manned security services need to go hand-in-hand with technology buys

When I start a tradeshow, I often gain a bit of perspective by the first attendee I meet. Talking with someone who pushed hard to make sure the tradeshow was in their travel budget and who took time off from the busy demands of the security department always puts me in the "shoes" I need to be in as I approach a show.

ASIS 2006 started with me riding to show on a shuttle bus next to a gentleman from an Arizona casino who was second in charge of the security and surveillance department. An ASIS member who had started his way into the industry many years ago as a private security officer, he had steadily worked his way through the industry to a top-level type of position. As the bus rumbled down the traffic-clogged streets near the San Diego Convention Center, we got to reminisce for a bit about the years of VCRs and catwalks, and I enjoyed a good laugh at his "stupidest criminal" story of an attempted robbery of the casino's cashier cage.

He was at the show, he said, to attend a few seminars and to walk the vendor exhibits to see what new technologies would be shaping an upcoming electronic security system. His company, he explained, is readying itself to build a new 250-room hotel and casino almost adjacent to the existing casino.

Later in the day, I made my way to AlliedBarton's booth, where I had the pleasure of meeting with Ron Rabena, John Redden Jr. and Dan Gallagher, who lead regional divisions of the company. We spoke primarily about the training that has to come about in the security officer business (the company was named a top 100 training company recently), and about how technology was driving the business of manned security services. One thing that I think I can share from this is that while you'll hear technology vendors talk a lot about how their latest and greatest is guaranteed to cut back on your manned security expense, there's no fear from the security services business about technology stealing their business.

The top companies in this business are very aware of the newest technologies, and Gallagher, who is re-entering the manned security business after a few years, says that if he had to pick one thing that he's seen change the business from when he left to when he rejoined recently with AlliedBarton, it would be the technological sophistication that today's security officer must have. From PDAs to aid in report writing, to mobile solutions like GPS and on-the-go video feeds, Gallagher, Rabena and Redden agreed that companies who wish to get the best value out of their manned security investment are following through and enabling their officers with technology.

I was thinking a bit about my morning ride on the bus with the gentleman from casino security. I had asked him what he saw as the biggest threat to his officers, and he said, no, it's not the belligerent guy who wants to pick a fight ("We have the advantage of 'numbers'," he said, "and that usually stops the situation right there before it would start."). When he worries the most, is when his officers head out to check on the person in the dark car in a corner of their parking lot.

"Maybe it's just someone waiting for one of our customers," he told me. "Maybe it's just somebody sleeping one off. But it might be that he's stoned and has a gun on the seat beside him."

This casino security director said that it's at that point, as his officers approach an unknown situation, that they have to rely on the tools of training and technology -- the ability to defuse a situation, and the ability to call on technology, perhaps a radio call to the surveillance room to give a video perspective on the suspicious vehicle.

If there's a lesson in this, it's that it is not enough to simply "throw bodies" at a security need, but that any placement of a security officer in today's sometimes unsettling world should be accompanied with an equal investment in the tools they need to do their job -- whether that's a training course on verbal judo, a review of handcuff procedures, or maybe a PDA device that can pull down a video event image so they don't walk blind into any situation. Without doing that, it's like getting the nicest outdoor, day/night, vandal-resistant PTZ dome camera that money can buy, but not buying the joystick you need to use its features.