With the security landscape ever-evolving, the resilience of security teams is an essential part of a cohesive and effective security program. As teams face constant challenges from safeguarding personnel, customers, buildings and information, security professionals today need to rely on more than just technical expertise.
Here, enterprise security leaders share advice and valuable lessons learned from their time spent in the trenches of the security industry.
Doug Alexander, Director of Security and Loss Prevention at Grand Hotel, says creating a supportive environment for security teams is an essential part of ensuring their effectiveness and wellbeing.
His advice to other organizations looking to achieve this goal includes:
- Make the wellbeing of security teams a top priority. Recognize that their roles can be high-stress and demanding and take proactive measures to support their mental and physical health.
- Establish open and transparent communication channels within and between team members and leadership. Encourage feedback, questions and concerns.
- Provide access to mental health resources and support, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) and counseling services. Provide stress management and resilience training to help security professionals build the skills necessary to handle high-pressure situations effectively.
- Promote work-life balance by offering flexible work schedules, mandatory breaks and rest periods, and encouraging using vacation time.
- Invest in training programs and skill development to ensure security professionals are well-prepared and continually improve their capabilities. Promote professional development through ongoing training, certifications and access to industry events and conferences.
- Offer opportunities for career advancement within the field of security and recognize and reward exceptional performance. Define a clear career path within the organization for security professionals, outlining opportunities for growth and advancement.
- Through team-building activities and peer support networks, foster a sense of unity and camaraderie within the security team.
- Maintain appropriate staffing levels to prevent overburdening security professionals and excessive workload. Establish precise shift rotations to avoid long stretches of consecutive shifts and incorporate regular days off.
- Recognize and reward security professionals’ hard work and dedication, which can boost morale and motivation.
- Ensure that security teams can access the latest security tools and technologies to perform their duties effectively.
- Leadership should set an example by actively engaging in continuous learning, being approachable, and supporting the team’s wellbeing.
- Encourage flexibility and adaptability in the approach to security as new challenges and threats emerge.
- Ensure all security operations adhere to relevant laws, regulations, and ethical practices.
“By implementing these measures and creating a supportive environment, organizations can help their security teams thrive, maintain morale and effectively protect the organization and its assets,” Alexander says.
Calm under pressure
With security teams facing high-pressure and demanding situations on an often daily basis, it can be important for organizations to provide employee support to maintain morale and mental wellbeing.
Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Director Carlos F. Matus says DSS is a small bureau where everyone knows each other. Its Peer Support Group is robust and active.
“It is one of the best in the federal law enforcement community,” he says. “We constantly check in with each other and make sure we are taking breaks, hanging out together, finding opportunities to play sports together or activities to be involved in to find a release.”
It’s essential to strike a balance that provides [teams] with the necessary resources, training and guidance while allowing them the freedom to adapt to new challenges independently. This approach will help create a highly effective and resilient security team.”
— Doug Alexander, Director of Security and Loss Prevention at Grand Hotel
In fact, Matus says that at many embassies and consulates, DSS personnel will play on sports teams such as ultimate Frisbee or soccer; celebrate American holidays at diplomatic missions; and participate in other American traditions like trick-or-treating with families or holding Marine Corps balls.
“When DSS personnel are on rest and recuperation from a high-threat post (for instance, Baghdad, Juba, Mogadishu, etc.), I expect our personnel to give work a break,” he says. “The Department of State and DSS leadership make sure post has adequate coverage to ensure that R&Rs serve their purposes.”
Matus adds that he always reminds his team to “take care of yourself, take care of your family, take care of your colleagues.”
“And I mean it,” he says. “Given the high stress and high demands of our job, we must have healthy personnel on our team.”
The Department of State and the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) have several resources available to personnel who are often working in high-threat or unstable regions of the world. This includes the Peer Support Group, led by a senior advisor, and has special agents, security engineering officers, diplomatic couriers, civil service employees, contractors, and others who must apply to be part of the group. They are chosen based on their proven ability to lead teams and manage stress.
Sitting at more than 1,000 trained, Matus says the group is the backbone of DSS efforts to create and maintain a resilient workforce.
Additionally, Matus says, the Department of State has a large team of medical professionals — doctors, nurses, counselors, host-nation practitioners and regional psychiatrists.
“Anyone at the Department is able to consult with mental health professionals virtually or in-person, so even in high-threat environments, we are always able to get support to those who may need it,” he says.
Continual training — in-person and online — helps security professionals able to adapt quickly and be prepared to work in ever-changing security environments. Both Alexander and Matus note the large impact of security training on their teams.
“Due to the nature of our job, often working in remote locations with small security teams, DSS must be and is prepared to make quick decisions and respond to crises/threats without a large support staff/team,” Matus says.
He adds that DSS has specially trained units — such as their Mobile Security Deployments (MSD) teams — which are available to quickly mobilize and augment support to DSS personnel at U.S. embassies.
DSS training programs do more than just provide tactical skills to staff, Matus continues.
“A key part of what makes DSS unique is our dual responsibility of being Foreign Service specialists as well as a law enforcement organization,” He says. “Thus, we teach our agents, engineers and support personnel to understand their respective security environments and how to make autonomous decisions to best support mission goals and leadership’s priorities.”
Balancing support and autonomy for security teams requires a collaborative and proactive approach, Alexander says.
“It’s essential to strike a balance that provides them with the necessary resources, training and guidance while allowing them the freedom to adapt to new challenges independently,” he says. “This approach will help create a highly effective and resilient security team.”