With nearly one million people employed as security officers in the United States, guards outnumber law enforcement officers and fire fighters. Employed since the days of train robberies, security officer tasks have greatly diversified: a dead car battery; where to buy a shirt; handling a heart attack; disarming a bank robber; protecting presidential candidates; patrolling a nuclear energy plant. These and more are included in the list of new and emerging officer assignments.
In another SECURITY magazine article in this issue, editors report on such change and rank the largest guard firms based on a survey of the firms and voluntary responses that measure revenue, size of the guard force and business challenges.
In many respects, today’s security officers are America’s true first responders.
Gary Sanders knows how times have changed. He is chief executive officer of The Wackenhut Corporation, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Group 4 Falck A/S of Denmark. Wackenhut’s principal business lines have been diverse for many years, including security-related services, correctional services and what the company calls flexible staffing, such as food services.
Whatever the specific mission, Sanders believes success in the business boils down to four critical elements: policies, procedures, honesty and integrity. “We go out and meet potential clients but never promise anything unless we can deliver it. That’s how I grew with the company,” he says.
Guarding Is CoreSimilar to others ranked in the SECURITY Top Guard Firm listings, the Florida firm stays close to its core. “Our primary success over the long haul was and is guarding,” Sanders comments.
For most guarding firms, quality service across traditional and new tasks depends on officer performance and supervision, and before that, training and background checks. So with such an essential investment in people, fluctuations in the labor market and economy impact the guarding business. When unemployment is high, there are more candidates for positions, both full-time and part-time. “As we talk today, we have a better selection of people to be security officers,” Sanders says. He believes that the new crop is “more interested at a career, a profession, not just a job.”
Standards Are Important
There are plans on numerous levels to increase general hiring and training standards. The involvement comes from proposed federal legislation and changing state regulations to efforts by security and facility associations to set overall guidelines. Wackenhut’s Sanders welcomes the efforts. “The higher the standards in the nation, the better off we all will be.” Such advances match the diversification of officer tasks, with more emphasis on personal interaction and communications skills.
Barton Protective Services, Atlanta, also pursues a diversification strategy, which includes a unique commitment to life-saving skills. “At our roots, we are a security company with emphasis on the personnel side,” says Charles Barton Rice Jr., chief strategy officer.
Late last year, Barton began installing automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) at 31 U.S. branches. The company has immediate plans to offer the AED units, specialized training and a first-response approach to the public and tenants at the thousands of customer sites it protects. “Our focus is on employees, visitors and tenants at the properties we protect,” Barton says. He sees injuries and health problems among the more numerous situations officers face. The AEDs are a way to increase life safety response as well as differentiate Barton from some other security guarding firms, he says.
Smaller Firms Committed, TooWith an estimated 13,000 guarding firms in the United States, it’s easy to assume that the large, national firms have little in common with those serving a local market. With The Conley Group, that assumption would prove wrong.
Tom Conley, president and chief executive officer, runs a Des Moines company that covers a small area but shares a big commitment to quality and a diversity of services. “Typically we do work for people who need security and not a warm body. We protect chemical plants, industrial plants, transportation organizations, dairies, banks and government agencies,” Conley says. One nontraditonal assignment is protection and visitor assistance throughout the Des Moines Skywalk, walkways and connections among downtown buildings. “From day one, I wanted to be a quality provider, not a minimum wage provider. In this business you can be quality or cheap, but not both,” he says. Conley avoids what he calls the buyer-seller dance. “You know, minimum wage, unmotivated, unsupervised people but you don’t talk about that.”
With new types of assignments, often outside the usual, officers must dress in diverse ways, too.
Conley and others often use three types of uniforms. There is what he calls the service dress – a dark blue uniform with stripes on the pant legs. There is a utility uniform with badge and name tag. And there is a soft uniform, kind of business casual. For Conley, it consists of a sports coat, gray pants, white shirt and tie. For others, it may be a Polo shirt and slacks. One trend: some end users require their contract officers to dress in clothes that mirror the company’s culture, logo or products.
Agreeing with Sanders and Barton, Conley places emphasis on training, especially in the face of new types of diverse services. The Conley Group supports the Certified Protection Officer or CPO program from the International Foundation for Protection Officers of Naples, Fla. “We require all officers to gain the CPO. They truly know they are security officers. It brings that important knowledge base to security officers,” he says.
SIDEBAR 1: Taking Security to HeartSecurity officer diversification now can include first responder tasks in health-related incidents. Barton Protective Services Inc. of Atlanta has installed automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) units at U.S. branches. With deployment of AEDs, Barton officers have a better chance to help colleagues, clients and visitors survive sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of death in the workplace. The program will save lives.
The American Heart Association estimates that every year more than 250,000 people die from sudden cardiac arrest. The survival rate is less than five percent; recent studies show that the rate has been proven to exceed 75 percent in the case of facilities where there are defibrillators.
Barton installed the AED units in partnership with Cardiac Science Inc., of Irvine, Calif.
On the SkywalkGuard diversity means public interaction. More security officer assignments today involve contact with the public, providing assistance and information in addition to protection. For The Conley Group, Des Moines, that included a plum downtown assignment.
The Des Moines Skywalk Association oversees security services for the Skywalk system, which connects various buildings so workers and visitors can move among downtown office buildings, parking facilities, high rise apartments, public facilities and retail establishments. Security contract evaluation criteria includes price; employee pay and benefits; recruitment and training programs; and current customer contacts for references, according to Bob Dove, senior vice president, Terrus Real Estate Group.
“The Conley Group was awarded the contract and has, in my opinion, met or exceeded expectations. While Conley was not the lowest price provider, their training program and personnel selection process was unrivaled. A documented training program that requires the CPO (Certified Protection Officer, International Foundation for Protection Officers, Naples, Fla.) after a fixed time, emergency medical training and fire training factored heavily in the decision,” Dove says.