When considering contract security officers, there are reasonable steps to take before signing on the dotted line.

With an estimated 1.2 million private security officers employed in the United States, and with many of them real-life first responders, there is no doubt that some elements of this officer army deserve a fine business focus. Of course there is a diversity of types and applications of security officers.

But there are three core questions shared by Security Magazine readers. Should I go contract or proprietary when considering security officers? Should my officers be armed or unarmed? And what’s the impact of new technology on officers that monitor electronically?

Security Magazine has assembled three experts on each issue to present their evidence.


According to Mimi Lanfranchi, senior vice president of national accounts for AlliedBarton Security Services, King of Prussia, Pa., there is a shift taking place within many Fortune 500 companies and smaller firms alike. More and more companies are placing a heightened focus on their core competencies and outsourcing support functions not associated with their primary business. This move to outsource is especially prevalent in the area of personnel-related support functions, which include security services.

Many organizations routinely entrust the security of their employees and physical assets to contract security providers to ensure an up-to-date and comprehensive program is in place. Using a third-party provider for security purposes protects employees and assets, saves money and allows the company to devote its attention and resources to its core competencies.

There are two primary reasons for this shift which include:

Increased Competition -- Companies in every industry are facing more competition and it is imperative to have a workforce that is focused on improving a company’s core business offering. Personnel-related support functions such as security services typically fall outside of a company’s core business. For example, a computer-chip company likely will not improve its position in the technology market due to the efforts of its in-house security officers. Top managers are turning to reputable contract security firms to be their security experts so they can focus their personnel on being experts in their line of business.

Increased Cost/Liability – Payroll taxes and benefit costs have skyrocketed. As companies continue to become as lean as possible, leveraged resources must be dedicated to the personnel who directly impact the business. Additionally, as our society becomes more litigious, the risk of employment claims from in-house personnel is steadily increasing. Areas of risk to consider include workers compensation, unemployment, discrimination and sexual harassment. Employment-related lawsuits are costly and time-consuming. Due to this ever-increasing expense and risk of greater hidden cost, companies are choosing to protect themselves from personnel issues by outsourcing functions like security.

The security industry in particular is one personnel-support function that has become extremely specialized. An effective security program is no longer comprised of an officer in a uniform. In today’s environment, a high quality security program includes comprehensive training programs with market specific curriculums that include technology-based training for access control systems and emergency evacuation planning.

Increased competition, costs and liability are among the elements that tip a decision to contract as compared to proprietary when it comes to security officers.


Many security directors are concerned that by moving to a contract provider they will have less direct control over the program; however, a shift to contract security can have the opposite effect. Security directors who outsource their security program often find they no longer have to spend long hours dealing with the day-to-day management of security officers and are able to utilize their skills in the more prominent and visible areas of security consulting, planning and analysis. This increases their value to the company while decreasing their security headaches as they can defer security personnel functions to the contract security firm’s management team.

Hesitation to use a contract security company can also be due to the perception of a decrease in quality. There are companies who operate on a very high level. These companies conduct extensive background checks and have a rigorous process for personnel selection. Quality companies offer competitive benefits and wages, benchmark-setting training, and employee-development programs. In addition, switching to contract security does not mean losing your well-established security force. Contract companies generally retain as many of the qualified existing staff members as the client desires.


In-house security costs more than the officers’ wages - the costs also include benefits, payroll taxes, vacation time, sick leave and uniforms plus many intangible costs such as unproductive management time.

In most cases, the cost of an outsourced security program is comparable to a company’s in-house budget. However, the expertise, training resources and experience a contract security firm provides is an invaluable benefit.


The following steps will help ensure the contract firm will be a long-time partner and resource.
  • Build a Selection Team – The members of a selection team vary depending on the market but typical participants include representatives from purchasing, building management and security. If individual departments or functional areas have different security needs, participants from those areas will offer valuable insight as well.

  • Identify Needed Improvements – Reviewing your current program will help to identify areas in need of improvement. In some cases, those needs may have prompted the search for a contract security provider. Either way, now is the time to ask for what you want and need.

  • Prioritize Objectives – Your identified areas of improvements and any other security needs should be prioritized and your objectives communicated to potential security partners. Knowing your objectives in advance will help you select a firm that can meet your needs.

  • Consult the Experts – Once you’ve communicated your objectives, ask potential providers to make security recommendations. These are the experts and their advice and capabilities will influence your decision.

  • Create the RFP – Your request for proposal should include questions on a variety of topics. General company information to specific training and experience in your industry will help to paint the picture and will organize the information. Gathering the facts from all potential providers will allow you to make a side-by-side comparison.

  • Narrow the Field – Select the best two to three firms and request any additional and necessary information, delve deeper into their day-to-day processes and meet with the managers who will be overseeing your program.

  • Find the Right Experience – While every security program is unique, identifying a provider with the right type of experience is an important step in identifying the best provider for you. A contract security company with extensive higher education experience and training specific to the needs of the education market, for example, will be a strong candidate for a college or university.

  • Select a Provider – Once you’ve selected a provider, meet with them to develop a contract, plans and processes. Dedicate the time to work with them to provide the information needed to develop a quality program and post orders specific to your needs.


There also is a choice between armed or unarmed security officers. Obviously, the environment, threats and culture are determining factors. But sometimes, organizations seek armed officers for the additional incoming and ongoing training, too.

Security Magazine asked Marcus Perdue, vice president of business operations for Day & Zimmermann Security Services, Philadelphia, to provide a business brief on armed vs. unarmed.

He pointed out that school shootings and office rampages always make national headlines. And when executives, property managers and institutional leaders see these events, it’s only natural to contemplate deploying armed personnel at their sites.

The theory: Fight fire with fire. After all, safe employees are happy employees. And the more secure they feel, the more likely they are to stay with the organization. That’s why safeguarding employees and other assets is a top priority for executives.

But are armed security officers always the best answer to an organization’s security needs? Or can their presence exacerbate or even escalate situations?

The answer: It depends. It is imperative for businesses and institutions to determine their level of need, and conduct due diligence before stationing a security force. Failure to do this properly can create situations where organizations are liable for avoidable deaths or injuries, exposing them to potential lawsuits and public relations nightmares.


Clearly, keeping businesses and public settings secure is the goal. Not long ago, high-crime environments were shoe-ins for armed security. Today, organizations are rethinking whether these environments will benefit from an armed security presence.

While armed security is appropriate in some cases, many organizations now base their decision on the likelihood that a crime will be committed. Then they balance the risks. Common sense might tell us that an area with a higher crime rate would be better protected by armed officers. However, the goal of armed officers should not be to use their weapons to deal with a crime, but rather to deter the crime in the first place.

For example, a bar operator in an area with a history of violent confrontations might hire an armed officer. But doing so immediately raises the probability that a firearm will be used in a confrontation or other situation on his premises.

At sporting events and concerts, the risk multiplies. Unruly fans and firearms don’t mix. And the probability that firearms could be used to diffuse brawls between passionate or intoxicated fans is high. In neither of these cases is it likely that an armed officer would prevent a crime from occurring, but rather he may have to use the firearm to handle a problem.

School shootings have prompted some school districts and educational institutions to implement armed security personnel. Besides being controversial, such decisions may not be in the best interests of public safety. Consider the consequences of an armed officer that accidentally injures or kills a bystander while trying to take down a perpetrator. Deploying a trained, accredited police force may be a more appropriate solution for schools.


In truth, schools are best protected when unarmed security personnel are paired with a trained police force on premise, or given direct communications to police officers stationed nearby.

Indeed, organizations are increasingly opting for unarmed security who use radio and phone communications to rapidly contain situations. This approach reduces organizations’ risk, liability, and insurance costs, while improving security levels.

The case for armed versus unarmed security should be made on a facility-by-facility basis. Financial and military installations are prime examples of facilities where armed security is a likely requirement.

Then there are gray areas where a mix of armed and unarmed security is appropriate.

A good example of this is hospitals. A security company should analyze the complete facility, and identify all the jobs and areas in order to determine where armed force is or isn’t necessary.

Case in point: an emergency room, where things unfold quickly, and emotions and stress run high. ERs typically deal with gunshot victims, gang members and other hardened criminals, vagrants, victims of domestic abuse, crazed drug users, and so on — making them logical candidates for armed officers.

Other areas of the hospital, such as information desks, admissions, treatment and recovery wards, waiting rooms, and other family areas would be better served by unarmed security personnel with radio links to police.

Pharmaceutical, manufacturing, construction, and other organizations that face threats from environmental terrorists might also warrant armed security. This can serve as a deterrent against protests or crowds loitering at building entrances, infiltrations, or terrorist acts.

Lastly, U.S. government facilities require armed officers to ensure national security.


Before decisions are made, most security contractors will research and interview the organization, and conduct an on-site assessment. This includes compiling area crime statistics, information on past incidents, specific risks that the site may face, and the experiences of other similar facilities.

Conversely, organizations should do their homework and research potential security contractors before signing anything. One rule of thumb: Contract with a company that puts officers’ and the employees’ safety first.

These contractors apply a more conservative approach, and will fully disclose their reasoning for recommending unarmed or armed security.

Also, ask about officers’ training, the contractor’s screening process, their insurance coverage, and for references from organizations in industries similar to yours. This will help narrow your prospect list to the most suitable contractors.

There’s an industry-wide concern that many armed personnel have little or no firearms experience. Indeed, some candidates simply acquire a firearm license with minimal formal training. Requirements vary considerably from state to state, where candidates might need anywhere from eight to 120 hours of firearm training to qualify.

Often these minimum training requirements fall short of the experience necessary to ensure the most optimal use of armed security personnel. The best contractors raise the bar, hiring military- or police-trained officers. These men and women set the standard for top-notch armed security forces.

Look to pay scales as an experience indicator. Higher wages attract better qualified officers. Contractors who hire staff officers with previous law enforcement or military experience are also those who are, rightfully, paying a premium for such talent.

But pay pressure is increasing. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are draining the military talent pool. As qualified people ship out, security contractors increasingly turn to people with law enforcement experience — and are paying a premium to attract and retain them.

In the end, the bottom line is safety — the core value of all reputable security companies, and something you can’t put a price on. Without safety, which is comprised through risk assesment, force determination and due diligence, there's a greater risk for otherwise avoidable incidents.


Beyond posts and patrols, many security officers today man electronic security systems – intrusion, access control, security video and fire. There is a fear that sophisticated systems are challenging to some officers. Here’s advice from Kevin McDonald of Vigilos, Seattle, Wash.

He contends that heightened commercial security concerns have raised security standards. The combination of security officers and new technology-based security solutions keep this necessary cost of doing business at a minimum while maximizing security.

“The convergence of physical security and information technology represents a force multiplier for the protection of people, property and assets,” said Ray O’Hara, CPP, senior vice president of Garda, which provides security services to help organizations and individuals identify, plan for and respond to risks. “Software programs are a key element in overall risk management initiatives that minimize costs while maximizing effectiveness.”

Shown at ASIS International, BrightSite remote security technology by Vigilos, Inc., a Vance Garda partner, is benchmarked with customers such as the FBI and the U.S. Navy, in addition to corporate users.

The following security scenarios illustrate the powerful productivity and bottom line cost difference of incorporating the right technology with security officers.

Security Scenario #1: Inside a 32-story office building: Three officers are on duty, patrolling corridors, entry points and the command center. At 11:09 p.m., the command center officer scans the bank of monitors, and glimpses motion on floor 27. Struggling to find the right video from his myriad of cameras, he calls for support, dispatching two security officers to floor 27. They arrive to find an empty corridor. Whoever was there is gone.
  • Elapsed time from detection: 16 minutes.

  • Event notification: unreliable and delayed.
Security Scenario #2: One security officer and a remote security technology, monitoring several company buildings, using the corporate data network.
  • The company’s software-based system automatically detects the motion and applies the rules they’ve configured to match their policy to determine if it’s an alarm.

  • When an event is generated, according to the chosen policies, the on-site officer is automatically notified via text message or e-mail to his PDA. That action frees the on-site officer to roam the building and respond to events, rather than being tied to a station.

  • Either officer can determine, within a few seconds of reviewing the recorded video, whether someone needs to be dispatched. They can also bring up live video of all cameras in the area for side-by-side comparison.

  • Within minutes, the intruder is identified, images are distributed to security officers.

  • Elapsed time from initial detection: 46 seconds.

  • Event notification: reliable and instant.
Things to look for when considering a remote security technology to work with a security officer:
  • Automated post orders that are easily configurable to match your security profile.

  • An open system that can work with any existing video camera or alarm sensors.

  • A software-based system, running on standard servers, so you’re not locked into expensive proprietary hardware.

  • Built-in officer performance data and measurement tools.
“Increasingly, today’s threats in security are technology driven and organizations must respond in kind,” Garda’s O’Hara stressed. “Reliable software combined with well-trained security personnel, offers a powerful combination of lowered risk and highest return.”

About the Sources

Security Magazine thanks Mimi Lanfranchi, senior vice president of national accounts for AlliedBarton Security Services, King of Prussia, Pa., Marcus Perdue, vice president of business operations for Day & Zimmermann Security Services, Philadelphia, and Kevin McDonald of Vigilos, Seattle, Wash., for information contained in this business strategy story.