Making security a stronger link in homeland defense

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Saturday, March 1, 2003

Recently, USA Today ran a cover story titled “Private Security Guards, Homeland Defense’s Weak Link.” The article painted the entire security industry with a broad brush. It focused on some of the negative realities in the contract security industry - high industry turnover, low pay, poor employee benefits, little government control and low training standards.

Like all industries, ours has challenges, but some companies are working to overcome these stereotypes and “raise the bar” on the level of professionalism and quality found within the security industry. We see the USA Today article as a clarion call to step up the efforts already underway, and formalize many of the positive practices that quality contract security companies already have in place.

The article addressed a range of topics focused on homeland security. Background checks, or the lack thereof, were a particular cause for concern.

Currently, many security companies conduct extensive background screening and have taken great care to increase these measures post Sept. 11. This may be an opportunity for security technology companies to innovate an easier, cost-effective solution for the contract security industry.

Already, ASIS International is working to expand the Private Security Officer Employment Standards Act of 2002, which permits review of employees’ past criminal records, to include all private security officer positions.

Additionally, the industry is exploring new training procedures in response to Sept. 11, 2001 in order to protect the public from future terrorist threats. In conjunction with Barton Protective Services, ADT Security Services Inc. and Wheelock Inc., the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International developed a comprehensive online training program for building evacuation and crisis planning, exclusively written by Barton. This program is available to members and non-members alike who want to enhance their crisis-prevention preparedness.

Multiple companies within the contract security industry support increased training. Quality providers have extensive training programs in place and are supportive of minimum state and federal requirements.

Our company’s training programs consist of more than 400 hours of instructor-led curriculum.

In response to the continuing need for security guidelines and industry standards, the ASIS International Commission on Guidelines was created in 2001. It was established to increase the success of security practices and strengthen industry professionalism through risk reducing guidelines.

More recently, the commission directed ongoing efforts to develop guidelines for security officers and helped to develop a General Security Risk Assessment Guideline.

The industry’s low-bid approach to winning business has a direct effect on pay and benefits for the workers in our industry. Security companies must find ways to offer better pay, health care benefits and retirement programs for our valued employees. Quality security companies provide rich health, dental, vision and disability insurance, as well as 401(k) plans matched by their employers, in addition to offering wages ranging from 15 percent to 25 percent above the industry average.

Companies offering these expanded benefits gain from greatly increased retention rates which contribute significantly to higher customer and employee satisfaction ratings.

We must consider this: a security company can truly succeed only if it takes care of its one true asset – its people. I implore the industry to join and support these efforts to improve the quality of security service to both the public and the thousands of businesses nationwide. As the nation’s largest protective resource, we must rise to meet the challenges ahead and embrace our responsibility and obligation to further regulate the industry. Together, we can demonstrate a level of service that will inspire the confidence of the American public.

Patrick McNulty, president of Barton Protective Services Inc., is a 20-year security industry veteran who has served as president of the East Central region for Securitas/Pinkerton and president of the Southeast region for Burns International, the major division of Borg-Warner Security.