Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Private Security Guards' Training: A Lasting Problem?

The AP runs a story today about the insufficient training offered to private security guards. This is old news worth repeating; most private security guards have never been sufficiently trained in homeland security.

Exacerbating the problem is the amount of turnover in the workforce. People constantly shuttle in and out of these low-paying jobs.

The security guard industry found itself involuntarily transformed after September 2001 from an army of "rent-a-cops" to protectors of the homeland. Yet many security officers are paid little more than restaurant cooks or janitors.

The middle ground pay for security officers in 2006 was $23,620, according to a Labor Department survey. The low pay reflects cutthroat competition among security firms, who submit the lowest possible bids to win contracts. Lowball contracts also mean lower profit margins and less money for training and background checks for guards.

In an annual survey of employers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median hourly pay for security guards in 2006 was $11.35, compared with restaurant cooks at $10.11, janitors at $10.45 and laboratory animal caretakers at $10.13.
And these folks are guarding important potential targets:
[S]ites protected by the security industry include drinking water reservoirs; oil and gas refineries; ports; bus and rail commuter terminals; nuclear power plants; chemical plants; food supplies; hospitals, and communications networks.
To their credit, security firms are honest about their own shortcomings:
The security businesses' own trade group, representing the largest firms, acknowledges the industry as a whole isn't ready to recognize signs of terrorism and respond to an attack.
But surely they must have some training in homeland security, right? Not much:
[Richard] Bergendahl, aLos Angeles guard who protects a high rise near the formerly named Library Tower — now the US Bank Tower — thinks often of Bush's disclosure last year that terrorists with shoe bombs planned to take control of a jetliner and crash it into the building. ...

Bergendahl said his training usually consists of a real estate manager reading security measures to him every few months. His building rarely has evacuation drills. Management's advice? "Keep your coat buttoned. Keep your shoes shiny," Bergendahl said.
One big problem is a lack of collaboration with first responders:
Franklin Bullock, 51, a guard at the busy bus and rail commuter station in Kent, Wash., said he's had no drills with police and fire responders despite terrorist bombings of trains and buses overseas.

A supervisor once tested Bullock by walking him down the platform to see whether he would spot a package he could hardly miss. It had "BOM" written on it. That was the end of his useful hands-on training, Bullock said.

To improve the situation, some private security companies are taking matters into their own hands. Good for them:

Some companies have decided to conduct anti-terrorism training, regardless of whether their clients will cover the cost.

At the AlliedBarton office in Washington's Virginia suburbs, training instructor Richard Cordivari's class consisted of 13 company guards. Their assignments included a financial institution, high-rise office buildings, Washington's water and sewer utility, a university and a shopping mall.

Get to know the people who deliver packages and bottled water, Cordivari instructed. Make sure the person repairing the air conditioner is supposed to be there. Watch for people casing the location. Take note of odd smells. Know how to conduct a thorough search.
The lack of adequate training for private security guards and local first responders is a long-standing problem. And given the economics involved, it's hard to see how that problem goes away anytime soon.

But the lack of collaboration between private security companies and local first responders? That's a problem that could be addressed, if both sides want it.

Cross-posted in IPS Blogs at the Institute for Preventive Strategies.

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