Organizing a Security Department

Dec. 6, 2011
A property manager’s job includes providing a safe, secure, and comfortable environment for tenants. Success requires a versatile, well-trained security organization. How have you efficiently organized your security team or department? Make sure to periodically review titles and responsibilities, guard service contracts, and your building’s risk assessment.

A property manager’s job includes providing a safe, secure, and comfortable environment for tenants. Success requires a versatile, well-trained security organization. How have you efficiently organized your security team or department? Make sure to periodically review titles and responsibilities, guard service contracts, and your building’s risk assessment.  

Titles and Responsibilities
“While individual properties have challenges and risk assessments that require larger and smaller contingents of security officers, the organizing principles for security departments are similar,” says J. Michael Coleman, vice president of commercial real estate with Conshohocken, PA-based Allied Barton Security Services.

Officers represent the foundation of any security organization. Each officer staffs a post and carries out post orders. Officers in the lobby manage tenant and visitor access to the building while wearing a welcoming smile. Patrolling officers look for and deter problems. Officers can also monitor back-of-house operations such as the loading docks, managing deliveries arriving by semi-trailer, express delivery trucks, and messengers.

In buildings protected by card access control and video surveillance cameras, officers staff security centers, monitor technology, and dispatch patrolling officers in response to real and potential problems detected by the technology.

“Supervisors are the next step up in the chain of command,” says Coleman. “Supervisors supervise the activities of officers. They determine shift scheduling and provide on-the-job training as necessary. Supervisors may also have post responsibilities, such as walking patrol or monitoring surveillance cameras.”

“Depending upon the size of the building and the officer staff, there might be supervisors for operations in both the front and the back of the house,” adds John Petruzzi, CPP, CISM, senior vice president for the eastern U.S. region and Canadian operations with Valencia, CA-based Andres International.

A building security organization typically needs officers to staff round-the-clock shifts. For evening and night shifts, a shift supervisor may double as a patrolling officer. 

Site supervisors oversee day-to-day operations, says Coleman. They plan ahead, arranging for extra officers to cover events. During busy times, site supervisors may walk patrol, respond to events, or staff a post in the security center.

The security manager generally sits atop a site’s security organization. This individual develops the building’s security program, hires personnel, staffs posts, sets schedules, responds to tenant inquiries and needs, trains officers and supervisors, oversees the technology and the security center. They also serve as the liaison with custodial, maintenance and other building management teams.

Since 1995, Mike Fickes has contributed over 200 security articles to publications covering hotel, industrial, office, retail, critical infrastructure, and education. His interests include security management, policies, strategies, and technologies.

The security manager may report to the building owner or property manager or to a security director, who manages security operations in a portfolio of buildings for an owner or property management firm.

In addition, local and state building codes often require landlords to designate fire safety directors for a building, continues Petruzzi. The fire safety director works with tenants to assign and train floor wardens, who in turn organize and train tenant employees to evacuate and shelter in place in drills or actual emergencies.

Establishing Contract Security Providers
According to Coleman, AlliedBarton research indicates that in-house operations are relatively rare – 85% of property managers or owners contract with security companies that provide officers, supervisors, and managers. Most of these proprietary departments blend contract officers and in-house managers, he says.

“They tend to have senior level security vice presidents and multiple in-house security management roles,” adds Petruzzi. “One manager may contract with security firms for officers; another might manage technology and integration firms.”

In a contract security operation, the security manager mentioned above often goes by the title “account manager” and receives a paycheck from the contracting firm. Account managers work on-site and handle the same responsibilities as a security manager.

However, an account manager serves two bosses: the property manager or whoever directs security for the property management company and a client relationship manager located at the contracting company.

The relationship manager recruits officers and supervisors using criteria worked out with the client at the beginning of the relationship. This individual also arranges for training and manages the acquisition of uniforms. During an event, he or she will bring in additional technology or officers to provide support. In an emergency, the relationship manager supplies backup for officers, supervisors, and managers on the scene.

Don’t Pinch the Wrong Pennies
When organizing a security department, make sure to provide sufficient funding. “A qualified security assessment will tell you what level of security you need,” Coleman says. “If you tell tenants that you have a security program, you had better assemble all of the necessary elements.”

That’s good advice for setting up an in-house security department or bringing in a contractor. “When evaluating contract firms for either guard services or technology, check references,” Petruzzi says. Make sure your prospects have consistently met the terms of their contracts during the recession. Ask about the effects of changes or cutbacks on the overall security picture.”

Coleman adds: “Over and under delivery is the biggest challenge in organizing a security program. You don’t want to spend more than necessary, but you do have to spend what is required to mitigate the risks identified in your security assessment.”

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