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Finding, Training, and Retaining an Effective Security Team

July 31, 2006
The security team needs to deliver professional-level security and excellent customer service to make tenants feel secure

In most buildings, the security guard is the first person that guests and tenants see when they enter a building (and the last when they leave); first and final impressions can leave indelible perceptions - good or bad.

“[Security guards] are the first lasting impression of any property and the first line of defense,” says Mike Coleman, vice president of commercial real estate at AlliedBarton Security Services, King of Prussia, PA. “If you don’t choose the right people, don’t blend them with the culture of your property, and don’t train them, you can run into problems.”

It’s vital to have the right security team in place and to ensure the consistency and quality of the security service provided. The security team needs to not only deliver professional-level security to deter and/or identify unwanted visitors, but it must also be adept at delivering excellent customer service to make both tenants and guests feel comfortable and secure.

“[In] a Class-A building, we must supply Class-A service,” says Keith Kambic, director of security and life safety at El Segundo, CA-based CB Richard Ellis’ landmark Chicago property, the Sears Tower, and vice chair at ASIS Intl.’s Commercial Real Estate Council. “We know how many security officers a guest will encounter before he/she gets into an elevator here - it’s three, and, at a minimum, each should at least say hello. Even a nice smile and a head nod are fine, but there has to be some kind of one-on-one interaction.”

Finding the Right People
Whether you’re hiring in-house guards or working with a contractor to build your security team, it’s best to only consider candidates who first look good on paper and can then prove it in person. “We look at papers before we even see the person,” Kambic says. “For instance, if a candidate has a history of job hopping, we’re not even going to go down that path. We invest a lot of time in our people, and the last thing we want them to do is leave immediately for another place.”

At Planned Security Services Inc. in Parsippany, NJ, Director of Operations Dino Iuliano takes the screening process seriously. He runs an extensive background check on every person under consideration for a position with the security-contracting firm - not just the required state background check, but also one that traces a person’s background across the United States. “The law says that if I’m hiring a guy in New York, I have to do a New York check. We take it further,” Iuliano says. “We know criminals don’t stay in their hometowns or where they committed the crime. They move, so we do checks nationwide.”

Once a person moves through the screening process and begins to interview, make sure you have him or her talk with all the important players. At Planned Security Services, job hopefuls first interview with the appropriate regional manager (who determines the individual’s level of experience and makes sure he or she has a valid driver license, a Social Security card, and reliable transportation). If the candidate makes the cut, he or she moves on to interview with the company’s operations manager and undergoes a personality assessment. “We need to see if the person is a good match for the building we are staffing,” Iuliano explains. “Every building wants a different type of security officer. Every building has different needs.”

The next step is a one-on-one with Iuliano. He decides if the person has what he calls “the total package” and gives the red or green light on the hire. Once he does this, the job candidate then undergoes drug screening, fills out the necessary paperwork, and is issued a uniform.

Although Kambic outsources the security staff at the Sears Tower, he still has an integral role in the hiring process, working in partnership with his contractor. “They first interview [guards] over there and then send them here to meet with [an] account manager and senior supervisor,” Kambic explains. “They talk to them and, if they feel we’re moving toward a hire, I’m the final face-off. Many security directors make the mistake of believing that, once you bring in a contract force, you don’t have to do the work. But, they still report to me. I still have the responsibility. I take a hands-on approach.”

Training for Success
Your security staff is more than just that aforementioned uniformed guard at the front gate or desk. It also includes people behind the scenes - those who monitor physical security, issue parking passes, produce identification cards, run background checks, and more. Are they all trained with regard to what they have to do? Do they understand your building’s particular security needs? Are they united in the same, focused mission?

Risk Assessment Targets Staffing
Whether you are starting from scratch or enhancing an existing security team, first consider undergoing a risk assessment to help determine your staffing needs. A proper risk assessment will help you better identify the potential threats to your building and provide specific scenarios that the security team will need to be aware of during training and on-the-job experience.

“This knowledge is key for maximum effectiveness,” notes Frank Pisciotta, president and founder at Business Protection Specialists Inc., a security and risk-management consulting firm based in Canandaigua, NY. “So many people start wondering how they are going to secure their facility without understanding what they are securing or why they are securing it.”

Before you even talk about deploying manpower, you should examine the various risk-reduction options available to you. You might require a security force, for example; however, you should arrive at that conclusion properly and not just have someone guessing that you should have guards, Pisciotta says.

A risk assessment provides a menu of things you can do to enhance your total security program, including technology, procedures, and, finally, people - the most expensive of the three.

“The failure to deploy a security force without a risk assessment will likely result in a security façade and a lot of recurring wasted revenue,” Pisciotta says.

“If you don’t have a security training program, you need to work on building one,” says Carl Roper, a Richmond, VA-based security consultant, educator, and author who worked in federal-government security for more than 30 years (most recently as an instructor for the U.S. Department of Defense’s now defunct Security Institute). “You have to train them to do their job and also train them so they know how to train their people.”

Before a contracted security officer reports for duty at the Sears Tower, he or she has already undergone 20 hours of orientation training through the contractor. Kambic’s team then puts new hires through a 16-hour, on-the-job training course specific to the Sears Tower; they must do this before they ever step out onto the floor and begin their first shift. “You can’t expect someone to perform if you don’t give them the tools. If you put someone out there without tools, they’re going to fail,” says Kambic.

Planned Security Services guards undergo 16 hours of orientation training before being deployed and an additional 40 hours of site training once arriving at the building, Iuliano says.

Training doesn’t end after the orientation period; ongoing training is one way to keep employees from becoming jaded and complacent. One way to achieve this is through a process called “penetration testing.” Test your security staff (unannounced) with breaches to procedures and see how they react. “It’s a vital program,” notes Frank Pisciotta, president and founder at Business Protection Specialists Inc., a security and risk-management consulting firm based in Canandaigua, NY. “I don’t know of a better way to keep them on top of their game. It’s a verification exercise. Larger-scale drills with outside agencies are fine, but can be expensive and tough to coordinate. There are things you can do on a weekly and monthly basis that will weed out people who aren’t doing their jobs. It’s not a fault-finding exercise, but more of a fact-finding one.”

Refresher training is a must to keep breaches low and to keep employees motivated and interested. Whether you hold sessions weekly, monthly, or annually depends on your building, the types of scenarios your security team faces, the amount of turnover you have, and the skills you expect your security team to possess. “It all comes down to understanding what skills and competencies they need to have and how [adamant] the owner is that they possess those skills,” Pisciotta says.

Sears Tower security officers attend a training program at least monthly, covering such things as customer service and fire evacuation. Sometimes, officials from outside agencies (such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms or the Chicago Fire Department) present information. Kambic also notes that penetration testing plays a role in the topics that are covered during refresher training, helping to identify weak areas in the security program.

Keeping Guards on Board
After spending time and money training security staff to understand your building’s particular needs and nuances, you don’t want guards to start looking for a new job after only 1 month on the payroll.

Retention is one of the biggest challenges in the security industry. Salaries - typically paid as hourly wages - aren’t high. While unionization has helped balance pay scales to some extent, job hopping remains prolific. It takes creativity on the part of security directors and security-services firms to keep turnover rates low and loyalty on the rise. “You want consistency, so how do you retain that person at the front desk so your tenants see the same face day in and out?” Coleman asks.

Kambic oversees approximately 72 contract security officers who work three shifts spanning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the Sears Tower. Average length of service is 7.2 years. The building has a security-turnover rate of about 19 percent - that’s nothing compared to ASIS Intl.’s projected national annual turnover figures of 150 to 200 percent, Kambic says.

Compensation, incentives, and recognition are important retention tools for any organization. “You have to offer some kind of fringe benefits or something that makes the job attractive,” Coleman says. “A lot of service companies are moving away from providing healthcare benefits. One of the ways we attract and retain people is to build benefits into the employment package.”

Move beyond healthcare plans and offer 401(k) plans, dental benefits, vision-care plans, and performance-based raises and bonuses. Create “Officer of the Month” programs, team-building exercises, and other incentive programs. Consider doing what Kambic does and work one of the second or third shifts once a month rather than just being visible on the day shift; get to know your team on a first-name basis.

And, be sure to pay staff fairly and competitively. It cuts down on job hopping and boosts morale. “The trend has been that a security officer, in many instances, is paid less than a custodian and is on the lower end of the pecking order,” Coleman says. “Still, they have one of the most important jobs in the building.”

Whether you maintain an in-house or contracted security staff, make sure that each member of the team feels important. “You have to make these people feel that they are integral to the success of your facility through training, benefits, and incentive programs,” Coleman says. “Make them feel that they are part of a team that has a meaningful payback benefit. They want to feel that they are being offered potential growth.”

In-House or Outsourced?
When Keith Kambic joined CB Richard Ellis as director of security and life safety at Chicago’s famed Sears Tower 2 years ago, the building had its own in-house safety force that worked in combination with members of an outsourced team.

Since then, Kambic has converted all of the building’s security staffing operations over to a contractor. Why?

“Bottom line? I like contract,” Kambic says. “They are far better suited to go out and find the kind of candidates I am looking for. They have the time, the effort, and the power to get that done. That’s a huge advantage.”

In-house staffing and contracted staffing each have advantages and disadvantages.

In-house advantages:

  • No management or mark-up fees from contractors.
  • Human resource issues can be managed in-house.
  • Staff loyalty.
  • Full control over the hiring process.

Contract advantages:

  • A significant portion of liability is covered.
  • Taxes, Social Security, and Workmans Compensation are handled.
  • Recruiting power.
  • Benchmarking and metrics can be gleaned from other clients.
  • Training is provided.
  • Scheduling issues are covered

“It’s seamless for building managers,” says Dino Iuliano, director of operations at Planned Security Services Inc., Parsippany, NJ. “Our employees are Planned Security employees, but work under the management of that building. We’re going to find the right people, train them in the right way, and supervise them. We know what’s required for security.”

Robin Suttell ([email protected]), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

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