Security guards can be an invaluable part of your security plan, but their services can run up a costly bill. To keep your budget from being steamrolled, take advantage of security assessments and Requests for Information (RFIs) to secure a balanced contract.
Because security varies from building to building, you need to evaluate your security needs by asking the right questions. What are the threats facing those working in the building? What are the building's vulnerabilities? Are tenants at risk of crimes committed in the area? What types of technology will guards need?
Security guard companies can answer these questions with a security assessment. These evaluations are critical, says Charles Baxter, an independent consultant licensed in Texas. "Too often, decisions about security officers and technologies are based on the lowest price instead of a strategy developed from an assessment. You have to start with an assessment."
Refine Your Needs with Assessments
Assessments are tailored to your location and determine what services you'll need. "We'll study the facility, crime statistics, tenants, parking facilities, and other issues," says Bill Barthelemy, president and chief operating officer of Securitas Security Services USA. "Then we'll recommend a mix of security officers and security technologies."
Assessments included in the proposal process are typically free and only take several hours to complete. For a fee, consultants and guard companies will conduct a more comprehensive assessment. Property managers with trophy buildings, locations in high profile areas, or tenants handling sensitive materials may opt for all-inclusive evaluations.
The Microsoft Corporation has commissioned security assessments for its approximately 700 locations around the world. "Our goal is to balance security officers and technology in cost-effective ways that still provide the services we need," says Mike Howard, general manager with Microsoft Global Security.
Get the Right Price
Brian Tuskan, senior director with Microsoft Global Security, recommends following up a security assessment by issuing Requests for Information (RFIs) to security guard services. "Interview each – focus on capabilities, check references, and cut the list to three companies. Then ask each finalist for a proposal that satisfies concerns raised in the assessment and the pricing."
When evaluating bids, Howard recommends considering how each balances people and technology. "Security guard services typically charge about $50,000 per year for a single guard, and about $150,000 per year for 24-hour coverage in three guard shifts," he says. "Those costs can add up quickly."
Technology can help control guard costs. For instance, one proposal might recommend covering the lobby for 24 hours with three guard shifts along with three patrolling guard shifts providing 24-hour coverage. That would cost about $300,000 per year.
A second proposal might cover the lobby with three guard shifts but replace the patrolling guards in the common areas and corridors with surveillance cameras. The lobby guards would monitor the cameras and respond to problems. Compared to the first proposal, this would replace $150,000 per year in guard services with a one-time expense for cameras and monitors.
While technology can reduce your expenses, a strong security plan creates an effective balance between people and technology. Security technology won't cut it if there aren't security guards and supervisors on hand to use their judgment about how to respond to a situation.
"When you choose a security guard company, don't sign a boilerplate contract," cautions Tuskan. "Write an addendum that specifies what you want the officers to do and how you will measure performance. Do you want guards to escort tenants to their cars at night? How long must the tenant wait for an escort? If an incident occurs, how fast do you expect a guard to respond?"
Tuskan notes that this selective approach doesn't aim to penalize a guard service but to identify gaps, create corrective measures, and make objective evaluations possible.
"If you build a program this way," Howard concludes, "you will have a good chance of finding the right balance of people and technology to provide security for tenants and to mitigate your own liability risks."
Michael Fickes is the owner of Fickes & Co. Inc., a Baltimore publishing firm. He thanks ASIS for assisting with the research for this article.