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Private security industry falls short

By Retired Lt Col J Murire: Adopted from an article released By Chameleon Associates | October 19, 2017  

The private security sector in Zimbabwe is still viewed from the role played by private security guard companies. However the role of the internal security function within organisations has remained obscured. Internal security departments or proprietary security is very critical as it is the one that ensures organisation enter into sound security services contracts and receive value for money from the contract security service companies.

The ASIS International sponsored international conference in Dallas, Texas, USA last month illustrated a new trend for security guard companies. It was observed that many of them diversify their service portfolio with technology offerings that may ultimately substitute for their core business of supplying security officers. Remote CCTV monitoring services and autonomous security robots are being employed by some of the largest security guard companies. Although in Zimbabwe we are lagging behind technologically, most local companies are trying to follow in the footsteps.  One must wonder why security guard companies whose revenue is predominantly based on officers’ billable hours are promoting technologies that can replace the security officer at the mall, company premises, construction sites, the parking lot or the high-rise building.

To their customers, guard companies say that these technology services are provided to augment and support the security officer, not to replace him/her.  But with the same breath, they are now marketing autonomous security robots and remote CCTV monitoring as a substitute for human security officers.  The new trend to branch out by providing security technology is no coincidence.  For a while now, security guard companies have been feeling the pain of dwindling profit margins in a competitive market where no guard company is set apart from its competitor.  They all sell the same security officers.  The only difference is the uniform.

Historically, the only way for security guard companies to stay competitive in this business has been to grow through acquisitions and mergers. However it is the opposite in Zimbabwe where private security companies are proliferating by the day as more and more new companies are registered. This may be an indication that it is the only sector that still guarantees employment at low wage levels.  Through economies of scale larger companies can offer the same service at the same lower margins.  In today’s business environment, opting for technology over manpower certainly makes economic sense.  Technology can generate high profit margins, the technology itself attracts less liability than does employing human officers and it can be branded and promoted as providing a competitive edge.

Security guard companies are not solely responsible for an industry that is reduced to selling security as a commodity with little consideration for effective performance. For decades, buyers of security services have emphasized cost over quality and customer service over actual threat mitigation.  This is the aspect which internal security officers or loss control officers should pay attention to. Organisations opt to hire security contractors who provide security officers without real training or adequate qualifications. (Every security guard company will tell you that their officers receive annual training and on-going on the job training.  However, if you approach most security guards and directly ask them how much training they have received from their employer, they’ll tell you their training was at best a couple of hours long and mostly covered employer rules and regulations.

Guards have been taught to religiously follow ‘observe and report’ procedures.  Their training includes how to avoid situations where they may be called upon to actually protect or secure.  So essentially, most buyers have already accepted security guards working robotically.  Introducing actual robot guards is but a formality as this is the system already in practice.

Governments also hold some responsibility for the lack of quality and performance in the security guard industry.  Private security officers are the least regulated profession in the emergency response field.  Life guards, police officers, and others are not mandated by states to meet physical, educational and tactical qualifications and they need not go through reoccurring training as they need no regulated certification.  On the other hand, just about any security guard with a pulse can qualify to be on post and sometimes even this ‘qualification’ seems optional judging by the appearance and state of awareness some security guards display.

The current sad state of the security guard industry is the product of lack of demand for quality security services on the part of the buyers, and supply of qualified and well-trained security guards on the security industry.  The lack of quality guard services is exacerbated by the absence of a regulatory environment to enforce quality and performance in the industry.

Sadly, the real end users of security are citizens and the public at large. They are mostly unaware of security guard training levels and performance when they see guards posted at malls, premises and at buildings they frequent. The average customer for security when faced by an attack or violent crime will not look for the nearest security robot or for a remote CCTV monitor to step in.  He will look for a security officer or guard, believing he is well trained and motivated to act, engage and protect him from harm.  At a time when indiscriminate crimes and terrorism incidents are prolific, suppliers and buyers of guard services and government officials must come together to raise the standard of the private security industry. Most of the information has been extracted from an article and published by a renowned security consultants group, chameleon and Associates of USA and posted inCorporate Security, Security Technology