Can Security Technology Replace Guard Force?

Facility executives can work toward an effective balance for site security using these six steps.

By Michael Bendis, CPP

Recent domestic police shootings, international terror attacks, and rampage violence incidents have led to newfound concerns among facility owners and operators—causing many to take a second look at their current security programs to determine if appropriate measures are in place. And, this is rightfully so. Just like no city is immune, no facility is either. This fear and real risk affects every type of building—industrial, commercial, and institutional facilities alike.

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(Photo: Thinkstock)

At the same time, the costs of security personnel, which typically comprise the largest portion of a security budget, continue to rise, thus putting pressure on finding new ways of reducing these costs. The need for increased security and the desire of many organizations to reduce personnel costs for an operational guard force have collided to create the perfect security storm. And this storm could actually threaten the safety of those facilities even more.

Given recent advances in security technology—specifically the ability for equipment to perform or greatly assist traditional guard functions, many facility owners and operators see increasing its use as a possible solution. Like everything in life, moderation and balance are key to a successful security program. Hence, there is the security triangle—a calculated combination of Physical (locked doors, window bars, etc.), Operational (on-site guards), and Systems (security technology). There is no prescribed amount regarding how much each of these three must be maintained to demonstrate optimal security. Each facility executive needs to determine his or her percentages based on their own distinct threats, risks, and budget.

For example, a vault that necessitates high physical security (i.e., hardened construction, high security doors/locks, and limited access), may only need one guard, whereas a museum with 20 entrances and publicly accessible high value items might require more guard force and the use of camera equipment throughout. The ultimate goal is to create a balance—as one part of the security triangle is increased, the others may be reduced while maintaining the same level of security.

The following six-step process will help facility executives determine if and how technology can be implemented to create a truly balanced security program.

Step #1: Determine guard time allocation. Conduct an analysis of what your guards do. How often are front desk guards processing visitors, answering calls, giving directions, or dealing with card access issues? How much time does the control center guard spend looking at security cameras? How often is the rover/response guard called up to relieve someone when there’s a real security/safety issue that requires response? How often are building entrance or loading dock guards engaged?

Step #2: Determine if technology can perform critical job functions. Can a guard (or two or more) be eliminated, and can technology equally replace the function or even improve the process? For example, one guard’s job is to monitor security systems, waiting for an incident that needs attention to arise. Can technology do this job better? Promising technologies to consider include:

Video. Today’s high-resolution cameras can see farther and capture better images than the previous generations of security cameras. Some have extreme low light capabilities and are almost military grade, providing incredible detail in dark environments. Current video analytics feature capabilities including criminal behavior detection, criteria-based search of recorded video, and facial recognition.

Access control. Positive control, automatic revolvers have replaced legacy turnstiles that once required the presence of a guard as well. New “anti-passback” features prohibit someone from re-using another person’s access control card. This feature works via a time disable limit on the card (i.e., once used to enter the facility, the card is disabled for the next minute or two). Or, where increased security is required an access control system can also keep track of employees who enter and exit the facility. In this case, once the system knows the employee is inside, their access control card can only be used to exit the building and will be denied at entrances. Similarly, once the card is used to exit, it can only be used to re-enter next.

Visitor check. Guards have traditionally been used heavily to process visitors. Freestanding, ATM-like kiosks with access to web-based check-in software can be used to announce that a visitor has arrived. Employees can go online in advance and “check in” their visitor who needs only to present their ID to the kiosk upon arrival to obtain a temporary access card.

Emergency communications. It used to be that guards patrolled parking lots all night making themselves available for assistance and enabling them to communicate security concerns. Now, IP based emergency call box stations provide the ability for those in need to make a call from the parking lot, either directly to 911, or more commonly, to a guard’s smartphone (who can now do other things simultaneously, like man the building). Additionally, these call box stations can now be remotely powered and communicate wirelessly making them more affordable than a traditional hard wired/powered system of the past.

Alarms. Traditionally, alarms were only useful when someone was manning the control station 24/7. With a smartphone, a guard can be working in any number of areas and still receive an alarm directly to his or her phone.

Step #3: Cost analysis. While the technologies seem more efficient and maybe even more reliable (considering the human error), facility managers should not forget to consider the obvious costs, hidden costs, and ongoing costs before making a final decision about each item on the security wish list.

Obvious costs. People are expensive to employ. In fact, guards are often the number one security cost for any facility. That being said, calculate the initial capital costs of the technology, including the equipment and installation as well as guard force costs for the same job. Then, do a break-even analysis with these two figures.

Additional costs. Along with more technology will also come ongoing equipment maintenance and life expectancy costs. If a piece of equipment has moving parts, like a security camera, the visitor check kiosk, or turnstiles, it may require additional parts, maintenance, and/or will likely only last a few years, depending on the technology. Ease of parts sourcing and repair should be considered as well.

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In balancing facility security, one element of the triangle may be increased and another reduced while maintaining effectiveness. (Image: Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.)

Step #4: Know what is being given up, and obtain acceptance. If the decision has been made to eliminate or reduce guard force, examine what is being given up. Don’t forget potential impacts to intangibles such as work culture and corporate reputation. Occupants and other stakeholders should know what the new process is for entering and securing the facility. If the facility houses a tech company, use of security technology will look more high-tech to visitors, while for a senior living facility, increasing security technology while cutting security personnel could mean a loss of personal touch. Similarly, there will be a lack of on-site judgement/decision making and response times could take longer. What is everyone’s reaction?

Step #5: Implementation. Communication will be key to letting people know what changes are being made, so there are no surprises. Set expectations early. When transitioning from guard force to new technology, don’t just flip a switch. Keep the guards at their posts until people are comfortable enough with the new technology to ensure a smooth transition. Also, create a contingency plan now in case the new security technology fails down the road.

Step #6: Feedback. Once the new security program is in place, get some feedback. Does the technology actually do what it set out to do? Is there anything that needs to be re-evaluated? Finally, go back through the costs. Do a proper analysis. Were capital and maintenance costs, like supplies (e.g., paper, ink, badges, DVDs) more than anticipated? Why is it costing more? Go back and do the analysis. Can a cost discrepancy be fixed? How?

Every facility executive has distinct security concerns and risks, as well as an overarching budget they need to be cognizant of. Knowledge of all these factors up front will be key to determining the best and most optimal balance of physical, operational, and systems security for the facility.

security technologyBendis, senior associate with Syska Hennessy Group, Inc., has a wide range of experience in the security management and consulting industry. For 25 years, he has worked in both consulting and corporate security environments. His specialized experience includes closed circuit television, video recording, access control, alarm monitoring, burglar alarm, emergency communications, radio, weapons/explosive screening, dispatch support systems, and IT systems. A Certified Protection Professional (CPP), he is also a member of ASIS.

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