NEWS

Making Security Officers Matter

By Matthew Harwood

Addressing safety and security experts Wednesday at Las Vegas's Mandalay Bay Convention Center, John Tellos asked which options they'd choose to harden just such a building—a "soft" target—against terrorism: walls, fences, and gates, guard towers, concrete barriers, metal detectors, package inspections, or armed security?

Answer: "None of the above," said Tellos, assistant director of safety and security at Boston Properties, Inc., whose properties include Boston's Prudential Center.

"If I were to propose any of these solutions to my bosses, I'd be on the docks unloading fishing boats in Gloucester," said Tellos, a member of ASIS International and a speaker at this week's National Fire Protection Association's World Safety Conference and Exposition.

Instead, Tellos relies on continual risk assessments, emergency preparedness plans, and, perhaps most importantly, security officers to maintain a safe and secure environment for occupants, shoppers, and diners.

By conducting threat and risk assessments of soft targets, which Tellos defines as "the places we go everyday," owners can determine where terrorists could strike, such as fuel storage areas or underground parking areas, and then use physical security layers to protect high-risk areas of the property.

Emergency preparedness plans help ensure that when an attack occurs, as many people as possible know how to respond. Properties should follow the federal Incident Command System as a model, Tellos said, while understanding that roles and responsibilities may be different for private sector stakeholders. Emergencies plans should also be broken down to handle specific incidents such as an active shooter situation.

Prudential Center's most important preparedness activities are occupant training and drills. "This is what I spend most of my time on," Tellos said, adding that they are the best way to reduce people's anxiety.

Managers and security staff should also invite local first responders to tour their facilities so that if an incident does occur, it isn't the first time the responders are inside the building. They would also be wise to designate a command-and-control center so that safety and emergency functions such as alarm reporting, dispatch, and mass notification are centralized, Tellos said.

The final column of Tellos' security strategy is one he acknowledged might inspire the least confidence: security officers. According to Tellos, it's time managers changed the perception of private security officers from dozing dolts to indispensable guarantors of public safety in private places.

To change that perception, Tellos says companies should start by setting stricter entry qualifications, such as a college degree or military service.

At the Prudential Center, Tellos said his company benefited from its proximity to Northeastern University. Many students and graduates of the university worked as security guards at the property to gain experience while awaiting acceptance at agencies including the FBI and CIA.

With better qualifications, security officers should receive both wage and training enhancements to reflect and create a professional esprit de corps, Tellos said. Security officers posted to Prudential Center's command-and-control center receive 80 hours of training, which Tellos said reflects their three-part role of security officer, police officer, and engineer. Managers should call in experts to help train officers in advanced techniques such as terrorist counter-surveillance.

To bolster perceptions of his security officers, Tellos' company trains them to be both visible and approachable. "They should act as human information booths," he said. They are trained to respond to people looking at the facility directory by engaging them in conversation and addressing any questions or problems they may have.

Such engagement with the public has the added advantage of deterring criminals and terrorists, Tellos said. When professional security officers that are confident, visible, and accessible, they have the situational awareness necessary to sniff out suspicious activities such as terrorist reconnaissance and rehearsal behaviors.

"Simple recognition of [a possible criminal or terrorist's] presence is a key deterrent," Tellos said.

By empowering security officers, Tellos said, property owners and security managers can effectively harden soft targets while increasing the professionalism and the legitimacy of a much-maligned profession.

 

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