Policies and Training

The Need for Vigilance Drills for Security Officers

Police work is often defined as “hours of boredom, interrupted by minutes of terror.” Security officers can face the same dilemma—how to stay vigilant when nothing has gone wrong for days, weeks, or even months—and be ready for a life-threatening event if it does arise.

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The military has long used so-called “red teams” to test the security vigilance at its bases. This involves something as simple as having a security team member try to get on the base without proper identification, to having a crew of infiltrators scale the perimeter fences at night and see how far they can get without being detected. Department of Energy security forces at U.S. nuclear power plants test themselves in this way as well, using simulated armed attacks from one or more “terrorists,” to put stress on the protection force.

The key to these types of exercises is to be creative, take the security officers on duty out of their comfort zones, and encourage them to react as they have been told and trained. While the red team approach may be common at military bases and other government facilities that use members of the armed services, in-house federal law enforcement, or security personnel deployed for various critical infrastructure protection functions, this approach is less common at business or government buildings with proprietary security forces or security offices provided by contractors.

While it may not be necessary or feasible to simulate a full-scale attack on a protected property, hoping that guards can interpret their posted orders effectively or rely on their life, military, or security experience is not enough. The site security managers should work with in-house security professionals at the facility to create realistic scenarios that test common, daily, and even unlikely security functions or responses. This could include having someone try to get past a metal detector site with a fake gun or a BB pistol; trying to get around a security checkpoint with an expired employee identification (ID) badge, or one that doesn’t even belong to the employee (to see if the officers bother to look at the face of the person trying to get inside and match it to the photo on the badge).

Other evaluation exercises could be designed to see how the officers help to evacuate employees, visitors, and vendors during a fire drill, a simulated chemical spill or gas leak, or an active shooter drill. The testers can introduce a belligerent person into the reception lobby who tries to brush past the front desk or a security station without signing in, showing ID, or waiting for an escort. During these events, it’s best to test the officers’ responses in a controlled way, with the observers standing close by, ready to intervene and stop the exercise before it gets out of control.

Security vigilance must be tested, evaluated, graded, and remediated if the response was not appropriate—as either too heavy-handed or not assertive enough.