Subscribe to RSS - jim birch

jim birch

"Guard" versus "Officer": What's your view?

Monday, June 4, 2012

What's the difference between a security guard and a security officer?

I'm sure many people have their opinions on this question. I heard one reader's opinion a few weeks ago after I wrote a blog post, "Security as customer service: Why not recruit guards from the hospitality sector," about how Jim Birch, security director at the Comcast Center office building in Philadelphia, had recruited from the local hospitality sector for his staff of "security ambassadors."

Within the post, I used the terms security "officer" and security "guard" interchangeably, something this commenting reader—a security professional for one of the major guard companies—took me to task for. "I find most security 'officers' working in the public arena resent being referred to as 'guards', they/we don’t work in prisons and jails," this reader wrote. "Seldom do we just guard something, we patrol, interact with people, observe and report."

He told me the Comcast Center's "security ambassadors" were likely "not smiling" at my article and closed with a tip for me. "I believe if you want to gain respect and a following you might want to avoid demeaning your audience," he wrote.

I take reader comments seriously. Feedback is crucial in helping me improve SDN and guide how I cover the security profession so I'm delivering the most value to my readers. So I wanted to know if I had, in fact, inadvertently demeaned my audience. I asked Jeffrey Hawkins, American Military University's manager of strategic initiatives for the private security sector, about the different terms and where the discussion is within the profession. "I think there are some people in the industry that do not like the term 'guard,' feeling that is an outdated title, one that demeans the position by creating the image of the old-time security guard that slept in a factory in between doing rounds, mostly to make sure there were no fires in the building," Hawkins wrote in an email. However, "If you look at the actual Webster’s definition, the term 'guard' is actually more applicable to what security personnel do 'to protect'; the definition 'officer' is defined as one with police authority."

Hawkins believes security professionals have abandoned the traditional definitions of "guard" and "officer" and developed their own interpretations. "My feeling is there are still 'security guards' and there is nothing wrong with that; I think of these folks who are generally at a fixed location and oversees the protection of an object, or area, or certain point of access. I feel 'officer' is probably more applicable to uniformed security personnel who patrol and perform more 'police-like' functions."

However, the terms are not universal. "Many states still classify the security industry personnel as 'guards,' so it is still widely used and will probably be a long time, if ever, before it is not associated with the security industry."

What's your opinion? Are the words interchangeable? Is the term "guard" a stumbling block along the path to increasing the professionalism of security?

Whatever you think, it's clear I need to be more sensitive to the issue and more careful with my word choice in the future.

Security as customer service: Why not recruit guards from the hospitality sector?

Monday, May 14, 2012

On May 1, I visited the Comcast Center in Philadelphia—the first skyscraper completed since 9/11—and was able to learn more about its security program. The visit was part of the ASIS media tour, which I and several other security industry journalists attended.

I wrote about the challenge of managing tenant perceptions that skyscrapers are unsafe places to work in my article, "Securing the Comcast Center." But there were other interesting elements to the Comcast Center's security program I want to address in this blog post.

Liberty Property Trust, the building's owner, and Comcast, which leases 94 percent of its 1.2 million sq. ft. of office space, took an interesting approach to its security guards before the building officially opened in 2008.

Jim Birch, Liberty Property's security director for the building, said it began with "a vision" for the Comcast Center to be more than just an office building. "We wanted it to be a destination," he said. So offering world-class customer service became their mantra. "We thought that when somebody enters this building it should be like entering a five-star hotel."

Since security officers are the first people building tenants and guests come into contact with, they would be the ones offering the five-star customer service. With that goal in mind, Birch, Comcast, and the security guard provider, Allied Barton, decided to recruit from a non-traditional place: The hospitality sector.

They went to a job fair at Temple University's School of Tourism and Hospitality Management—"we got some very quizzical looks from some of the hospitality seniors there," Birch said—and also approached Philadelphia's concierge association, pitching the job of security guard as a viable, and perhaps more exciting, alternative to working in a hotel. What they were looking for were intelligent people with a predisposition to being friendly, and those who place an importance on good customer service. "We can teach security," Birch said. "But we can't teach people to be happy."

In the end, Liberty Property's first contingent of what Birch calls "security ambassadors"—there were 30 of them—was equally split between people with security or law enforcement experience and those without. Liberty Property also hired a consultant from Disney and employees of the Ritz Carleton and Four Seasons to provide 40 hours of customer service training for the security team.

Turnover has been low, Birch said, and Mark Farrell, Comcast's CSO, said the efforts, including paying the ambassadors a premium, had paid off. "The ROI worked well," Farrell said. Though separate, Liberty Property's security team and Comcast's security team are both populated by Allied Barton and are "seamless," Birch said.

The day I visited, Birch had to leave the tour early to monitor some nearby Occupy protesters who had earlier tried to disrupt operations at a nearby Wells Fargo building. Protesters had targeted the Comcast Center in November, sitting down in the lobby, so Birch had put a plan in place in case it was targeted again. On this day, Birch put the lobby on lockdown, which reduces the number of entrances and requires a Liberty Trust ambassador to be posted at the remaining entrances to permit access only to those with proper credentials. As Birch's security team moved outside to create a perimeter and to manage access at the doors, Farrell's Comcast team came to the lobby in support. After ushering the reporters off, Farrell left to go meet Birch outside and gather intelligence on the situation.

Securing the Comcast Center

Dealing with skyscraper tenant perceptions in a post-9/11 world

PHILADELPHIA—At 58 stories and 975-feet tall, the Comcast Center is the tallest building between New York City and Chicago. It is also the first skyscraper to be completed since 9/11, construction having been finished in 2007.