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Guards: Another Tool in the Risk Management Toolbox

By: Joe Gleason, AHT

Guards: Another Tool in the Risk Management Toolbox

We’ve all seen it traveling in the developing world: the ubiquitous uniformed guard standing outside a compound gate or in a booth, often with varying degrees of alertness. While often referred to as “security”, what is the role of local guards? Like any risk management measure, any use of guards should be driven by the local risk environment. Generally, guards can play a number of key roles at an office or residence overseas:

  • Access control – Enabling staff and authorized visitors to enter the property is high on the list of guard responsibilities. This may include inspecting staff ID badges, maintaining a visitor log or badge system, use of magnetometers, notifying staff of visitor’s arrival and escorting a visitor to a meeting location with a staff member.
  • Physical security & property control – Ensuring that doors or gates are closed and locked, CCTV cameras are functioning, any property removed from the office is done so according to policy and other physical security measures are working as intended.
  • Situational awareness – Guards often function as the eyes and ears of the office, keeping aware of what’s going on in the compound and wider neighborhood – whether it’s a demonstration on a nearby main road or smoke coming from a generator. Being able to identify and report possible surveillance, criminal or otherwise, is increasingly important.
  • Emergency alerting & response – Raising the alarm in the event of an emergency and helping guide response, building evacuation, shelter in place, lock down, etc., are essential parts of a guard’s role.

Guards don’t do their work in a vacuum. Like any member of the team, the success of any guard (or guard force) relies in part on effective underlying policies and procedures – access control, property management, emergency response and more. Guard force instructions or orders should provide clear, concise guidance about day-to-day duties and responsibilities. Physical security measures, including entry gates and doors, lighting, cameras and “air locks”, should reflect the risk environment and work in conjunction with guards. Training and supervision are also essential.

One question comes up frequently: should guards be hired through a private security firm or directly employed by the organization? In most cases, contracting through a security firm provides key advantages, including training, equipment, replacement guards at short notice, licensing and other legal compliance, as well as broader oversight and management of the guard force. When private security companies don’t offer an effective or reliable service, directly hiring guards may be the better option, but organizations need to ensure they provide an appropriate level of oversight, training, procedures, etc.

A less frequent but often more vexing question: when are armed guards the right solution? To be clear, armed guards are not an option for every organization and they aren’t an appropriate solution for every risk – most risks in fact. Some organizations prohibit the use of armed guards by policy and others avoid environments where the risks make armed security a serious consideration.

Very broadly, the use of armed guards should be a deliberate decision based on the specific risks in the operating environment, typically extreme, direct threats of physical harm, and how armed guards would mitigate or otherwise address those risks through protection and deterrence. Given the potential risks associated with the use of armed guards, from accidental discharge to inappropriate use of force, compliance with local laws and regulations, training, clear policies/procedures and effective oversight are essential. Documenting the decision-making process and having it approved at the HQ level can provide organizational perspective.

Guards can be an important part of an organization’s risk management system. But like any risk management measure, the use of guards should be driven by the risk environment and must include appropriate training, guidance, oversight and expectation.