Thursday, December 6, 2007

My job. A little worried.

I work at a shopping Mall and in the light of what happened in Omaha yesterday, I have to at least say something, just to get this off of my chest. I have to back to work tomorrow and face what happens after an incident like that. I work as a Security officer and after an incident like this, we get briefing papers and such on what to do. Sometimes its helpful, but since we aren't armed its a little unnerving. I have to wonder what the guys at that Mall were going through. Sometimes there is nothing you can do. This is an incident in which all you can do is get the people out of the way and hope for the best. Prayer is about the only thing we can really do. We have police on site, but on my shift, they aren't there because its the middle of the night. Still, we have a good response time so it isn't going to take them 6 minutes to get there like it did with the Omaha incident.

I don't mean to discourage anyone from shopping at a Mall. After all, if no one shops, I don't have a job. I would still shop, but you just have to watch your surroundings. If you have a bad feeling, you see someone suspicious, by all means report it. Our mall has a dedicated emergency line to report incidents, suspicious persons and requests for assistance. The security people can't be everywhere, and the cameras can only see so much and cover so much of an area. They welcome the extra pair of eyes, but remember, there are only so many officer for some malls, so be patient. If you go to a mall, make sure to pick up the brochure at the entrance. If they are a good mall like that, they should have their emergency response numbers in that brochure.

I am more worried about people not shopping this year out of fear than something like this actually happening. If it does, there is nothing we can really do. If we really want to stop something like this from happening, we would have to search everyone and who would put up with that? Its a measure of convenience, civil liberties, freedom of movement, and safety. You aren't going to shop where you are hassled or are fearful. Therefore, you have to make some compromises in order to allow for the shoppers to do what they do with safety and comfort.

You don't want to be the gestapo and have the metal detectors at the door and do a pat down of everyone coming into the mall. No one should shop under those conditions. We started a Parental Guidance program earlier this year at our Mall, in the light of several fights at the Mall. In this, we ask for ID's from anyone perceived to be underage and if they aren't accompanied by a parent or guardian, they are asked to leave. We haven't had any significant incidents since then, but its still a problem waiting to happen. In that I mean, we have to think about those compromises I mentioned before. We don't want to be racist. We don't want to discourage people from shopping. All should feel welcome at our mall.

Its sad that we have to make these decisions in the light of the irresponsibility of parents to supervise their children. However, we as security officers cannot prevent all incidents from occurring. Thus, you have to depend upon yourselves and use the security officers and the services provided by them if possible. Its because of these kind of things that Security officers have a high turnover rate and what happens is that you loose a lot of economy of scale in the industry. You waste time of training, uniforms, and such. Security is among the lowest paid professions, yet these are the quiescential first responders in any situation. We must have increased pay and training. States should step in and require licencing and training. In many instances, some states do not even require background checks for security officers. The requirements vary from state to state, and even from city to city.

In St. Louis, where I work for example, the city and county licence and provide some training in law for Security officers as well as conducting a background check. However, the rest of the state except for the metropolitan areas like Kansas City, Springfield, St. Joseph, there is no requirement for licencing. The requirements for licencing in some states increased after 9/11, yet many states still live in the dark ages. Washington, and New York for example require basic terrorism awareness, Hazardous Materials awareness, and First Aid. In some cases companies provide that training as well, even if it not required by their states or licencing agencies. However, such training is sporadic and not uniform. In the event of a disaster, these are the people who will make the initial observations and decisions that will set the course of the handling of a disaster.

In the Omaha incident, there were several different descriptions put out over the air, and this may have resulted in delays due to the search and detention of people who had nothing to do with the incident. It also may have delayed the help that the people that passed away needed. It took 6 minutes for law enforcement to arrive. In that time, people were dependent on the training of people who were paid minimum wage, and possibly had very little drilling or training. All they could do was get people out of the way, hope and wait till the police arrived. I really have to wonder what they went through.

What is required is that we have a national standard for training, licencing, background checks, and pay for security officers. Pay is important because it allows for the retention of experience and prevents the high turnover which results in a poorly motivated staff. Training should be in First Aid, Hazardous materials awareness, Familiarity with the law, and an awareness of civil liberties. Licencing should be required of all states and in the absence of that, a federal standard should exist. Background checks should weed out those who are undesirable in a security situation including sex offenders, persons with felony convictions and the like. There is a bill in Congress which is still bottled up in committee which addresses many of the items I have mentioned. Why this is so is a mystery to me. These standards should be a simple matter for states to own up to.

All in all, a security officer has to have a lot on his mind. We have been do the impossible with little training or equipment. Still, we believe in ourselves which is all we can do. We care about the people in our charge and about the place where we work. we want to do all that is right for everyone. We can only do what we can do. We cannot guard against everything. So please lets all be careful out there.

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I am interested in CNG vehicles because they are good for the environment and aren't powered by dead Marines. I still have a little hope for the world. Read the musings and enjoy.

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