Security and Hospitality: A Balancing Act
By Michael W. Trott
April 15, 2019
I’m frequently asked, “Is it possible to have tough, professional security officers who are able to combine friendliness and hospitality?” As the vice president of global safety and security for an international company that designs and manages luxury residential club communities, the mix of these skills and talents isn’t just nice to have – it is a requirement. These are the qualities we need in the security positions we utilize every day.
While it sounds like we would be trying to combine a Poodle with a German Shepherd, their success comes down to both their backgrounds and our training.
Security managers and their HR departments are often looking to hire individuals with previous security experience. They may seek out former military, law enforcement or civilian security officers who have been in this business for a number of years.
For these individuals, it’s generally drilled into their heads that a main part of their role is “physical deterrence first.” Most officers have standard operating procedures along the lines of “detect, report, respond and recover,” with a few gray areas mixed in based on the situation.
Whether you are managing or are part of a team of close protection officers for ultra-high net worth individuals, the same will still hold true, but the ability to present the “gentleman” side of the position is key to being able to discreetly gather more information about your surroundings.
Some security officers have probably seen their share of threatening or very dangerous situations. Perhaps they themselves were involved in physical altercations and experienced injuries in accidents or attacks – or even witnessed death.
Because of those experiences, some officers may be somewhat overly stern with each unrecognized vehicle or person who approaches a gate or post. Typically, and rightly so, a security officer’s first questions might be, “Who is this person?” and “Do they have the right approval for access?”
However, in the world of hospitality, not only at the residential developments I oversee but also in luxury hotels throughout the world, senior management must help train these officers to also include a smile and friendly welcome as they identify and engage with visitors, guests and residents.
The headlines in today’s world make it understandable to see why some security officers might have a high level of suspicion and reserve judgment while on duty. They do not take their responsibilities lightly in anticipation of the possibility of unexpected active violence and crimes that can and have occurred at schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, office buildings, hotels, clubs and more.
As managers, we acknowledge our security officers’ jobs are to keep these kinds of events from occurring. I might add that this is also what the patrons of our clubs or hotels expect – services they pay for with their monthly dues and memberships.
In recent years, I have always advised any officer reporting to me to use the “five-second rule.” When a person approaches an officer, the person should automatically be given at least five seconds with a smile and friendly greeting while the officer determines who they are and if they are authorized to enter the community. The same applies if the officer has been stopped while on patrol to answer a question or address a concern.
Most often, that friendly smile can serve all situations equally. It’s definitely the right greeting for those who are authorized or perhaps just lost. And if those who approach us are probing or are up to no good, we want to make them feel comfortable as we question them and evaluate the situation while using caution – but taking lots of notes, mental or otherwise.
I recently discussed this topic with Rob Currie, VP of Security at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Rob said when he joined the Four Seasons he originally thought the welcoming nature of the hospitality industry would be counter to good security. Now he believes the attention to detail that leads to consistent positive guest experiences can be leveraged into a strong security culture. Rob said, “The passion and focus it requires to deliver good service are the same qualities the Four Seasons looks for in a vigilant security professional.” He also agreed with the five-second rule as it provides an officer time to offer a guest a positive experience but also provides adequate time to initially profile the individual’s behavior as normal or potentially threatening.
If we take this concept one step further, convicted criminals will tell you: If they’re casing a location for criminal intent and someone makes eye contact with them (or pays close attention to their face, vehicle or other identifying features), they will often move to a “softer” location. Even in one of my roles at the CIA, if someone paid too much attention to us, we might have reason enough to abort a mission and regroup.
Part of any security officer’s training and, frankly, responsibility is knowing when to “flip the switch” from a welcoming persona to a stronger presence of command and control. Even then, one can still be respectful and persuasive, adjusting the internal “dial” as necessary to handle the situation. Hotels, shopping malls, offices, theaters and even places of worship are now unfortunately considered the “soft targets” where bad actors take full advantage, as we just witnessed in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, carrying out the second deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11. It’s probably an unfair expectation of many security officers to be able to smile and also intently study people, which is why some establishments break up the role and have trained personnel to just focus on possible bad actors.
I’m often reminded of my first military assignment as a U.S. Air Force security specialist. Along with other trained military personnel, we were assigned to a squadron responsible for protecting enough nuclear weapons and alert B-52 aircraft to modify the landscape of much of the world as we knew it. Each day, we stood guard in flak jackets (body armor) while holding M16s with 240 rounds of ammunition each – all the while reinforced by other response teams in armored vehicles with heavy weapons. We provided unconditional and positive access control to these aircraft and weapons systems – forcefully, professionally and respectfully.
As an example, when a pilot and his crew would approach for access, we would greet them with a level of authority and respect. After going through a verification process and authenticating their authorization to be there, we would snap to attention, give the highest-ranking officer a sharp salute and allow them access to some of the most heavily-guarded pieces of military equipment in the entire world.
Those days sometimes included long hours of standing and patrolling on foot in solitude and enduring severe weather conditions: heat, rain, snow, wind and ice. We might even be glad under those circumstances just to see someone else and have a short conversation. But if the situation ever required it, our mindsets and actions would change instantly – including being prepared to use deadly force.
As for that question I’m asked, here’s the full answer: Whether it’s a government or military installation, a New York office building, a sensitive data center or a private community, it is not only possible to balance hospitality with a professional level of security – it’s imperative. When done correctly, it’s impressive, but it requires effective training, reinforcement and leadership.
Let’s be impressive.