Canadian Security Magazine

Training security guards to handle adversity

By Winston Stewart   

News Opinion Industry View customer service de-escalation security guards

The coronavirus pandemic offered a real-time lesson on the effects of health and social restrictions, and their impact on our interactions in both individual and group settings.

For the most part, Canadians kept their cool as social distancing rules and mask mandates required immediate adjustments to how we work, live, shop, play and socialize.

But there were inevitable exceptions, followed by situations that challenged even seasoned security professionals. That came as no surprise to those of us who have worked in the security industry for decades. When placed under pressure, people can become frustrated and will struggle to cope, causing them to act out in inappropriate or anti-social ways. As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s a reminder to leading security firms of the need to put a sustained emphasis on training their guards to manage adverse situations when interacting with the public.

The reasons are numerous. To provide an adequate client service experience, for example, guards need to be trained in both proactive and reactive crisis management, use-of-force techniques and crisis de-escalation strategies — more on the latter in a moment.

Whether they’re protecting a manufacturing facility or a condominium community, an office complex or a retail space, a worst-case security scenario from a client’s perspective is a guard that increases — rather than mitigates — potential legal liability, risk exposures and the likelihood of costly fines. But especially in service-sensitive environments such as luxury hotels or stores, the customer experience is everything. The brand impact of poor security guard work can have lasting consequences from a customer retention, public relations (and potentially financial) perspective.

Preparing guards to handle challenging situations starts with research and analysis. Security firms need to do the work to understand the people and property they’re being asked to protect, taking into consideration everything from the unique features of a space to the demographic composition of the tenants, customers or residents they serve. A luxury condo with a predominantly senior-aged population, for example, will require a much different approach than a condo building comprised of 20- and 30-something residents.

That basic intelligence needs to be communicated by supervisors to their guards at the pre-deployment training stage. It’s worth noting that, every reputable security firm should employ a comprehensive pre-deployment training program designed to teach or enhance basic skill sets such as incident report-writing, observational skills, slip-and-fall response measures and a range other important tactics that guards are likely to employ on a daily basis. Those programs should complement and align with the industry-mandated security training program for guards in each province, while ensuring that guards have a robust understanding of relevant legislation. In Ontario, for example, that would include the Private Security and Investigative Services Act, among other laws. Guards should also have completed first-aid, CPR and AED certifications; if not, a pre-deployment course should offer that training.

Of course, pre-deployment training should also involve educating guards on a property’s various technical features including fire panel and elevator operation, security entry and monitoring systems and emergency evacuation procedures.

Perhaps the best way that security firms and their supervisors can teach guards to manage adverse interactions with the public — beyond providing effective training — is to emphasize the importance of patience, compassion and the aforementioned skill of incident de-escalation.

In the majority of cases, even the most incendiary situations can be snuffed out with the help of calm, measured communications. Supervisors can help their guards prepare for these events with situational training that emphasizes role-playing based on real-world scenarios, as reported by guards in the field. Reminding guards that being respectful with the public and using force only as a last resort can help to eliminate most problems before they spiral out of control.

Another important — and often overlooked — aspect of helping guards address on-the-job challenges is a focus on employee retention and engagement. Put simply, security firms that change staff on an overly-frequent basis are in constant training mode, increasing the chance that some guards will be deployed into the field without proper briefings or instruction. High turnover also increases the risk of employee disengagement, meaning guards might do a poorer job when they’re on-site, if the employee culture at their firm is lackluster.

Lastly, supervisor oversight and on-site engagement is absolutely critical to helping guards navigate stormy situational waters. In all too many cases, firms don’t invest the time or management-level staffing resources to both ensure on-site service quality control and actively coach their teams in the field. Those interactions are particularly important for guards at the start of their careers, or who find themselves working in more difficult environments — think enforcing entry restrictions or masking protocols at hospitals at the height of the pandemic, for example.

Security guards are professionals skilled in liaising with the public and responding to difficult situations. But that expertise can be tested at times. That’s why it’s the responsibility of security companies and their supervisory teams to ensure guards have the tools they need to do their job right — every time.

Winston Stewart is the president and CEO of Wincon Security (

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