Protecting Crowded Places: What to look for in a security provider

New Zealand Security Magazine - December 2023

crowded places
New Guide: "Private security providers play a central role in protecting crowded places from terrorism."

The Australian Government has released guidance to owners and operators of crowded places on selecting security providers, writes Chief Editor Nicholas Dynon, filling a key gap in the crowded places guidance suite.

Focussed on the guarding sector of the private security industry, the Australian Government under the auspices of the Australia New Zealand Crowded Places Committee (ANZCTC) has released Security Contracts Guiding Principles having recognised “opportunities to strengthen Australia’s security to help better protect crowded places.”

The new guidance is for use by owners and operators of crowded places to support them in preparing tenders to bid for security contracts, preparing invitations to security contracts, awarding and administering contracts, and transitioning in and out of contracts.

“The Security Contracts Guiding Principles aim to provide a best practice guide to support the Crowded Places Strategy,” stated an ANZCTC announcement. “They recognise the important role that security personnel perform to protect Australia’s crowded places from terrorism.”

“Private security providers play a central role in protecting crowded places from terrorism,” states the ANZCTC. “In many cases, private security personnel (including security contractors, consultants and the frontline guarding security officers) are directly responsible for strengthening the security of crowded places. Furthermore, they are often the first responders to any incident. Consequently, they must be well-trained and professional.”

The document follows the checklist approach that other ANZCTC crowded places supporting documents, such as the Security Audit and Self-Assessment tools, use. The checklist is ordered in accordance with eight guiding principles and several questions under each of these that are designed to illustrate gaps that an organisation may have in its current security contract arrangements. The guiding principles include:

  1. Due diligence
  2. Adherence to Government laws
  3. Supervision and management of workforce
  4. Training and professional development
  5. Sub-contracting
  6. Disclosure and transparency
  7. Ability to call out wrongdoing
  8. Key performance standards within contracts and tenders

Under Guiding Principle 4 – Training and Professional Development, for example, the checklist questions include:

  • Will the workforce you are employing/contracting have appropriate training / education / skills for the duties expected of them?
  • Will the contract address this?
  • Will there be accreditation or a mechanism to recognise specific skills/competencies required?
  • Will a training needs analysis be undertaken and updated?
  • Will onsite training and education be provided. If so by whom, and, for what purpose?
  • Will this training be ongoing throughout the length of the contract?
  • Does the contract permit you to deliver training directly to the contractor’s personnel?

Just because a checklist box has been answered in the negative, states the ANZCTC, it does not necessarily mean that a security contract arrangements around that specific issue is defective. That being said, “several negative answers in the same section could illustrate that additional work is required.”

According to the document, many of the questions listed in the Guiding Principles can be incorporated in any contract prepared with a security provider. On the flipside, common errors or pitfalls that can arise from failing to do so can include:

  • Failure to conduct thorough due diligence
  • Failure to conduct regular audits throughout the life of the contract
  • Lack of specific provisions in the contract regarding whether/under what circumstances sub-contracting is allowed
  • Lack of flexibility to meet the operating environment
  • Lack of supervision to confirm services are being provided to the standard required by the contract
  • Lack of an onsite induction
  • Lack of disclosure and transparency (for example ‘ghosting’ – services that have effectively not been supplied)
  • Exposure to reputational risk
  • You sometimes get what you pay for (for example the cheapest tender may come with significant other risks)
  • Lack of transitional arrangements within a contract (for example when a new contractor takes over)

The document stresses that although an owner or operator of a crowded place may utilise a security provider, the owner/operator remains responsible for ensuring a safe environment, ie. risk cannot be transferred to a contractor – the owner/operator still owns the risk.

It recommends that owners and operators of crowded places give consideration to membership of peak body or advisory networks “to stay abreast of industry information and protections that are available, with access to relevant and helpful resources.”

New Zealand guidance?

Within the online information on crowded places hosted on the New Zealand Police website is an FAQ titled “I need to engage a private security professional; what do I need to think about to ensure I get someone with the right skills and experience?”

“Private security professionals play a central role in protecting crowded places,” states the FAQ. “In many cases, private security professionals – including security consultants and contractors, risk analysis and threat assessment experts and private security officers – are directly responsible for strengthening the protective security of crowded places. They must be well-trained and professional to be effective.”

Implementing protective security measures can be a complex process which, if done incorrectly, can be costly and ineffective, it says. “In many cases, owners and operators will need to seek further advice from private security professionals.”

Although the NZ Police information does not go into detail on the selection and engagement of security guarding providers, it does provide some tips on the factors owners and operators of crowded places should consider when selecting a security consultant:

  • licenced or certified as a private security provider
  • education, qualifications, skills, and experience
  • referee reports
  • security clearance (where required/appropriate)
  • professional association and affiliations
  • previous experience conducting security reviews
  • ability to effectively undertake the security review (subject matter knowledge)
  • impartiality of advice (consider any commercial affiliations)
  • published professional work

Specific skills and experience to consider may include:

  • security strategy and planning
  • security auditing
  • risk and threat mitigation
  • protecting different types of crowded places e.g. shopping malls, large office complexes, transport hubs, festivals, events and mass gatherings
  • capability to offer training for owners/operators and their staff