By Tory Brownyard
Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, concerned policymakers and observers have debated the benefits of having armed security guards in schools. The debate spread rapidly beyond the school board to the board of directors at organizations of all sizes.
In the days and weeks following the Dec. 14 tragedy, many organizations contacted security firms about hiring armed security officers for schools. But security guard firms looked for guidance on how to safely proceed and wondered if it would raise or lower their insurance premiums.
Insurers and risk managers have historically discouraged the use of armed security professionals in the average private-sector facility. The reason is simple: it's a risky proposition.
When there is a mass shooting, the presence of armed security personnel is unlikely to deter an armed individual with violent and malicious intentions. An armed security officer may make some people feel safer, but usually does little to mitigate the risk of a shooting. The presence of another firearm may only increase the chances of casualties.
These facts have long given insurers pause. Those specializing in the security industry recognize that the risks associated with armed guards are difficult to justify in most situations. Certain facilities, such as a nuclear power plant, warrant an armed security officer, but most do not. As a result, coverage is limited and usually only available on a non-admitted basis with rates that can be double those of unarmed officers.
Of course, astute risk management can help mitigate the risks associated with armed officers. Risk management best practices dictate that firms should hire former law enforcement officers as armed guards whenever possible, since they have extensive firearms training and experience.
For any security officer, fundamental, standards-based training is important, but even more so for armed officers. In addition, guards should undergo situational training that explores the risks involved in any given industry. Security firms should hire officers who are properly trained and equipped for the needs of the position.
Finally, it's important to look at industry growth. Since the recession, budget cuts have caused municipal and county police agencies to downsize. The International Association of Chiefs of Police estimates that 10,000 law enforcement positions have been lost over the past few years. In response, the security guard industry has grown an estimated 7 percent to 12 percent per year, and that growth is expected to continue filling the gap left by public downsizing. Many new security officers are filling these positions.
Arming private security should be looked at in the context of this growth, with a focus on training and selection -- and with a realistic evaluation of effectiveness. While the public is understandably frightened, insurers and risk managers should be prepared to work closely with decision makers to ensure that an armed security officer is necessary for a business and that risks are managed properly.
Tory Brownyard is president of Brownyard Group, a program administrator that
has worked on liability insurance for security firms more than 60 years ago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
March 5, 2013
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