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Security vs. The Economy

How to maintain adequate staffing and deployment in an economic downturn

So now we start 2012 with essentially the same budgets for security that we did in 2011, with some minor variances on line items. Capital expenditures have more than ever become a wish list rather than reality, and it seems that we just do not have enough time in a day to do all the things we are supposed to do as managers, because we are also either running a shift ourselves or having to absorb duties that we used to delegate to middle managers.

The age of electronics and e-phenomena has found a way to seek us out at home, when we are sleeping, and worse yet, when we are in the bathroom because we are afraid to turn off that smart phone or tablet that has us forever tied to our work, like a super-strength umbilical cord that cannot be cut. We spend more hours at work and what is supposed to be down time at home dealing with work-related issues. We have truly accomplished the impossible (or so we thought), and it is now part of our regular job duties and is expected by our bosses. The question is: Have we cut too much?

Gaming markets have had quite the roller-coaster ride downward, and even those Native American facilities that had enjoyed strong revenues have found themselves having to address payrolls and daily expenses in ways they never had to before. The economy is showing signs of recovery in small chugs, much like that roller coaster as it climbs up the incline. Customer counts have been increasing and the protective security function that all gaming operations must have is still at the “I can’t cut anymore” level. Will I be asked to cut more?

There have been increases in criminal activity in many jurisdictions and locations over the past several years, the most noticeable being robbery events. The onetime psychological advantage that casinos had over would-be robbers has vanished. The once-well-rumored assumptions that there were heavily armed security personnel standing just out of view of cashiers and money have vanished due to the evolution of our media and the constant bombardment of news about these criminal events.


Civil Litigation

As with many other industries, employers in gaming environments have discovered that they think they can do it better with fewer personnel as a result of operating in this challenging economy. There is a long tail on security incidents, and the statute of limitations in civil litigation is just now appearing to help judge if the right decisions were made.

As part of my practice, I am quite often requested to testify as an expert in lawsuits filed involving inadequate security and premises liability primarily where third parties have committed some act against a customer. I am getting more calls for cases than ever before as the statute of limitations runs and lawsuits are filed.

The recurring allegations include inadequate security, lack of adequate staffing and training, and increases in crimes and third-party injuries. To those properties that have arbitrarily cut staffing without regard to customer volumes, cut training of security personnel and cut supervision, you may see one or more of these lawsuits on your doorstep soon if you haven’t already.

Staff Reductions

These staff reductions combined with the inability to find qualified security applicants in most labor markets create a potentially dangerous environment. It is certainly ironic that with the national unemployment rate over 9 percent many security operations are still down somewhere between 3 percent to 10 percent in staffing, even in markets where unemployment is much higher.

When the cuts were occurring, most operations had to scramble to deal with the deployment issues and evaluate stationary positions, duties, outside patrols and reductions to the once-impossible minimum level with even fewer boots on the ground. Overtime has become a thing of the past unless absolutely necessary for events such as New Year’s Eve. So we progressively cut the scheduled staff down, and then we have trouble filling the positions, which further decreases the number of security officers on the floor. Have we increased the number of surveillance personnel to watch all of those things that were once watched by security?

Some casinos that have cut staffing overall have not evaluated and changed the security plan to deal with fewer personnel. Instead, the security staff that is deployed for patrol of a particular area is the most affected, and as a result those deterrent uniforms are less and less seen by customers and criminals. They found it easier to just cut the personnel that are mobile rather than stationary ones. Then, when incidents do occur and a security officer (sometimes several) get tied up on the call to include reports and statements, the floor suffers and the patrol function becomes non-existent until staff is released from the call.

This creates a rolling effect which causes more and more issues as incidents occur. As an example, if there are not enough security personnel patrolling the casino floor and a fight breaks out, then security is pulled from other mobile personnel such as the outside patrol or hotel officer, which leaves another void in the patrol function as a whole. The amount of time to respond also increases, and so does the potential for injury.

The shift supervisors are also stretched way too thin to be productive and actually supervise personnel. This is not a new phenomenon in security deployment and response, in that there are always times when large numbers of staff are dispatched for duties other than the basic patrol of an assigned area. The difference with reduced staffing is that it occurs much more often, and officers resume patrol less frequently.

The economics may dictate that you cannot add security personnel, and the customer volumes will not support additional staffing. You have to once again re-evaluate what and how you provide security. By completing your own analysis there may be opportunity to change stationary position assignments or posts, and get creative in your deployment of security officers to have more visibility and patrol of those thousands of square feet of your facility.

Taking the Temperature

Here are some basic things that can be considered and evaluated regarding staffing, economics and the deployment of security personnel in this economically challenging time:

1. Analyze your staffing: Complete an analysis of your dispatch records to determine the number of minutes and hours each security officer is actually on patrol versus responding to and from calls for service. If the patrol time is minimal, an evaluation should be made to increase the number of security personnel on patrol in a particular area. Most computerized dispatch systems can assist in this analysis, but it can also be done with the many handwritten logs still being used to record security calls and responses.

2. Review stationary positions again: Thinking outside the box becomes even more important here. Traditional positions where a security officer is deployed 24/7 may not be the answer if there are access controls and CCTV systems with people monitoring them. A single position manned 24 hours a day converts to five full-time staff members plus the fringe or burden costs associated. Combining two stationary positions and streamlining actual duties can again free up a position for patrol. It may require the arduous and painful process of requesting changes from the regulators who mandate stationary positions. Can a patrol position accomplish the same thing with some hardware changes?

3. Complete a general security risk assessment: This tool establishes the risks associated with the casino security function and the mission to protect people and assets. If the highest-ranking security manager on a property has not completed some form of risk assessment and designed countermeasures to reduce, mitigate, eliminate or transfer common casino risks, then management may be unaware of the exposures when ordering critical staffing decisions. The security director can simply obtain the format and do the assessment with the risk management department or independently.

A good example of security risk assessment was developed by ASIS International, the preeminent security professional organization with over 37,000 members worldwide, in 2003. It is called the “General Security Risk Assessment Guideline”( This template will allow you to do a qualitative or quantitative analysis for your operation. If the security director does not possess the knowledge or time to conduct one, any professional outside security consultant can perform one for you.

4. Evaluate breaks and briefings: When and how employee breaks are managed can dramatically affect the coverage of a casino. The minutes leading up to a scheduled break, travel time to and from and the actual time on break will add up if not managed efficiently. For every 30 minutes of break time there is 15 additional minutes that must be managed, or productivity and coverage may suffer. Position rotation schedules can also be used to free up personnel.

If you have not already figured out that briefing can cost you regular and overtime costs, a very basic communication technique can replace the traditional briefing, where a room full of security are addressed by a supervisor. By issuing each security officer an email account and log-in system, all of the communication and more can be accessed by each employee at any time with proof and acknowledgements they reviewed the lookout bulletins, upcoming events and area criminal activity, without the need for a group briefing. It is also a great way for the director to send a communication to the entire staff with the same message.

5. Evaluate security job tasks: Once again, what security does every hour of every shift should be evaluated regularly to make sure that security officers are focused on the job of securing people and assets rather than performing non-security tasks for the convenience of other departments.

There is no magic formula or ratio you can use, or any published standard you can rely on to determine how many security personnel you need for your facility. Making sure you document staff reductions and tying them to reductions in customer volumes will be quite helpful in a civil trial when you are sued for inadequate security. Be careful not to just cut out a number of people who patrol the facility, but to make staff reductions based on intelligent analysis. As the customer volumes increase and the economy recovers, it is important to staff up accordingly.