Safety First

Australian Security Industry Association Ltd

This is, after all, not the business of spying and secret agents; security is better defined by the association in terms of its members, who are involved in electronics (manufacture and installation of access controls such as swipe cards, surveillance cameras, alarms, biometrics, airport baggage and passenger screening); manpower (guards, aviation services, mobile patrols, crowd control and event security, concierges, cash in transit, maritime security); and what Bryan categorises as physical barriers – locks, screens, bollards and booms, all the hardware to stop bad people doing bad things.

ASIAL also has members in the private investigation sector and has a special interest in consultancy and training in all of these diverse areas. Bryan estimates there are around 125-150,000 licensed security personnel in Australia; a ratio of approximately one sworn police officer to 1.8 private security staff.

Since its establishment in 1969, ASIAL has grown from a small network of security companies to one that today represents more than 80 per cent of the security industry in Australia. The association is committed to providing its members with access to a wide range of services and programmes to support their career choice, as well as opportunities for recognition and ongoing professional development. There is a security industry leadership programme and numerous training courses for members to improve their skills.

Of UK origins himself, Bryan knows well that the Old Country used to have a bad reputation for what was termed ‘rentathugs’ in the security sector, leading to a major clean-up at the start of this century. He believes Australia has had a more healthy security industry and is probably a world leader in best practice. This is perhaps the most regulated industry in the country in terms of the requirements one must meet in order to start up a business. Also, one must be licensed personally, with full personal data including fingerprints, known associates investigated, and a set level of competence.

A Crime Commission investigation in 2009 found there was still a very small element of ‘rogue’ operators, “but the vast majority of providers are reputable companies that offer a valuable and vital service to the Australian economy. The perception of the industry is improving – although we are not up there in the stratosphere with doctors or nurses.” This is partly the nature of the job, says Bryan – for many people the only time they encounter security staff is when they are doing something they are not supposed to do, and it doesn’t matter how politely someone tells you, ‘look, mate, you can’t come in because you have had too many drinks,’ you are unlikely to find it amusing.

When it runs properly and well, security is usually invisible – how often do you actually notice the screening at the airport, for example? Bryan acknowledges that probably the most contentious area is in crowd control (especially the outdated term ‘bouncer’) in volatile environments often involving alcohol and drugs, where staff are often seen as being heavy-handed. “This area of the industry has tended to colour the views of people about security in general,” he explains. (What rarely makes the headlines is the rate of injury of the security staff; guards and security officers are the highest claiming occupations for work related violence – higher than prison officers and police. They are consistently among the highest risk groups for occupational homicide along with police, according to a report from the Australian Research Council.)

But those who work in similar fields know the good work being done by skilled operators. Police forces, for instance, often rely on private security for their electronic security needs and in some instances to perform ‘meet and greet’ concierge duties. ASIAL members also provide guarding and electronic security services to detention centres around Australia, along with courts, hospitals, aviation and maritime facilities.

With few exceptions, security personnel are unarmed and have no special powers. Bryan feels the level of protection afforded by the law is generally about right; his members are not lobbying for wider shelter. What concerns the industry more is the challenge of recruiting staff of the right calibre, especially in Western Australia, “where it is difficult to find quality people because they have all gone north, where they can earn a lot more money.” But a well-trained person is able to handle a breadth of situations. “Instead of using physical force, they can use negotiation, which they are trained to do to get out of a situation or prevent it from escalating. But it’s definitely getting harder to find good people.”

The shortage of skilled technicians is set to get more acute, since the industry is growing at a rapid rate. To address this shortfall, ASIAL has established the Security Technician Certification program (www.securitytechniciancertification.com.au) to provide a career pathway for technicians.

Developments such as the NBN will pose significant challenges as well as opportunities, rendering obsolete some alarm systems, for example, that have been in place for many years and depend on copper wire. Copper to fibre is a similar migration to that from analogue to digital, and live video streaming will be much easier on broadband, transforming the monitoring capabilities of a client’s home or business. Advanced software together with more power in the networks mean the possibility of automatic monitoring systems that can ‘look’ for the presence or absence of some element of a video picture – for example, when using video analytics.

Indeed, says Bryan, “We are seeing that the speed of change of technology is getting faster and faster,” and the same is true of surveillance techniques that can pick out, for example, a wanted face in a football crowd. ASIAL, of course, has an important role in keeping tabs on the trends in technology on behalf of its members and advising them accordingly. Bryan himself chairs the Standards Australia committee covering security which is intended “to ensure people do things properly, make sure they adhere to best practice.”

ASIAL also maintains a Cabling division. When having any type of equipment installed that will be connected to the telecommunications network – monitored security alarms, access control systems, closed circuit TV, extra phones, internet connected computers, building automation or smart home systems – it is essential, Bryan explains, that the installation and all after sales service is performed by a registered cabler. This is because only registered cablers have completed the training and gained the professional experience needed to deliver the work to the customer’s expectations. Further, all cablers must be registered with an approved registrar accredited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority to offer cabling registration services under the Telecommunications Act 1997. Anyone not registered (or whose work is not directly and constantly supervised) is undertaking illegal work. If that work is subject to a random inspection or a formal complaint, penalties ranging from on the spot fines to prosecution may apply. The association is qualified and accredited to act as a registrar.

Benefits of membership of ASIAL, the country’s largest security organisation, include access to professional advice and discounted representation fees on industrial and employee relations issues; discounted professional development opportunities through face to face seminars and online learning; professional recognition through the industry’s annual awards for excellence; and networking opportunities through regular events held across the country. There is also the annual security-industry trade show in Sydney. “Being a member has a value,” says Bryan. “We carry out compliance audits on our members and something we do on a daily basis is to run a check to see if any of our members have had any trouble. We ensure they are all the time bona fide operators.” More than ten per cent of applicants fail to meet the criteria for entry to the association; “we set a benchmark which we think is reasonable.”

There are also associate members, among them some major Australian and multinational corporations that have an interest in and use for security. Standards are maintained; companies do get expelled and there are financial sanctions which can reach as high as half a million dollars against members in extreme circumstances. The association even has time to provide some consumer advice (though it stops short of security consultancy itself, which it turns over to members) about how to choose systems and suppliers.

So next time you are watching the footy on a wet and windy night, spare a thought for the man or woman with rain dripping down inside the high-visibility vest. He or she is not there to spoil your enjoyment, but to keep you and the rest of the crowd safe.

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July 20, 2018, 9:00 AM AEST