By Tony O'Brien
The Security Operative
Developing a security mindset
Please don’t think of the title of this article as me thinking that security is some form of noble crusade. I know that for many it’s just a job. For some though we find that over time it becomes a way of life. What I mean by that is over time we begin to ingrain habits from our work life into all aspects of our lives. In this article I want to discuss that area of the industry and how it develops over time in this industry.
The power of habit
Habit is a powerful thing and it’s something that can help is or hinder us. Habits build in our brains through practice and repetition and can be both positive or negative in nature. Building positive habits help make us better security professionals and better people. Building habit through repetition and practice is something we do through necessity at work. Our brains don’t differentiate between work and home life. The habits we build to keep others safe at work end up ingrained in our brains throughout our life.
Like I said above for some this industry becomes a way of life. For many it’s just a job or a way to earn a living. Many of those people leave the industry after a short period or stay and get found out pretty quickly. For those of us who stay it’s rarely because of the money or the glamour is it? It’s because we love the job. We bitch and moan about pay and conditions and idiots but we stay because we really enjoy what we do. We enjoy the banter, the people and the mindset that makes us good at our jobs.
We all build these habits over time. Little things like sitting with your back to the wall in the bar or scanning the room as we walk in . All things picked up at work that translate to our everyday life. I can remember heading out with a group of guys from the security industry and its nearly a race walking into the bar to see who gets the seat facing the door. How many of you retail security professionals reading this out there have found yourself spotting shoplifters in other stores when you are out shopping? Family members asking you to stop staring at people who walk into restaurants? All things I’ve done myself and heard countless times from security operatives.
I’m a firm believer that all of the above are good signs. Security and safety is much more than a profession, it is a way of life and the skills needed to succeed are life skills that apply to all areas of life. One of the great skills of a door supervisor has is the ability to assess a persons behaviour and demeanour in the 2 seconds it takes them to get out of the back of a taxi and cross the footpath to the door. How many times outside of work do you think that skill would be useful to a person?
The habit of checking and clearing exits and locating amenities such as toilets is something that is ingrained in security professionals heads. How helpful is that in an emergency when you are out with friends or children?
Building habits and skills
We build good habits in the same way as we build habits. Through repetition and practice. I always encourage new entrants to the security industry to begin building good habits every day from the beginning of their employment. Good habits however are based on good information. Putting the right information into your head and building skills based on good information is a good start point. Research the area you will be working in and research the information you are given in training to form your own opinions.
Having good basic information allows the security operative to begin applying that information which begins to build habits. Building habits and skills isn’t about learning how to do the complicated advanced techniques. Its about doing the basics well on a consistent basis. This applies to the most basic skills such as patrolling and reporting up to the more advanced ones such as searching or physical techniques. Some research suggests that the consistent application of any skill over 30 days builds a habit, some say its 66 days. Others talk about the 10,000 repetitions required to develop mastery. I’m not a believer in putting a number on it. I’m a believer in applying skills consistently until you become proficient and comfortable and then developing those skills further so it becomes uncomfortable again.
Building on success
When skills become habitual they not only become second nature in their application they also develop into others areas where they may apply. Like I said earlier, your ability to read a persons body language doesn’t stop in work any more. The situational awareness you develop begins to apply itself in other areas of your life like driving a car, playing sport or even relaxing in a bar with a pint. Its not a bad thing as long as you remember two things:
You have to switch off sometimes or you will burn out. Burn out can be obvious to others long before you realise it yourself
Don't ever think that because your good at something that you cant become better. Complacency is a habit as well and can creep up very quickly
Planning for the worst
Being prepared for the worst involves planning for the worst and then working to ensure that it never happens. I encourage new entrants to practice the ‘what if’ game or the IFTT (if this then that) game. These scenario building practices help to develop the security mindset. It also helps to prepare you for the worst and then work to help plan to prevent that ever happening. Over time these become second nature and instantaneous decisions but it all comes from good habits built at a basic level.
Paranoid or prepared?
I often ask myself this question. Am i paranoid or just prepared? I like to think I’m quite well prepared for most situations but there is a fine line. I also like to think that I don't really care what the world thinks of me. After 18 years in this industry in which I have worked, studied and invested in training and practice I like to think that I have developed a security mindset. This mindset has helped me immensely both in my personal and professional life. Let me give you some examples from my own life. This is where the line can become blurred. I call it prepared. My family call it prepared. Others in society may call it stupid, excessive or nerdy. I don't really care. I know many others in the security industry who do similar, more or less than what I do so I know Im not alone. I'd also like to hear from you guys of you do anything similar (or am I actually crazy).
I never leave home without a torch, a pen and paper and few medical bits in my pocket. I always wear comfortable shoes and always wear a weatherproof jacket, regardless of whether I’m working or not. This policy has gotten me and others out of tricky situations on many occasions
I keep fire equipment in my home. Extinguishers and blankets. I test the smoke alarms every few months. I’ve never had a fire but I’d like to think this is because of the common sense behaviour I apply to fire precautions
I keep first aid equipment in my home. I keep my kits stocked and check them regularly. These have been used on more than one occasion even this week
I also have all of the above as well as some more in my car
I always find myself checking and the exits when Im in a shop or bar. Its just habit but I always do it even at a subconscious level
- I watch peoples hands as I walk down the street (again just a habit) and read their body language. Sometimes for risk and sometimes for practice
These are just basic examples of where the security mindset happens in personal life. I'm quite happy with the way I do things because even though some people might call me crazy I have a good reason to do all this.
You know the feeling of safety that we try to give to our customers as they walk through the door by being excellent at our jobs? I have the added bonus of making my family feel that way every day. To me that's worth it.
Like I said I firmly believe in building good habits from an early stage. As experienced staff we have a duty to help newer entrants develop these skills in two ways. Firstly by leading by example and showing them the way. Secondly by not accepting corner cutting and shortcuts. The habits are what the professionals in this industry have used for generations to keep themselves safe at work and keep their families safe at home. I think they should be celebrated and security as a way of life should be encouraged.