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From the President

January 27, 2015 3:21 PM | Gwin Coleman (Administrator)

Monitoring, Patrolling & After-Hours Staffing

We have often been asked for our opinion on after-hours security staffing for cultural institutions.  As we all know, the decision is often based purely on budgetary considerations rather than actual operational needs.  Whether the institution has its own central alarm monitoring station or relies on off-site commercial monitoring, threats to the security of valuable collections and other assets do not lessen after-hours.  We’ve listened to the arguments… “We have smoke detectors, sprinklers and security alarms, so why not lock the doors and rely on our systems to protect us?”  The answers are based on common sense and best practices…

Smoke detectors cannot detect pre-fire conditions, water leaks, overloaded circuits, overheated small appliances that have been left plugged in by staff, and a variety of other hazards.  Sprinkler systems are activated by flames melting fusible links, by which time collections may be past saving.  Security systems are not foolproof.  Any electronic system is subject to failure.   The most effective, statistically proven prevention method is the alert, well trained, and professionally supervised live human being, performing consistent patrols throughout the night-time hours, and throughout the entire facility.

The next question that arises is the determination of the number of security officers necessary to properly protect the institution after-hours.  We spend thousands of dollars equipping our facilities with electronic detection systems, including video surveillance, intrusion detection, fire protection, and environmental sensors, but we often fall short in providing the appropriate staffing to effectively compliment system monitoring and operation. 

Placing one person in an on-site security control center works, as long as that one person stays awake, doesn’t need to use the restroom, and all systems are in perfect working order (and properly installed).  If only one officer is assigned to the facility after-hours, what can that one officer do when a problem is discovered by system devices somewhere in the building?  Someone needs to physically respond to the area in alarm to determine the nature of the problem.  If the control center operator abandons his/her post to respond, no one is left to monitor alarms.  Furthermore, the responding officer is placed at risk if the problem was generated by an intruder. 

It makes best sense to utilize the services of no less than two security officers, working in tandem, making welfare checks on each other throughout the night, performing assigned tasks, and documenting the results.  Based on the size of the institution, additional officers may be necessary to cover all facilities.  We recommend that no less than two complete patrol rounds (per shift) be performed, checking all public and non-public areas, storage areas, restrooms, mechanical/electrical equipment rooms, and storage closets.  Systems rarely cover all of these areas, any of which may be the source of a threat to the protection of the institution.

We do not recommend exterior patrols unless every precaution to protect the patrol officer is exercised.  Our preference, when exterior patrols are necessary, is for two officers to perform this function together.  Regardless of whether the patrol is interior or exterior, with one or two officers present, the security control center should perform welfare checks by two-way radio no less than once every 15 minutes.  In addition, we recommend that management perform unexpected inspection visits, during after-hours shifts, on a fairly regular basis.

We have learned, on numerous occasions, of major incidents being averted by the alert observations of an effective foot patrol.  Equally important, we have learned of incidents that did occur, and may likely have been prevented by an alert patrol that was not in place.  We’d also like to point out the need to properly train after-hours patrols, which we address in “Safeguarding Cultural Properties,” as well as in CIPS and CIPM certification programs.  But please contact us anytime with questions about your unique operation.

IFCPP is currently surveying a number of institutions to determine the present use of after-hours patrols.  Please feel free to submit your comments, questions, or opinions.  Thanks very much, Steve Layne


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