A few years ago, at a small company in Portland, OR, an employee who had earlier been placed on psychiatric medical leave arrived at the facility during the overnight shift. Unfortunately, word of the worker’s status hadn’t been passed on to the security officer on duty, so the worker received the typical nod hello and was waved through the gate. Once inside, he shot and killed a female coworker and then shot himself. It’s a tragic reminder of the importance of communication between security staff on duty and relief officers. Effective communication must be item one on a security officer job description.
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Besides creating risk, a lack of officer-to-officer communication can cause poor customer service, needless work, or even operational delays. Some examples:
- An employee tells a loss prevention associate or security officer he has to leave his vehicle at work overnight and will return later to pick it up. Worried about an ‘abandoned vehicle’, a relief officer who wasn’t relayed the information spends hours trying to track down who it belongs to and if the owner is in trouble.
- An officer is told that a project requires leaving lights on overnight and should not be turned off. The relief officer isn’t notified, and the work project is compromised.
- A critical part on a machine is needed to get it back online, and a worker informs the officer on duty to notify her as soon as it arrives. But the information isn’t relayed to the relief officer, who puts aside the delivery when it arrives, causing a work delay.
- An agent is told that a group of VIPs will be arriving shortly at the store and to immediately escort them to the manager’s office upon arrival. But the group is delayed and a new loss prevention officer is on duty when they arrive. Since he wasn’t informed, the VIPs are left waiting, which causes confusion and embarrassment all around.
“It is essential for security officers to communicate with one another. Whenever one security officer is unaware of a situation/event that all officers should be aware of, the credibility of the entire security operation is called into question,” notes Ralph Brislin, CPP author of The Effective Security Officer’s Training Manual.
After reporting on-duty, says Brislin, the arriving officer should meet with the officer to be relieved so that he or she may be briefed on any event or incident that occurred during the previous shifts that he or she must be made aware, such as a false alarm or a maintenance-related issue.
A “pass-along log” is the valuable tool for facilitating communication between officers assigned to different shifts at the same post, says Brislin. A log provides documentation of any essential or important piece of information to ensure it is passed from officer to officer and shift to shift.
6 Tips for Improving Hand-Over Communication
Besides using a tool such as a pass-along log to ensure information is communicated to LP team members arriving for work, managers might want to consider three steps to reduce the likelihood that a communication oversight puts the asset protection operation in a poor light.
1. Standardize the tool or method the security organization uses to manage the passing of information between officers across facilities, posts, and shifts.
2. Where available, explore technologies and methods that can improve hand-over effectiveness, such as electronic activity reports and handheld devices, to streamline information access and exchange. Technologies can also reduce reliance on information transfer.
3. Manage shift schedules so that there is sufficient overlap to allow time for on-duty officer to relay important information and for the relief officer to ask questions.
4. Teach and enforce a common security vocabulary, such as what different security and asset protection devices are called, to remove confusion over what is meant during critical information transfer.
5. Review security operations for potential barriers to effective hand-over communication. These include: cultural and language differences among populations (among LP staff; between employees and LP); time pressures; lack of knowledge about systems; staffing shortages; and lack of information technology infrastructure and interoperability.
6. Incorporate training on effective hand-over communication into the LP training curricula. Teach officers how to pass along information so that all relevant facts are conveyed. Some security organizations follow the information transfer model used in hospitals to facilitate patient hand-offs between staff, where it has been found critical. (Research has found that twice as many adverse events in hospitals result from poor communication between staff as result from the inadequate skill of health practitioners.) The communication framework is called SBAR: Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation. An example:
- Situation: What is going on? Example: “We’re keeping a lookout for a group of four teenagers who were in the store earlier today.”
- Background: What is the issue back¬ground or context? “There was a warning from XYZ store down the block that kids matching their general description, after entering the store and hanging around for a while, tipped over store displays and ran off.”
- Assessment: Pertinent facts pertaining to the situation to hand. “The group consists of 3 girls and 1 boy, dressed casually, around 15 or 16 years old, carrying backpacks. The boy has a full tattoo sleeve on his left arm.”
- Recommendation: What, if anything, is necessary to do. “Make contact with the group and offer assistance as soon as they come in the store.”