Principles of Effective Security

Tony Security 2 Comments

Last week I printed a photo online of my ‘ 5 Principles of Effective Security’. It received a huge amount of feedback online and in private (including the few who spotted my grammar mistakes in the text). I printed it following a conversation with a fellow security professional where I was talking about principle based training. I mentioned my 5 principles and he liked them. Then I realised that despite using these principles as the basis for most of my training and operational work for many years I had never talked about them on this page. In this article I’m going to do just that. I’ll talk about my top  5 principles (and one extra one) and why I believe in principle based training.

The Origins

These principles don’t really have a starting point or an end point. Some of them come from my own experiences in the security world. Others I’ve learned from working with skilled professionals and adapted them to my own style of work. The principles work for me and they work for teams I work with. They reduce risk, reduce incidents and most importantly increase the value we provide. Of course they can  change over time and sometimes they are added to depending on the venue and the need. Feel free to steal, borrow, adapt or alter them to suit you and your needs. If you don’t like it or dont agree with it then dont use it. Use what works for you. These work for me.

The Principles

I’m going to list the principles here. Then I’ll talk about why I use principle based training and then I’ll delve into each principle in some more detail.

1. Your safety always. Do nothing which could affect your safety or that of your colleagues.

2. You own every action. Every drunk, complaint or happy customers is your fault, good or bad. Own everything and take responsibility.

3. Reasonable actions not reasonable force. If it’s not physical, keep it that way.

4. You are the brand. You are the venue. Its reputation is your reputation.

5. Don’t panic. You can handle this. Take a breath and take an action. We’ve got your back.

There is a further one  which I’ll go into later.

Principle based training

Principle based training is the process by which we train people to apply principles rather than prescribed actions. I find it much more useful and easier to train people to a high operating standard than teaching people specific actions for specific situations. Situations are dynamic and can change in an instant. Teaching people strict guidance to apply to situations often leads to failure when the system doesn’t exactly fit the situation or there are variables.

Principle based training teaches overarching principles as an operating system and drills them repeatedly in a wide range of situations until they become ingrained. Of course there will always be additional technical skills to be acquired but the principles if delivered correctly can apply in most contexts. Once we build the foundations of good principles we can then begin to design procedures around them that meet the overall aims.

Principle 1

Your safety always. Do nothing which could affect your safety or that of your colleagues.

This is not revolutionary. It’s health and safety legislation reworded. I don’t believe in safety first I believe in safety always. Situations are dynamics and fluid and the status of your safety and your colleagues can change in a second. While the initial approach or action may be safe it doesn’t mean it will continue to be and you must have safety at the forefront of your mind throughout. Safety has to be drilled and practiced as the primary habit of all employees and you must lead by example.

Principle 2

You own every action. Every drunk, or happy customers is your fault, good or bad. Own everything and take responsibility.

Take responsibility for everything. If somebody complains about the spillage on the floor take ownership and deal with it. If there’s a queue building take ownership and begin to communicate to people. Don’t wait for somebody else to do it or take the “it’s not my job” approach. Stand up and take responsibility. Every customer complaint you have to take responsibility for and do your bit to rectify. Every drunk in the bar is your responsibility, every obnoxious customer is your problem. In the eyes of your customer that’s their reality so it must become your reality as well.

Principle 3

Reasonable actions not reasonable force. If it’s not physical, keep it that way.

Reasonable force is one of the most overused, misunderstood and most incorrectly applied concept in the security and legal professions. The reality is that reasonable force is not a technique, an action or an approach. It’s an idea in a judges mind cultivated by the opinions fed to it. It’s a legal concept. Far too often it’s interpreted as a physical action. The problem I have with the term reasonable force is that many assume that it means physical force which isn’t correct. I prefer reasonable action not reasonable force. Standing quietly in the eye line of a person to prevent a crime may be a reasonable action but not considered reasonable force by many. My point is the first person that you have to satisfy that your action was reasonable is yourself. Being reasonable doesn’t necessarily mean using force and most of the time it is not reasonable to use physical force. It might be legal but that doesn’t mean its reasonable. If it’s not physical then keep it that way unless there is a really good and justified reason for doing so.

Principle 4

You are the brand. You are the venue. Its reputation is your reputation.

Brand and reputation are both essential in providing a quality service. Firstly to remember that you are a brand. While you are at work you are constantly selling yourself as a professional. You advertise the qualities and skills to bring to the role. Your audience is your customer, your colleagues and your employer. That brand then extends to your employers brand. Security are generally the first and last impression of any premises and that impression counts. As far as the customer is concerned their impression of you is the impression of the venue and of the brand. Every action you take represents the action of your brand and your employers and either enhances or detracts from your reputation. In this industry you grow or rot based on reputation. Remember that every time you take any action based on any of the first 3 principles.


Principle 5

Don’t panic. You can handle this. Take a breath and take an action. We’ve got your back.

Pressure and stress can make us do crazy things. I often think about the Mark Twain quote ;“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” By now you know my thoughts on mindfulness and how effective it is for security operatives. One of the greatest skills you can develop is the ability to take a step back and breathe when faced with a challenging situation. You can achieve more than you think in a way that is easier than you think if you simply detach and remember to breathe. I would go so far as to say that  forgetting to breathe under stress is the most common mistake I see in the security industry. We end up flustered and lack of oxygen flow makes us even more stressed. Don’t panic you can handle most things. Also remember that when you are part of a team you  have the support of the team. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. There is no ego here just mutual support. Support your colleagues when things go well and when they don’t go so well.

Principle  6 (The extra one)

There is another principle I use but haven’t included it in the photo above.  I used to use it as part of principle 3 but lately its kind of sprung into a separate area all to itself. Here it is below:

Actions are fleeting. Optics and records last forever.

You may assume that once you have taken an action and resolved an incident that it is now over. That is not the case. You are rarely judged on your actions by your audience, your employer or the legal system. You are judged on 2 things:

  1. Optics: How your actions look to a person standing 20 feet away with no idea of what they are looking at. This could be an innocent bystander with a mobile phone or a CCTV camera  as it is mounted in the ceiling. Awareness is your friend here.
  2. Records: How you report your actions afterwards. The power of a professional incident report cannot be underestimated.

Nobody apart from you knows how you feel in a dynamic situation. Nobody knows the fear, the adrenaline or the pain. It’s your job to shows this to people in the optics of what you do and the reporting of what you do. Make them realise why you did it and show how you did as a professional.


Those are the 6 principles that I now apply when I work and when I train. I have found them both effective and infectious. When instilled they spread through the team very quickly and become habit.  Once we have the right habits we can build upon the principles with procedures which compliment them. Having principles in your profession is what makes you a professional. Decide what yours are and make them work for you.


Comments 2

  1. Hi congrats on your blogs I find them very informative and helpful to new and less experienced officers in this industry. It’s a pleasure to see someone like yourself taking the time to generate a Brotherhood which is long overdue. Keep up the great work.
    Best regards

    1. Tony O Brien Post

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