Part 1 – Control Room Principles and practice
Whenever we think about running a successful security function a key element of the task is always command and control. If we get the command and control functions operating smoothly then the security functions usually follows suit. One of the key elements of a successful command and control function is the security control room. Over the next two articles I want to discuss this important element of the security team and talk about some good and bad practices.
In this first article I want to talk about the various types of security control room, basic principles and functions. In the next article I’ll discuss specific equipment, layout and documentation. As always I know there are a great many people out there with years of experience in this area so if you have any further information or feedback please post it in the comments of whatever forum your reading this on for all to see and share.
Types of security control room
For the purpose of this article I’m not going to take about the large-scale EMEA region Security Operations Centre that most of the global corporate organisations have. These type of fixed locations set ups are far beyond the budget and scope of what is required for most security operations. These articles are going to be based around two types of control room:
1. Fixed location: For example many retail loss prevention teams, hotels, campus security and large nightclubs will maintain a fixed location control room. A dedicated space out of which the security operation is based.
2. Mobile: Examples of this type include pop-up security control points for events or close protection teams which need to be deployed to sites at short notice and mobilize to other sites as quickly as possible.
Functions of a security control room
The main functions of a security control room include:
1. A central control point for all communications
2. The management and deployment of security operatives in the field.
3. Control and monitoring of security and safety systems such as CCTV, fire, intruder and access control
4. The storage and issue of any security equipment, protective equipment or emergency equipment
5. An incident management point for response to emergencies including liaison with other agencies.
Traditionally a security control point would be located either at the initial access control point (in the case of campus type sites), centrally on site ( in the cases retail security ,nightclubs) or on the periphery of the site (event sites). For many these are still the preferred options particularly if used for deployment of staff or emergency response.
This traditional placement however shouldn’t be taken for granted and for some security control points it is better to be located off site. I’m thinking in the case of sites where crowds will gather and the risk assessment dictates that issues such as an active shooter, terror attack, fire etc are foreseeable. In all of these cases having an off site control room to co-ordinate a response from is a great advantage. At the very least the ability to transfer operations quickly and efficiently to an off site location should be available.
Of course there will be sites where the location is forced upon the security team through design or necessity and we need to adapt to and manage this. The important thing is not to take the location for granted. In a world of risk assessments we often forget the obvious. The security control room itself should be subject to a risk assessment starting with the location and working through all foreseeable contingencies that apply to the site thereafter.
The first thing to establish is that a working security control room is a professional space. It’s not a space for people to come for a break or a conversation about the game. Access to the control room should be controlled and a list of authorised people clearly displayed.
I know that sometimes due to resource and long working hours it’s necessary for the controller to grab some food or a coffee in the control room but this should be the exception rather than the norm. It’s quite difficult to explain the need for a new CCTV control pad or a new laptop because somebody spilled coffee on it (I’ve seen this happen more than once) and nothing looks worse than a sign in sheet with a food stain on it being handed to management.
I also don’t like to see the control room used a storage area for staff bags, jackets and lunchboxes. The controller can’t operate effectively with constant interruptions and this is going to happen especially at large events. The only time staff should be in the control room is sign in, briefing, equipment issue or if they are called there.
I’m a big fan of brand standards and consistency when it comes to security and the control room is no exception. If you are a retailer with a large chain of stores all of the control rooms should look and function the same. Same equipment, same layout (within reason) and same processes. The same applies to event control or mobile control rooms. I have a Control Room Standard that I use to make sure all of the control rooms I use are operating at the same high standard. It also acts as a contingency. If my control room operator becomes ill or leaves I know that any senior staff or another trained controller could step in seamlessly and know where everything is.
Might be a little OCD on my part but I prefer to have everything looking and working the same.This is down to having all of the folders and clipboards colour coded, branded and stored in order. The information boards laid out the same and the equipment in all of the same places. As well as the operational benefits listed above it looks professional when senior managers, clients or statutory agencies arrive and first impressions count.
The role of the security controller, control room operator or whatever other name you wish to give that person requires specific skills and specific training. If the control room doesn’t operate effectively this spreads out onto the whole security operation. When we don’t know who is on site and in what position then we aren’t operating to standard. If we miss comms or can’t account for equipment we certainly aren’t operating to standard. The controller needs attention to detail and an ability to act under pressure. They also need to be aware of every single SOP on site and know where to find them in a hurry. For permanent sites there will be many controllers working a shift basis and they all need to operate at the same level.
For semi-permanent sites (same fixed location for a set period) such as a temporary CP ops room set up at a hotel there will be a limited number of controllers and for an event we would ideally like to have the same controller throughout the event. It doesn’t matter how many you have, what matters is that they are the right people for the job. They should also have received specific training in the role.
Fixed v mobile
In the next article I’m going to talk layout and equipment etc but for now I want to talk about a key difference in fixed v mobile control room. If you have a permanent fixed location control room such as a retail security setting, large nightclub, or casino setting you need to make it as fit for purpose as possible due to its continued use. This can include carrying out VDU assessments, ergonomics assessments, and adhering to some kind of government standard for security control rooms. It may seem like excessive work to do this but it is required for health and safety reasons. Also creating the optimum work environment for your staff creates a more productive and efficient work environment.
With a mobile or non fixed control room we probably won’t have the luxury or capacity to deliver an ergonomically perfect set up. We should still try to make the layout as optimum as we can for whatever period it’s will be in use.
You will see from above this is an area I feel is really important in a security function. The importance of an effective command and control structure and operation cannot be understated no matter how big or small the security team. In the next article I’m going to talk layout, equipment, processes and technology. For now I hope I’ve perhaps given security managers, team leaders and supervisors some things to consider when looking at their security operations .
Additional Control room resources
Centre for the Protection of national Infrastructure Control Room Guidance
HSE (UK) Control room technical specification guidance
ISO 11064 Control room -1:2000 Standard