Security patrol vehicles: An overlooked risk and an underused asset
I was prompted to write this article by two things. The first was the sight of a security response branded vehicle broken down on the side of a motorway over the weekend and the second was an e-mail I received from a patrol driver who was left high and dry when his own vehicle broke down a number of weeks and he couldn’t get a response from his manager at 03:00 in the morning. My thoughts on this are best explained by the opening line for this article. Firstly that security patrol vehicles are often seen as a handy number in the industry however used correctly they can be a brilliant asset. They are also however an often overlooked risk both from the vehicle and the drivers perspective. In this article, I want to look at the risks and benefits of a security patrol vehicle as well as some of the safeguards I would suggest for a company using patrol vehicles.
I’m not a sales rep for any vehicle manufacturer but picking the right vehicle for the job is important. Getting the balance between comfort, economy, fitness for purpose and suitable appearance is not easy. Buyers of the vehicle may not appreciate how important comfort is for a security operative. While a smaller vehicle may be more economical it will probably not be the most comfortable work environment for a 12 hour work shift. It is also important to ensure that the vehicle is fir for purpose. If it is patrolling a wind turbine site then maybe 4 wheel drive might be considered. If its going on day patrol in a urban area then a smaller vehicle might make more sense. Buying or leasing based on the cheapest option may not work out in the long term.
A patrol vehicle is like any other workplace and requires the same level of attention to health and safety as any other workplace. It has to be risk assessed and have all of the same safe systems of work that any other workplace needs. It also needs all of the safety equipment, safety training, supervision and reporting mechanisms of any other workplace. Some things to consider:
- Have you done a risk assessment?
- Have you an assignment instruction and safe system of work?
- Are your drivers lone workers and if so what systems are in place?
- Have you developed emergency procedures?
- Have all of your drivers received fit for purpose training?
- How do you supervise your drivers?
- How do drivers report issues and incidents?
Assuming that just because a person has a full driving licence they are fit to drive for a living is both wrong and irresponsible. Its like assuming that because somebody has a PSA licence they can work anywhere in security. All that it means is that at some point in the past 10 years under a controlled set of circumstances they passed a test. Driving for a living is full of inherent risks and these should be addressed with training. Many organisations have their driver put through occupational driver training to prove that they are fit to operate a company vehicle and can perform all parts of their role competently. Driving in the dark for long periods while monitoring a radio or phone is not something covered in a driving test as far as I am aware.
There are also the additional risks to be considered such as:
- How do you ensure that drivers are taking the required breaks form the vehicle?
- How do you ensure that drivers are not operating the vehicle in a unsafe manner?
- Who does the driver contact in an emergency and how?
- Who is checking in with or supervising the driver?
Ensuring that the vehicle is maintained and roadworthy is essential. There should be a preventative maintenance schedule in place as well as a daily vehicle inspection checklist to ensure that any issues are identified and rectified at any early stage. A simple one page checklist covering the basics will suffice:
- Visual inspection for defects
- General cleanliness
These ensure that the vehicle is in a proper condition and identifies issues in how the vehicle is treated by various drivers
I’m a big believer that the patrol vehicles should be equipped to deal with a variety of incidents and emergencies. This includes having the drivers suitably trained to deal with emergencies such as first aid or breaks ins etc. An example (although not exhaustive)
- First aid kit
- AED (this is an expense but I see no reason why security companies with a mobile patrol vehicle shouldnt have one
- Hands free system
- Interconnected two way radio (hands free) if radios are used
- Dash camera
- Sat Nav/GPS
- Breakdown kit
- lighting kit (both as a deterrence and as to attract attention)
- Accident investigation kit
- Spare PPE (jackets, wet gear etc)
- Spare uniform and documentation for sites
- Wi-fi modem (if using tracking security software to monitor guards or alarms)
Again this isn’t exhaustive and should be tailored to suit the sites that are being served.
Policies and procedures
Having the right procedures in place for the vehicles and drivers ensures that the companies expectations are clear. The patrol vehicle has to be treated like a workspace. This is especially important as the vehicle is fully branded. The last a company is for a client to look into the vehicle to find empty lunch wrappers, coffee cups and newspapers all over the cab.
Some general good practice I would suggest is:
- A strict no passengers policy (except other security operatives). There isn’t any reason why other people should be in the vehicle or why it should be used for personal use. Some insurance policies for vehicles of this type forbid passengers anyway.
- No food or drink in the vehicle. Aside from water of course. It’s not a welfare area. Security staff should be encouraged to take their breaks outside of the vehicle either at one of the companies manned sites or at least out of the vehicle at an off site garage or restaurant.
- Standard breaks should be observed for drivers roughly in line with what other occupational drivers or site officers would take. It’s reasonable to assume that drivers need to take a break from driving for a few minutes every couple of hours. This doesn’t include the time where they are out of the vehicle checking sites.
- Have support systems in place such as 24 hour breakdown assist with a replacement vehicle. The vision of a client seeing your vehicle broken down on the side of a road isn’t good. Worse is failing to complete a shift or site visits because of a breakdown.
- Devise a supervision and/or check in procedure for drivers. If your driver had an accident or illness how soon would you know and how?
Having a fully equipped patrol vehicle with a properly trained driver can be a valuable asset to a company when done correctly. It provides both visual deterrence as well as reassurance to manned sites that they have a reliable and capable support system should they need it. They can also be used to set up mobile control points at events or at the scene of an incident. Add to that the fact that a professional security operative in a well presented and equipped vehicle is a great advertisement for the company and you can see why I think that patrol vehicles are an underused asset. To do this though there has to be some upfront investment in staffing and equipment. This will pay back over the long term though.
A patrol vehicle is a workspace. Like any other workspace it requires systems, procedures, equipment and training to work to its full potential. Of course there will always be companies who will just hire a fleet of the cheapest lease vehicles they can get and put the staff in them who they don’t want on manned sites. They will be the companies you will see broken down on the side and of the road and letting clients down due to non arrival at sites. The companies who invest in making their patrol vehicles an adaptable and capable workspace reps the reward in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and branding. Be one of those companies.