Security: What is it really in the U.S. today?

Security: What is it really in the U.S. today?

January 3, 2015 – Jeffrey A. Hawkins

Security in the United States is a very misunderstood term, field, and concept.

When people think about security of a home or business several things may come to mind.

Business owners, executives, politicians, and the public in general have different ideas what security entails. Thus there is often confusion and efforts to implement “security” are not as effective as it could, or should be, which is dangerous, misleading, and a waste of resources.

Alarms, cameras, locks, and guards are typical responses; however “security” has many components and is much more complex and encompassing than most people understand.

Security by definition is “the state of being free from danger or threat,” so you can see this is quite a task.

Under the exact definition, security may be carried out by a homeowner on their own property, private security personnel in a business, school, mall, etc., or a government entity in government buildings or property.

But generally security is distinguished as private security or public security – one being paid for by an individual or organization and the other by tax dollars.

For the purposes of this article, this blog, and most future references, we are focusing on private security for several reasons.

First, for the most part, people are responsible for their own security (and this will be discussed in a future article). It is not the responsibility of law enforcement to secure a home or business; they were established to respond to crimes and apprehend criminals. Security is generally proactive (preventing) and police are generally reactive (responding).

Second, most people do not realize what effect the security industry has on their daily life or even national security. Sure there are jokes and movies that make fun of mall security personnel and security guards, but the fact of the matter is private sector security personnel protect between 50% and 80% of this nation’s Critical Infrastructure.

Third, according to the 2014 study by ASIS International and Institute of Finance & Management entitled “The United States Security Industry: Size, Scope, Insights, Trends, and Data”, there are roughly between 1.5 and 2 million full-time security personnel employed in the United States – this is about twice the number of police officers. Also, over $170 billion is spent each year on security personnel, products and services – and this number is growing.

The fact of the matter is security is never 100% effective, but no security is 100% vulnerability, the trick is to find the balance and apply best practices, be it in the home, church, school, or business.

In the industry security is generally divided into physical security and cyber security; cyber security quickly becoming a field unto itself, so it will not be discussed here because there are many cyber-security experts out there and the field is constantly evolving.

But physical security has been around as long as man has attempted to protect people and property.

It is generally divided into three areas: physical (locks, lighting, fences, etc.), electronic (alarms, closed circuit television or CCTV, card access, etc.), and procedural (the implementation of personnel, policies, procedures, key control, etc.).

There are many more components to these three areas of physical security, but this should give a general idea of what it entails, whether applied to a home, business or other venue.

One of the problems is that too many times a homeowner or business will implement one component and feel that they have established “security”, and this may or may not be true depending on the circumstances, but generally there needs to be more than one “layer” of security to be effective.

What also is often confusing about security is that other “things” get lumped in with it or are left out.

For instance, security often entails not only the physical, electronic, and procedural aspects of protection, but includes emergency planning and response and crisis management; yet all are three different areas of an overall plan.

I often refer to security, emergency management, and crisis management as the “before, during, and after” parts of the programs.

Security, as described above, are all the things that should be implemented to try to protect lives and property – this is the “before” measures, or layers. They area meant to prevent an incident or loss from ever occurring by combining physical, electronic, and procedural measures.

Emergency management are the plans and procedures that are put into effect, often when security measures fail or there needs to some other type of response that usually falls to security personnel; this is the “during”, where something bad is happening and action must be taken to save lives or protect property.

Crisis Management, which is the often over looked component of an overall plan, is the “after” part, when the incident or emergency is over. A Crisis Management Team or plans are predetermined people, policies, and plans that are implemented to help recover from an incident. Just as security and emergency management are two very distinct areas, crisis management is also and often not put in place or thought about until there is an actual incident and this is not the time to develop a crisis management team or plan.

Security in the United States will continue to grow, professionalize, and become more responsible for all citizen’s safety and individuals must understand security to keep themselves, their loved ones, and their property safe and secure in an ever changing, and dangerous, world.

Jeffrey A. Hawkins is a senior public safety/security professional with over 30-years of diverse experience working for profit, not-for-profit, and government organizations on a local, regional, and global level.

Hawkins is a former law enforcement supervisor who transitioned into the private security sector serving as Chief Security Officer in the pharmaceutical, health care, cultural properties, religious, and corporate industries. Hawkins graduated from the Chicago Police Academy and has over 1,000 hours of training in the areas of security, law enforcement has a B.S. degree in Business Administration, and an M.S. degree in Management. He graduated from the Chicago Police Academy and has over 1,000 hours of training in the areas of security, law enforcement, and emergency management with such specialty agencies as the FBI, Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command, and counter terrorism agencies in Israel.

Hawkins is a media authority on the topic of security and public safety and frequent speaker across the country. For more information, visit: