Search procedures help improve your protection services
In May of this year, I celebrated 50 years in counter terrorism and High Risk Security. In those years a lot has happened in this field both in terms of threat and countering that threat. If you asked me ‘what was the one thing that has made a significant difference in providing protection?’ I would argue that it is in practical guarding search procedures.
What’s the history?
Before the early 1970s there were no formal search procedures which were taught to security forces. The situation in Northern Ireland soon led the British Army to realise that something was needed, otherwise the IRA were always one step ahead.
Royal Engineers lead the way
Since the Royal Engineers already carried out mine clearance and ‘booby-trap’ clearance as part of their combat engineer training, they were the natural choice to lead the way. They also had tradesmen like bricklayers, electricians and plumbers who would understand how a building was put together and functioned. Training was based at the Royal School of Military Engineering in Chatham. However, these skills, particularly at basic level, were required in everyday operations so all the rest of the Army sent selected teams to be trained there just before going on tour to Northern Ireland. This included the Royal Marines and RAF Regiment.
It was only in 1984 after the Brighton bomb that Police Forces also realised that they needed training in search procedure skills. Having commanded the UK High Risk Search teams for a number of years, I ran the first Police Search Adviser (POLSA) course in November of that year. Now all the Police Forces in the UK have several POLSAs who are responsible for coordinating operations and running training courses in their own constabularies.
So what are Search Procedures?
These are the systematic procedures used to find weapons, explosives or other contraband. There are procedures for body (and bag), vehicle, building, area and route search. Each discipline has its ‘system’ to ensure that the chance of success in finding threatening or illegal items is that much higher than just checking those areas you think are most likely to hide items. We see searching carried out in a variety of situations these days, the most common being at airports. But there are many other examples where a restricted area may require this procedure, for instance at museums, at international events/exhibitions or even global events such as the G9 Conferences, or climate change conferences – anything that might be an emotive issue to which there could be demonstrations or a threat to the establishment.
Who can carry out search procedures?
At a lot of these venues the search is carried out by ‘security personnel’ and not the Army or Police. These are only deployed at the very High Risk events. The SIA licence in the UK does not include formal search training so, unless they subsequently receive training from a qualified Search Adviser, their skills are going to be severely limited. With the increase in violent weapons threat after the events in Paris, Denmark and Belgium, organisations in large cities are considering ‘airport like’ searches at their Reception. Initially it may only be visitors and contractors that are subject to this and it may be just a quick check of a bag/briefcase rather than a body search, but should the threat persist this may increase.
However, one must remember that there is no right to search an individual. One has to ask their permission, but should they refuse you do have the right to then refuse entry.
Searching and delays
One of the issues with searching in a Low Risk environment is that it causes delay, queues and thus annoyance. In this case the searcher is told to speed up – after all, it is only deterrent, isn’t it? As with many tasks, it is only worth doing if it is done well. It has been proved that if a bag search has been done professionally, say to 1 person in 3 or 4, it is much more of a deterrent than searching everyone badly. Assuming the would-be assailant carries out a reconnaissance, he will soon see how to take advantage of a poor search, but if the search is done well and almost certain to find the hidden device, he will not take that risk. This also touches on another extremely important point – that is pride in doing a job well.
Giving confidence to security guards
A lot of security guards are treated with disdain. The people they are supposedly protecting look down on them as menial workers with low intelligence. So something that is done well and professionally will give them confidence and pride in their role.
The bag search
In a city environment or at a major event, the most likely type of search is bag search. It would appear to be simple and straight-forward – it is, but I am amazed at the number of occasions I see it done inadequately. The first ‘golden rule’ is for the searcher NOT to put their hands into another person’s bag. How many times have you seen this at major UK airports?
The argument is probably that it speeds the search up if the searcher just gets on and empties or rummages in the bag. There are two very good reasons for not putting your hands in. Firstly, the searcher could be accused of stealing something, jewellery or cash for instance. Having been searched like that I could walk through security and then 5 minutes later come back and say my gold watch or £500 in cash has been stolen.
The CCTV will show that the only person who has had access to that bag is the searcher. The searcher would not ‘have a leg to stand on’! Secondly, for safety reasons it is not sensible to ‘dive’ into someone else’s bag. There may be ‘sharps’ in there on which the searcher could be cut or pricked.
I have heard of people purposely putting a syringe with unsheathed needle attached in their bag because they were fed up with being searched.
If you cannot see properly into a bag, ask the owner to remove items so that you can see. Any enclosed items such as spectacle cases, purses etc. one can again ask the owner to open them. But what do you do with the beautifully wrapped present (son’s birthday present)? You cannot ask them to unwrap it, that is unreasonable, but equally you cannot allow it to pass as it might be an IED or weapon. Access to an X-ray is a good way out or failing that, could they leave it in Reception and pick it up on the way out?
What if you find something sensitive?
In most cases the security personnel are there for the safety of the organisation and those who work there. So what do you do if you find something embarrassing or sensitive, e.g. drugs? You are not there to make moral judgements. However, if drugs are used on the premises, it may inadvertently harm others. The answer is not to make an issue of it, but subsequently report it to their line manager for any appropriate action.
The above procedure requires plenty of space and of course a table upon which to place the bag. This is similar to the requirement for body search. This type of search has improved considerably at airports – remember Richard Reid, ‘the shoe bomber’, and Umar Farouk Abdulmallab, the ‘crutch bomber’.
All overcoats, jackets and sometimes shoes now go through the conveyor X-ray. A lot of organisations do not have this luxury at their premises. Body search for this type of threat is actually very quick and simple. First ask the visitor to remove any outer clothing, coat, mac etc. and check the pockets. Then ask them to remove any large items out of other pockets, onto the table. There are actually only 3 areas in which a person can hide anything substantial like a weapon: in the armpits, in the small of the back and in the crutch area.
Searching these areas using the correct part of the hand (the V between thumb and forefinger for armpits and crutch and the flat of the hand for the small of the back) need only take seconds.
Random vehicle searches
Those with underground car parks or large loading bays may also consider random vehicle search. Again this does not need to take forever. A very effective search can be carried out in 10-15 minutes if the search areas are split into systematic sections, e.g. bonnet (engine), boot (load carrying), underneath, outside and inside. On my last training session for a large City building, the security team were easily able to find a concealed hand-gun, 200gms of explosive and a large knife in that time.
I can almost hear some Building/Facility Managers on reading this saying search procedures would not work or would not be acceptable in my building. All the while the threat appears to be low (although at the time of writing it is considered ‘Severe’ from international terrorism) they may be right. But what happens when the UK suddenly gets hit with a similar incident to those that have recently occurred in Europe and Canada?
Everyone clamours for better security
They do not want it next month, they want it now in case there is a similar attack immediately after. It is too late to start considering what to do and how to train their security teams. For any type of threat, planning and preparation are key.
Train your team now
Search procedures are already being stepped up in many visitor attractions such as museums and theme parks in addition to more and more single and multi-tenanted buildings in the City of London and other key cities throughout the UK. Now is the time to train your security team. Both Body & Bag and Vehicle Search only take a couple of hours when 6 or 8 are trained at once and it will give the individuals increased self-esteem and pride in their professionalism.
Training in situ
I know that some organisations throw this suggestion back to their contract guarding company, saying it is their responsibility to train them in these extra skills. This does not work, as almost without exception, these companies are only geared up to train to meet SIA requirements. They do not possess a qualified Search Adviser. Also, it is much better that the training is carried out in the environment in which it is going to be used so that any peculiarities or idiosyncrasies of the building operation are ironed out.
The benefits of these procedures will soon become apparent, particularly as little time and cost is incurred. The skills learnt will also have a positive outcome in many other associated roles such as communication, awareness and observation.
Consider it now, while you have time rather than be panicked.
The Emergency Procedures User Handbook on Low Threat and High Impact situations, by Dr John Wyatt MBE, is for Small to Medium sized enterprises. For more information and details on how to get your copy please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more articles from Dr John Wyatt MBE, see: