By Cindy Atoji Keene
They’re known as “office creepers” – thieves who sneak into workplaces, posing as employees or service personnel, looking for unattended cubicles where they can steal laptops, purses, and even data stored on hard drives or USB flashes. It’s just one security threat that Cristina Machado has to watch out for in the 38-floor Boston high-rise where she works as a security manager of an enforcement force of 40 officers. “With the economy tanking, we are definitely seeing more activity,” said Machado, 30, of G4S Secure Solutions. Machado said that the safety concerns that exist today are quite different than when she first started as a mall security officer over a decade ago. There has been a rise in workplace violence, property vandalism, vehicle break-ins, and parking lot muggings and other crimes. The security realm in the U.S. is a $100 billion industry, deploying protection in healthcare facilities, industrial plants, residential communities, universities, and other facilities, according to the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), which is pushing for consistent minimum standards for the training of security guard. “People tend to look down on security officers, but we take our job very seriously,” said Machado, of Fall River.
Machado initially planned on using the security industry as a stepping stone to enter the criminal justice field but found herself wrapped up in the day-to-day demands of being on the ground level of mall security. “It was a great place to start because you deal with everything there, from customer disputes to leaky roofs,” said Machado, who said that a stabbing a center court taught her that although her job might seem routine at times, constant vigilance was crucial. Although the amount of training that security guards receive varies according to employer, Machado said that she has been instructed on crisis deterrence, first aid, report writing, emergency response procedures, as well as firearms training.
Q: Have you ever had to use your gun in a crisis situation?
A: No, it is meant more as a deterrent. We work hand-in-hand with police departments for law enforcement. But you would be surprised as how just the presence of a security officer can be a deterrent for criminals. For example, a security guard standing outside a banking center can represent enough of a challenge to turn a potential robber away.
Q: How is much of your job centered around merely observing and reporting?
A: I need to see things that might look normal to the average bystander. One of the first things I look for is body language or situations that send up a warning flag, such as a car parked too close to a building or an abandoned package. The ability to process a lot of information at once is essential. One man, for example, didn’t have an access card and kept insisting he wanted to go upstairs to see his girlfriend and give her flowers. It sounded like a good story, but when we called her, she said, “Oh my god, please don’t let him up.”
Q: You’re supervising 40 different security guards. How do you keep everyone focused?
A: One of my favorite methods is to rotate assignments – familiarity can make it harder to remain alert, so I’ll send someone to do an exterior patrol, then interior, then the loading dock. Keeping the situation fresh really helps.
Q: As a female security officer, are you in the minority?
A: When I first started here, it was a little difficult in the beginning, especially with older men, who tested me to see how much they could get away with. I had to gain respect.
Q: Do you have to wear one of those cowboy hats?
A: Some companies have security guards wear those hats; as a supervisor, I just wear a suit to work, but previously I wore either a military dress type uniform or tactical-style
garb. It’s all about the image companies want their officers to portray.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.