Security guards in India—the incompetent “protecting” the clueless

By | December 10, 2016

Do you work for a multinational conglomerate? If so, then, your workplace is probably a multi-storey building with a few entrances and exits. To protect those point of entries and exits, and to also provide a safe working environment, in your workplace, you’ll notice security guards stationed at various entrances and exits to monitor traffic—both human and vehicular. Your organization, via Operations, probably uses a private company to provide building security. Similarly, if you live in a “gated community” or a flat/apartment/high-rise, you are very likely to have security guards posted at the gates to watch human and vehicular traffic. The guards are employees of a private company, which has a contract with your company or the home owners association to act as the sentinels.

Generally speaking, that’s the setup—the working relationship between the private security firms and the companies  they have a contract with. The security firms are supposed to provide “trained” personnel for perimeter defense, overall building security and workplace safety.  On the surface, this working relationship seems to be perfect—you have “trained” people manning the point of entries, keeping an eye on the perimeter via CCTV, providing floor security, patrolling and monitoring the entire premises. It is only when you start to observe their operations closely, dig deeper into it and peel the layers of their modus operandi that you realize what is being sold as security is nothing but an illusion of safety for the gullible. It is very akin to the blind leading the blind or, as I say, the incompetent “protecting” the clueless.

An insignia worn by security guards in India—Volatile Security Service

Yes, I have seen private security guards wearing the insignia—Volatile Security Service © omygdala.com

Job duties of trained security guards

A well-trained security guard is supposed to be proficient at the following activities:

  • Protecting the perimeter
  • Preventing vandalism and other crimes
  • Preventing/detecting theft.
  • Identifying explosives
  • Identifying threats at workplace
  • Handling large crowd
  • Protecting the premises for a rioting and a looting mob
  • Preventing crimes
  • Identifying suspicious packages
  • Reacting to emergency situations, fire, flood, carbon monoxide, smoke alarms appropriately
  • Handling evidences in a correct manner
  • Immediately responding to any intrusion
  • Identifying and preventing risky situations

What about  India?

How many security guards in India are trained to do most of what is listed above? Firstly, do you realize that most of them are not trained on any aspect of providing security. They don’t know anything about hand-to-hand combat or aren’t trained in the art of self-defense.

Next, they are never armed, not with a baton or even with a pepper spray; hence, they cannot really protect the perimeter and not allow it to be breached? Furthermore, can they really prevent a riotous, murderous crowd from entering a commercial or a residential building, or will the guards flee on realizing the overwhelming nature of the force they are facing?

How many security guards in India have been trained to identify an explosive device or a suspicious package? Can they identify a threat correctly and how to neutralize or isolate it? How many security guards sleep at their posts during the night?

In addition, do you know that by creating a diversion, it would be very easy for a group of people to overwhelm the perimeter defense of most commercial or residential complex and breach it. And, once the perimeter is breached, floodgates open, and the entire building can be “overrun”. It is this reason that a good perimeter defense is so important in a battlefield. Once breached, like a domino effect, everything collapses.

My findings

I spoke with many security guards to find out what they know and what they don’t know about their job. Most, if not all, of them haven’t a clue about their job duties and the skills required to fulfill that job requirements. After much analysis, I have come to the conclusion that a majority of the guards being employed by various firms in India are no security guards at all; they just masquerade as one They, in fact, have no understanding of the intricacies of building security and perimeter defense at all. Most of those security guards were unemployed youths, many of them imports from the state of Assam. Many just don an uniform with a logo of a security agency, and pretend to man the fences.

The private security guards aren’t trained on infrastructure security, explosive identification, crowd handling, crime prevention, emergency procedures and evidence handling. All they are asked to do is wield a metal detector at the point of entry in a mall, use it as a wand to give the appearance of security to the gullible masses. Some of them give you a full-body pat-down to check for weapons; however, most of them don’t even know how easy it is to hide a weapon that won’t be detected by a pat-down. While entering an office building, most of the guards will ask you to jot down your identification details in the visitors log. However, you can be anybody you want and they will allow you in.

Nom de plume

On many occasions, while entering an office, a residence or a flat, I used aliases such as Osama bin Laden, James Bond, Ivana Humpalot, Basil Exposition, Nelson Mandela, etc., in the visitors’ log book, and I was let in without anybody even raising an eyebrow. Many of the residential complexes, office building, malls and other establishments are totally vulnerable and exposed to many form of attacks. And, the management, the homeowners’ association or the gullible public aren’t aware of it or choose to ignore. A majority of them think that a “security guard” is at the door or the gate or the point of entrance; hence, everything is secure. None of them know what it takes to secure a building or a perimeter or a point of entry and choose to stay in their cocoon of ignorance. Go figure!

In addition to the badly-trained security guards, who are not trained to secure a building and protect it, there are other factors that make many commercial and residential buildings in India very vulnerable to many form of attacks.

Perimeter protection

In military parlance, a perimeter defense is a type of defensive setup that is oriented in all directions. It is also known as all-round defense or 360-defense. One of the reasons to set up a perimeter defense is to secure the perimeter of a base/building/camp that you must hold from the enemies or protect from enemy attack, no matter what. An important attribute of a perimeter defense involves having most of the combat power in the perimeter to protect an inner secure area.

In case of an attack, if your perimeter defense collapses or is breached, then the chances are very high that the entire inner area will be overrun. In all likelihood, this is what happened when terrorists attacked Air Force Station, Pathankot or the Army camps in Uri, Baramulla or Nagrota. The terrorists breached the perimeter, which left the entire camp vulnerable.

Likewise, if the perimeter of an office/a commercial/a residential building being guarded is breached by, say, terrorists, riotous mob or protesters, then, the security of the entire building will be compromised and the lives of people in those buildings may be in danger. Now, look around you and decide if the entire perimeter of your building is secure or just the point of entries. Can the security guards even protect the perimeter when they are not armed, not even with a pepper spray? Are the wall at the perimeter of the building high enough to prevent illegal entries? Can a mob enter the building by just overwhelming the guards at the gate? Will the guards at the gates flee at the first sound of gunfire? If the answer to most of the questions above is ‘Yes’ then your building/workplace is not secure as its perimeter can be breached easily.

Not possible…

Now, some of you may say, “… hyperbole, this cannot happen in India.” Well, guess what, it has already happened. It happened a short time ago, during protests in Bangalore because of the Cauvery water row, when protesters entered Oracle’s nine-storey building. Ask yourself the question, how can protesters enter the building when the facility surely had security guards posted at various point of entries. The answer to that question is very simple—the security guards were overwhelmed by the mob, some probably fled to save their lives, the others stood there and watched silently as the mob entered the premises and asked Oracle’s employees to leave. I don’t blame the security guards, they weren’t trained or ready for a situation such as this. Most of them were woefully out of their depths; hence, must have acted like a deer caught in a headlight.

 

An insignia of a security service in India.

Another creative insignia worn by security guards. Third eye allows us to extend our vision beyond the ordinary. I guess that’s why the name, Third Eye Security. The eye vector in the insignia above has been designed by Freepik. Graphic © omygdala.com

“Enemy” behind the gates

How many security guards are screened by their employers before being hired? In my experience, very few.

Can a security guard have ties with terrorists, be a terrorist himself or be a terrorist sympathizer and still be hired? Of course.

Is it possible that a security guard can have an earlier criminal record? Certainly and many do. After committing a crime, they flee, go to another state, assume a different identity and start living their life again. For many of the unemployed, being a security guard is the easiest job to find.

Haven’t we all read or hear about incidents of a security guard raping, or murdering or stealing from the place of work? Yep, certainly.

The unfortunate truth is, many security guards are badly exploited by their employers. Most of them are paid pittance, some of them are not paid on time and some of them are promised a certain amount and paid half of that. There is no documentation to prove what they were promised. Even if there is, there is no legal recourse to the people at the outer edge of our society, because the entire system is pitted against them.

They have no health insurance; they have no paid vacations, they are just slaves that the system exploits, uses, discards and forgets. Whatever they earn and save, they send it back home to their family because without that money the family starves. Most of them are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty with hardly any opportunities to escape from its vise-like grip. A few of them eventually can’t take that abuse anymore and lash out against their employers. Then, they flee to another city.

Deference to authority

A senior executive is always treated differently by the security guards. In the first few encounters, all procedures will be mandatory and the executive will have to follow the necessary protocols. However, after a while the senior executive will be allowed in without even a cursory look at anything they are carrying. Once the guards learn that you are a Manager/Senior Manager/VP/CEO, they start cutting corners while doing their duty and allowing the person in without subjecting them to a bag search. The guard fears that if he holds up the executive and the person complains, then, he can be fired from his job; hence, the security guards give their bags a cursory look and allow them in.

During my working days, just to test how stringent the security guards are at following protocols, many times I used to tell them, while entering the premises, that I am in a hurry as I have a meeting to attend and if they would allow me to jump the queue. A 100% of the time the guards allowed me in without caring to check if my bag was “clean” or not. Furthermore, I used to acknowledge their presence, address them by their name, wishing them a morning or a good night.

Basically, I treated them as a human being, carried a smile while talking with them and was nice to them, which many employees don’t do. After a while, their behavior towards me changed. Because I treated them well and with respect, they trusted me and allowed me in without much hassle. My bags were hardly scanned or checked. Now, imagine, if I were a disgruntled employee, I could have smuggled in anything and created havoc.

Package delivery

Private courier operators/people from religious organizations seeking donations/NGOs seeking donations are often allowed carte-blanche access to a residential building. Anybody can carry a package, pretend to be an employee of a courier operator, sign in the visitor entry log book and breach the perimeter.

Often times, people will buy products online and have them shipped it to their work address. Once those packages are delivered, security guards rarely scan or check them to find what they contain. Imagine what can be “delivered” to work, without the building security being even aware of it. For all you know, someone can deliver an explosive device to an otherwise secure building. Or, a disgruntled employee may ship a weapon of choice to his place of work. In my opinion, no corporation should allow personal packages to be delivered at work.

An insignia of a security service in India.

Another insignia I had come across was ISIS. Either they were very creative with their insignia or they didn’t have a clue about ISIS. © omygdala.com

Workplace violence

If random drug testing is done on employees of various multinational corporations in India, one may be surprised by the findings. Anecdotally speaking, of course, I have heard of people who work for large corporations doing drugs everyday; they smoke marijuana before leaving for work. Some are recreational users and some are hardcore addicts. Likewise, there are alcoholics in the workforce, too. Some of them even carry alcoholic drinks to work. The drink remains well concealed inside their car. Every few hours they take a break to take a swig from the bottle. Can it be that some of the security guards are addicts or alcoholics, too? Likely, I’d say.

Now, it is very possible that an employee or a guard who does drugs or is an alcoholic loses it one day and goes ballistic at work. How do you protect a workplace when the protector becomes the aggressor? A person who is high on drugs or alcohol can do a lot of damage before being brought under control.

Did you know that Doctors are the most at risk in India to get assaulted at work? Almost 75% of them have faced violence at the hand of angry relatives of patients. Granted, of course, there are some really crappy doctors out there, who shouldn’t be doctors at all, far less treating patients; however, nobody should take the law on their own hands. Most hospitals have security guards, don’t they? Then how is it possible that 3/4 of the doctors experience violence at work. This begs the question, do the guards flee when facing a mob of angry relatives or are they overpowered?

Disgruntled employees or estranged spouses

In this hire-and-fire world, otherwise known as at-will employment, we often hear of a disgruntled employee going postal. It happens in the US quite often. Now that Indian firms have also embraced this hire-and-fire policy, you may very soon see somebody going postal in India, too. You don’t need firearms to cause damages, there are many other weapons of choice to use. For e.g., once you overwhelm the guards with a single burst of pepper spray, you can go on with your rampage with a weapon of your choice.

A disgruntled employee may not just become physically violent. They can also wreak havoc to your network and IT systems. Disgruntled IT admins pose the greatest risk to a company’s network security. Furthermore, there have been incidents of estranged spouses stalking their ex to work, or a spurned lover stalking their love interest to work and throwing acid on their face. Would a security guard know what to do when caught in a situation described above? Are they trained to give first-aid or CPR, for that matter, in case of a medical emergency.

Melencolia I (ca. 1514), by Albrecht Dürer,

Melencolia I (ca. 1514), by Albrecht Dürer, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mental depression

India is a depressed nation. 36% of our population are depressed. If I remember the numbers correctly, in India, one in ten men are depressed, and it is even higher in women—one in five. This should be a cause of concern for all, as depression has been linked to violent behavior.

According to a study conducted on 47,000 people in Sweden, people suffering from depression are three times more likely than non-depressed people to commit violent crimes such as sexual assault and robbery. The psychiatrists found that 3.7% of men and 0.5% of women suffering from depression committed violent crimes compared with 1.2% of men and 0.2% of women who did not suffer from depression. This is a ticking time bomb in my opinion. With the kind of stress people are experiencing in their daily life, it could just be a matter of time before people lose it.

Being magnanimous

On many occasions, you’ll notice that while entering a building an employee will swipe his ID card, open the door, enter, and then allow the employees following him to walk in without swiping their badge. This is a breach of security. An imposter can get inside the building by being part of the crowd. In other instances, I have noticed that a person wanting to be chivalrous holding the door open for those following him. Again, a deluge of people enter the building without anybody swiping their ID card. If the security guard stationed at the entrance is momentarily distracted or if somebody intentionally misdirects his attention, an imposter can very easily enter the building and wreak havoc.

System overload

Many large multinationals operating in India follow the shift system and run 24 hours a day. When a shift change happens, the floodgates open, a deluge of people leave and enter the build. The entire security apparatus is most vulnerable during a shift change. You’ll notice that 6 to 8 guards, who are manning the entrances, checking the bags of all employees leaving and entering the premises. And, they have to do that without holding the line up, else the employees entering will be delayed logging in. Consequently, what takes place during shift change is a farcical exercise—the security guards pretend to check the bags and the employees pretend to follow the security protocol. If you want to smuggle something into the building, this is the time to do so—when the system is overloaded.

Another security procedure you may notice while entering a mall or a office building is security guards using a mirror to check for explosives strapped to the bottom of the car. They will also check the trunk of your car for explosives. Now, if somebody indeed wants to plant a car bomb, do you think they will drive in with the contraption visible to the security guards. Will they not try to hide it to avoid detection?

What if?

I once asked a guard at the mall I was visiting, what if the bomb is planted in the engine compartment, what if the inside of the car is rigged with explosives, what if the gas tank has a false bottom that has the bomb? His answer, “I don’t know. I have been asked to check the bottom of the car and that’s all I am doing. Moreover, nobody will rig the inside of their card with explosives.”

Facepalm! How stupid is building security to think that a person who intends to do harm will do what security thinks they will do? You have to be kinda silly to think that a terrorist will telegraph their intentions to a security guard, wouldn’t you? How complacent and myopic can you be? By the way, isn’t the gas tank in a car a huge explosive device? All it needs is a flame and then KABOOM! No? Therefore, all of us are actually carrying an explosive device to a mall. Aren’t we?

Surveillance cameras on the corner of a building.

Surveillance cameras on the corner of a building. By Hustvedt (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Metal detectors, CCTVs and baggage scanners

Have you noticed hand-held and walk-through metal detectors at the entrances of various malls. As the names implies, they are supposed to detect any metallic object in your person. In many malls, though, many of the walk-through metal detectors don’t work, have been shut down or give false positives. In some malls or buildings the beep emitted by the metal detectors are ignored by the security guards. You can walk past the security with the weapon of your choice and nobody will be none the wiser

Another monitoring device commonly in use is CCTV. Most public places, malls, buildings and hospitals are under CCTV surveillance 24/7. In many companies, the inside of the building, except for the toilets, of course, is under CCTV surveillance. When every aspect of your life is being monitored, you’d assume that when the time comes, surveillance footage will be available to help law enforcement in criminal investigations. However, don’t be surprised, if your assumption is incorrect.

An anecdote

This incident happened in one of the multinational companies operating in India. The incident was narrated to me by a friend of mine. An employees’ credit cards were stolen from her purse. She had momentarily left the purse on her desk and stepped away. On her return, she found her bag open and her credit cards missing. The entire floor of the building was lined with CCTV camera. She, therefore, contacted Operations and Security requesting them to check their surveillance footage to find who had stolen her credit cards.

Could you guess what happened next? To her amazement, she found out that the CCTV cameras were not operating properly; hence, no surveillance footage was available. So, nobody audited the installation of CCTV cameras to find out if they are working on not? Talk about incompetence of Operations and Security! Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t be surprised if CCTV cameras in most organization are non functional. The moral of the story is don’t depend on a surveillance footage to catch the culprit. Take precautions yourself.

However, in my opinion, if you would like to see the most egregious misuse of a security device, then, you should go to a Railway station and see how CISF or the State police check bags using a baggage scanner. For example, in the New Delhi Railway station, usually, the law enforcement officials in charge of baggage scanners are either busy talking to each other or checking their phones, rather than monitoring the screen displaying  the contents of the bags being scanned. It is a sight to behold—incompetent policemen wasting precious tax-payer rupees while pretending to protect and serve. Incompetence personified!

A private security guard at a Chinese factory in February 2004.

A private security guard at a Chinese factory in February 2004. By Robbie Sproule from Montreal, Canada (Flickr.com – image description page) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The human being in a security guard

In this article, I have been critical of private security guards and their employers. I also consider that private security guards in India give what I describe an illusion of safety for the gullible; however, let me now me now talk about the human side of the story.  This blog post cannot end without me write about Kaushik (name changed to ensure privacy). Kaushik works as a security guard in a large Indian city. He has manned gates/point of entries in apartments, schools and private residences. He was a guard in the apartment I lived, and that’s where I met him first.

Over the period of my stay in that apartment, I got to know him better. A nice chap, always had a smile on his face, was always eager to help all the residents of the apartment complex. Although it has been years since I saw him last, he still keeps in touch with me. He looks up to me, seeks my advice and calls me regularly to enquire about my well-being. He does that because I tried to have a human-to-human connection with him; I empathized with his situation and helped him to the best of my ability. I treated him with respect, encouraged him when he was depressed, smiled and acknowledged his existence, even when everybody around me disregarded his presence.

Being human…

To me, Kaushik was a fellow human being, a person with dreams, aspirations and wants, who was hundreds of kilometers away from his hometown, working hard to eek out a living. He didn’t want any favors from me. He knew that the game was stacked against him, but he persevered. His earnings were not enough for him to live well in a big city but he carried on. He couldn’t return to his hometown because there was no jobs for him back there.

Kaushik earned around ₹10,000 per month. He shared a two bedroom shack with four other guys and his monthly rent was ₹2000. His daily commute cost him ₹60 (₹1680/month). He had to work 12 hour shifts, seven days a week. Next, he had to send ₹5K home every month to support his family. Now, do the math to figure out how much cash he had left after taking care of all the fixed expenses.

Positive nature

Although his life was tough, he had a bright smile on his face everyday. He was happier that some of the high-level executives who lived in that building and, believe me, most of those executives were miserable slobs. I wanted to help Kaushik exit the vicious cycle of poverty; however, unfortunately, I had to leave the city to take care of my family. I have not forgotten Kaushik though. One day, I’ll certainly pay it forward.

Although, I made an effort to know the person in Kaushik, for the rest of the families in that apartment, he was just a name. They would scream at him, if it took him a few extra seconds to open the gate for them. He was supposed to be at their beck and call every moment of his shift. He couldn’t take a toilet break without incurring their wrath. For some, it seemed, stepping on his shadow meant losing their societal position.

Present day…

I spoke to Kaushik a couple of days ago. He is still working as a security guard. Now, he mans the entrance of a restaurant. The perks he now enjoys—free food from the restaurant and free stay, and he couldn’t be happier. However, he still cannot take a few days off to visit his family. His employer tells him that sending money home should be enough and vacations are not needed. Go figure!

By the way, it takes him 7 days to travel to his hometown and back. He cannot afford to take a plane; hence, he takes a train. And the train takes 3 days to reach the closest city. Then, he has to take a bus to his home town, which takes him 6 to 8 hours. So, even if he takes a 2 week unpaid vacation every few years or so, he gets to spend just seven days with his family. Think about that for a second—just seven days. I cannot even imagine how tough it must be for him to see his family for 7 days every few years. And people working 9 to 5 jobs, 5 days a week, complain that their weekend isn’t long enough? Seriously?

Kaushik is one of the forgotten faces of our society. He subsidizes the cost of living for the middle class. The nouveau riche exploits, uses and discards a person such as Kaushik. In a country of close to 1.3 billion people, thousands of Kaushik work as security guards, just to make the ends meet. And they will probably work as a security guard till they meet their end.

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