With civil, social, and economic tensions high in the face of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, unrest and uncertainty are increasingly unavoidable. Across the nation and around the world, security organizations and professionals are facing a landscape of evolving and emerging threats that is redefining the nature of their work. From new threats to new security practices and priorities, the role of private security is changing faster than ever. Understanding the nature of those changes — and appreciating how they might impact both security agencies and their clients — is a critical first step in staying ahead of the curve at a time when falling behind could have profound and lasting consequences.


There’s still a great deal of consolidation taking place right now in the security industry, with larger firms purchasing or absorbing smaller entities. That phenomenon was already happening, but the economic stressors from the pandemic-driven global recession have significantly accelerated this trend. The number of companies in financial distress right now is significant, and larger firms with deeper pockets and the financial resources to weather the storm will almost certainly continue to buy out smaller and more vulnerable players and acquire their market share. While the near term will leave us with fewer major entities, we will likely see the reemergence of smaller firms into the market when economic circumstances brighten at the other end of the COVID tunnel. The industry won’t look the same, however. Those smaller players are more likely to be specialized niche operators or electronic/digital security experts without the traditional investigations or guarding service offerings that require a significant amount of trained manpower and resources.

New roles and responsibilities

The role of a private security agent is evolving. There are new tensions, new and different stresses and situations, and tempers and emotions are running high. With civil unrest and the potential for public and private conflict rising, the demand is growing for experienced, responsible, and effective private security solutions. At a time when even a request to wear a mask in a place of business can lead to a confrontation, the ability to defuse potential issues and maintain safety and security with minimal disruption is an invaluable skillset. The push to roll back qualified immunity will potentially also contribute to the growing role of private security. With higher personal stakes, police officers may be less willing to put themselves in vulnerable situations. And, needless to say, any hesitation or confusion/uncertainty on the part of any security professional, public or private, is a recipe for trouble. While security professionals may consequently find themselves in new situations, liabilities and limitations remain (outside of a few states that grant some form of arrest authority to private security agents). This is all the more reason to clearly define roles, responsibilities and scope of authority — as well as provide detailed and specific training about rules of engagement, policies and procedures, and other procedural and tactical specifics.

Protocols and practices

From its earliest days in the 1800s, Pinkerton was called upon to fill in gaps in places and circumstances where traditional police forces couldn’t or wouldn’t do the job. With the police under growing scrutiny and public unrest peaking, private security professionals today are perhaps more likely to be called upon to do something similar. Which makes it absolutely essential that security organizations review, rethink, and reconsider protocols on the use of force and responding to violent behavior. Agents need to know what they can and cannot do, both legally and ethically. It is critically important for the sake of the brand and the future of the company to be crystal clear about when force should be used to protect people or assets, and what level of force is appropriate. Weaponry. Protocols. Thresholds. All of it needs to be explicit and unambiguous. Training needs to be extensive, and the policies and rules of engagement need to be clear. Experienced agents are likely to be coveted assets, and security organizations with an established track record of responsible and professional behavior will be viewed as essential partners.

Screen time

Employee screening is pivotal for all firms, but it is especially vital for security organizations. Evaluating talent, training employees, and keeping them educated and aware is arguably more important than ever. That screening and evaluation process goes well beyond standard background checks and extends into personality evaluations and other nontraditional screening tools. Trusted security organizations understand that they need to continue to become increasingly sophisticated in how they evaluate potential candidates — and train and support those employees once they are hired. Hiring and retention is all-too-often overlooked or under-emphasized. But with the stakes high — and getting higher—the difference between a smart hire and a poor choice is becoming clearer. A poor hire can quite literally have tragic or even catastrophic results, and the impact of a single misstep for security organizations and professionals can have lasting consequences. In that context, expect to see a significant increase in the resources and procedural scrutiny given to security screening, hiring and evaluation.

Digital dimensions 

The ramifications for operating in an increasingly digital world cannot be ignored. There continues to be a growing need for technical expertise and computer security hygiene training. The spike in working from home and remote connectivity in a pandemic climate is adding new layers — and new urgency — to cybersecurity services, with privacy and security concerns heightened as record numbers of workers operate remotely. There are new and significant security vulnerabilities to consider as employees blur the lines between the use of personal and professional devices and networks. Cybersecurity is already a pivotal piece of the security puzzle. And with remote working likely to persist to some extent for a long time to come, it’s only going to continue to become more prominent in the months and years ahead.

Published July 23, 2020