Security companies struggle to fill requests for armed guards after terrorist attacks

Monday, October 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Since Sept. 11, security companies say they have received increased requests for armed guards _ often from companies that previously had been content with just posting a guard in uniform.

``Before the attacks companies were more interested in courtesy security as a visible deterrent,'' said Anthony Henderson, chief executive officer of Global One Security. ``Now everybody wants an armed security guard at the door.''

And it's not just big businesses that are requesting armed guards, Henderson said.

``We have gotten new business from television stations, bus stations and especially religious organizations since the attack,'' he said.

But finding qualified candidates and training them is the one of the biggest challenges, according to Gary Coleman, chief of security at Ameriguard Investigators and Security, based in Reynoldsburg.

Coleman said he has to wait six weeks for FBI background checks before he can register workers for the required 20-hour firearms courses. Guards are sometimes sent for training nearly 100 miles away because local classes fill up quickly.

Of the estimated 800,000 security guards in the U.S., less than 8,000 carry firearms, according to HallCrest Systems Inc., a security and law enforcement research and consulting firm.

``After the events of Sept. 11, we expect more will get certified to carry firearms,'' said Bill Cunningham, president of the Amelia Island-Fla.-based company.

Cunningham said most security companies only employ a small percentage of armed guards reserved for special assignments since few insurance companies are willing to write premiums because of the liability.

Gail Simonton, executive director of the Memphis, Tenn.-based National Association of Security Companies, said less than five percent of the 250,000 security guards they employ are certified to carry firearms.

But at the Wackenhut Corp., based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where more than half of the 27,000 security guards are certified to carry guns, the demand is still excessive.

``We are having such a hard time recruiting armed guards we are having to turn new clients down,'' said Alan B. Bernstein, chief executive officer.

Bernstein said his company recruits from police departments and military bases. Guards receive at least 40 hours in firearms training and can earn up to $20 dollars and hour, he said.

Jim McNulty, of Swedish securities giant Securitas, said only about 5 percent of the 120,000 security guards in his company carry firearms because most jobs don't require armed guards.

But an added effect of the terrorist attacks is that people are recognizing the value of security guards, said McNulty, an executive vice president in Chicago.

``People are taking another look at the guards in their buildings and treating them with more respect,'' he said.

Fee Corp. Environmental Service, which provides teams to contain hazardous material spills, was among companies looking to hire armed security guards after the attacks.

``It is more expensive but these guards appear better trained and it gives us a certain level of comfort,'' said owner George Fee. ``They are more than just a body at the front gate.''

At least 10 states, including Alabama, Colorado, Idaho and Missouri, have no standards for security firms and guards, according to Silver Spring, Md.-based National Association for Security and Investigative Regulators. Only 22 states, require both a federal and state background check.

The Whitestone Group in Columbus _ which specializes in protecting Fortune 500 companies _ has 112 armed guards working overtime to cover the increase in business.

President John Clark said because he requires his guards to have 600 hours in firearms training he won't have enough to handle the workload for a few months.

``You can't put a guy out on the street with just 20 hours training and expect him to do a good job,'' Clark said.