Confessions of an Industrial Security Guard: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

security guardBeing a security guard can be fun, exciting, or downright boring. It depends mostly on the assignment.

Though some companies have their own security staff, more often than not, security is hired on a contractual basis. I worked on and off for several years as a contract security guard while pursuing my degree in criminal justice at a local college. Most of the jobs involved asset protection: construction sites, car lots, even the farmers market. This was part of the "bad": Guarding watermelons and potted plants can get fairly monotonous at 3 a.m. The good parts were the occasional concert, carnival, or local community event. These type of assignments usually mean better hours, seeing people -- and every now and then, a free hot dog.

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After I spent almost a decade as a police officer, a local chemical plant decided to "professionalize" their security following the deaths of 3,000 people in India from the release of one of their chemicals. Though the company never admitted fault (they never do), there was a general feeling that some type of "vigilante" revenge may be coming their way. So, they decided to hire a staff of security guards who either had a degree in criminal justice or five years of experience in law enforcement. I had both. I also had a close friend who worked in the company's employment division. So, it seemed to be "destiny."

The good

Great pay. No more fighting drunk people and women. Piece of cake job. Twelve-hour rotating shifts with a seven-day break once a month. Six hours on the job were spent in the guard shack signing people in and checking passes. Six hours were spent as the "rover" -- unlocking gates, taking reports and walking through buildings.

Midnight shifts in the shack were the most boring part. A creative co-worker on a different shift told me that he would run a string across the entrance road that he ran up to the door. He tied a key on the end of it and placed a coffee can underneath the key. He could go to sleep, and if a car would drive up, it would hit the string and cause the key to fall in the can and wake him up. I forever idolized him.

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The bad

As part of the security department in a facility that manufactures chemicals, one of the responsibilities included being a part of the Emergency Response Team. At first, our role was traffic control, and fairly simple. Then someone in management realized that we were almost always the first to arrive, and felt we should have more training in first aid, firefighting, and hazardous- material containment. This job was becoming less and less the piece of cake.

The worst I saw was on a New Year's Eve. A tank at the steam plant exploded and one of the operators happened to be right next to it. For the sake of his family, friends, and shift partners, who may somehow stumble onto this article, I will withhold the graphic details. Suffice it to say that it is hard to see someone you shared a laugh with two hours earlier, literally, blown to pieces. The only comfort to be found is that he felt no pain.

The ugly

The plant had a rule that no one could come on the property with a beard. (In the event of a leak, someone with a beard would be unable to get a sufficient "seal" with a respirator mask.)

Let me tell you: Some of those truck drivers did not like to be told that they had to shave. I had one show up and I kid you not, he looked just like Kenny Rogers. His beard was magnificent, and I dreaded and regretted giving him the news. He said, "Son, I have had this beard for 23 years, and I will be damned if I am going to shave it off because I have to come in here for 30 minutes and drop this load." I told him that I didn't blame him one bit. I was sure his boss would understand too if he just turned around and left, but "rules are rules." He made a phone call and learned that he could either shave, or leave the truck and find himself another way home to look for another job. We cried together.

Now comes the "really ugly": Five minutes later, I and the bitter, clean-shaven driver discovered that he was at the wrong plant. He was suppose to be at our other site -- which of course, had no such no beard policy.

Generally speaking, working as a security guard is a great job for a young person who is going to school or preparing for a career. It is also a great job for retirees trying to either supplement income, or just looking for a way out of the house. However, it is not the best way to make a good living. Homeland Security priorities were forever changed on 9-11, and some decent-paying jobs have resulted. So, if you're interest is in this field, go government.

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