Guest Screening - We're Doing it Wrong!

Metal detection is an industry best practice for sport and entertainment venues, airports, courthouses and many other establishments. Ideally, the facility has walk-thru metal detectors (WTMD) and x-ray machines with well-trained staff to screen guests, staff, vendors and others entering the venue, plus any packages or bags that may be carried in. Unfortunately, even after the capital expenditure for equipment, renovations to create the space required for the screening process and the operational expense of increased staffing, we are failing more often than getting it right! The question is, why?

Walk-Thru Metal Detection

Facilities are under pressure to “process” guests through screening in a timely manner. Regardless of the amount of space, equipment and staff allocated, the pressure on throughput exists. In addition, the experience of the person going through the screening process is also very important, so metrics like wait times and staff-efficiency are also factored into the pressure put on security directors.

There are a number of reasons the screening process isn’t as effective as it could be:

  • Walk-Thru Metal Detector Operations
  • Secondary Screening
  • Staff Pay Rates & Training
  • Management Supervision

Walk-Thru Metal Detector Operations

Deploying walk-thru metal detectors is a great deterrent, especially when the deployment creates an extended secure perimeter around the facility. Unfortunately, most security staff are not very well versed on how to process guests through the metal detector. How many staff understand exactly what does or doesn’t cause a metal detector to alarm? Wind, vibration, metal near the exterior of the WTMD and of course certain amounts of ferrous metal, i.e. weapons of certain size, keys, phones etc. The sport and entertainment industry’s typical equipment setting for WTMD is based on a knife greater than 3” and a derringer size or larger handgun, but regardless of the setting of the equipment staff training is critical. When a WTMD does alarm, the typical next step is some form of secondary screening and this is where most failures in the screening process happen.

Secondary Screening

Secondary screening is typically conducted with a hand-held wand by security staff. A hand-held wand detects all metal whereas a WTMD detects metal of certain size and type. After the guest alarmed at the WTMD, which is far superior technology to a hand-held wand, we are putting the screening process in a guard’s hands who is making $10-$15 per hour depending on locale. Even worse, we’re asking the guard to make a determination using an inferior technology that is likely to alarm upon detecting any metal in the area - from the rebar in the concrete sidewalk to any type of metal on the individual’s person.

When assessing and red-teaming various facilities, secondary screening and the bag search process are the most common failure points, and that failure rate is alarming! In addition, most states that have licensing requirements to become a security guard do not include either bag search training or metal detection screening in their training curriculum.

At T&M, we advise our clients to not use hand-held metal detectors for secondary screening. If a person sets off the alarm of a WTMD, security advises the individual on which part of the body alarmed and asks the person to divest all metal from that area and proceed through the WTMD a second time. If the person alarms a second time, he/she is escorted with his/her belongings to a secondary WTMD. This line is separate from all other screening locations and the person is advised to divest all metal and clear that WTMD before entrance is granted. The benefit of this secondary WTMD screening method is that it keeps us reliant on the technology and not on the often underpaid, under-trained, under-supervised security guard. This secondary screening method takes the pressure off of the guards, provides a better experience for the persons encountering additional screening and does not negatively impact wait times for those awaiting first-time screening.

Staff Pay Rates & Training

Pay rates for security staff, the first line of defense at any venue, should be increased to attract better personnel to these positions. Workforce retention plans are also an important factor to develop a dedicated security staff. That said, one of the most important and costly pieces of the staffing puzzle is proper event security training. Staff that are involved in metal detection and bag checks need specific training on the equipment they are using, as well as what they should be looking for when checking bags and packages. Since budgets are often tight, T&M recommends that this training cost be shared between staffing vendors and facilities.

Management Supervision

All of the above is always most successfully implemented when the proper level of security management supervision is present. Security staff appreciate the support shown to them that reflects the importance of this process. Having the right level of personnel as ‘zone leads’ to assist these staff is a very worthwhile investment in the success of the screening process.

T&M’s Sport & Entertainment Security division, led by Dan Donovan, has assisted many clients with the design of metal detection implementation, acquisition of devices, and training to maximize efficiency in deploying this process. In addition, we manage all aspects of special event security and maintain a team of experts who are familiar with the challenges facing the industry and best practices based on experience.

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