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Hiring the Right Physical Security Consultant

Physical security technology continues to advance in 2021. With the growing number of sophisticated solutions in physical security and access control technologies, project management teams – from architects to property owners – increasingly need reliable advice from security consultants in the field in order to make the most informed decision for their projects.

The knowledge and expertise of physical security consultants is more valuable now than ever. In order to weed through evolving technology and business objectives, project management teams need direction. Retaining the right physical security consultant, however, is easier said than done. Which is why we have collected all of our best insight and advice to finding the perfect match.

Key takeaways

  • Security consultant overview, and knowing when to hire one
  • Criteria for hiring a physical security consultant
  • The 5 tangible benefits of a consultant
  • Specific hiring considerations for architects and property owners

What Does a Security Consultant Do?

A security consultant is a specialist who caters to the security needs of a property or facility. There are several different types of security consultants who are able to cater to the different needs of various projects.

Types of Security Consultants 

Security Consultants provide just that – security consulting services. This includes assessments and recommendations, but not actionable steps to support implementation. Typically, security consultants have previous professional experience in the security industry, such as in law enforcement or the military.

Security Engineers, or low voltage engineers, will have some experience in security, but are more appropriately identified as generalists in low voltage trades such as IT or AV. Security engineers are able to translate a set of criteria for a project into drawings and specifications.

Full Service Consultants offer both security consulting services and security engineering. Full service consultants work in the security industry and understand the design and implementation of security systems. They are able to make assessments and recommendations while also designing and engineering systems.

It should be noted that both security consultants and full service consultants typically have different specialties. It will be important to identify those specialties before hiring a consultant in order to retain an expert that can best advise on a particular project.

When to Hire a Security Consultant 

Security consultants have the ability to assess risk for projects of all shapes and sizes. It would be wise to retain a security consultant at the beginning of a large development project in order to gain insight into the risks and opportunities overall. Similarly, if updates are being made, a security consultant can provide insight into best practices, industry projections, and a comprehensive list of options for moving forward. 

Beyond assessment, it is also recommended to hire a security consultant when design is needed. Construction cannot happen without design, and consultants are able to bridge that important gap. While seemingly a small task, there is a level of coordination and design that has to happen even when putting a key card reader at the door. Door hardware design, wiring and conduit, panel storage and electricity, and network connectivity all need to be considered just when placing a card reader at an access point.

Project management has evolved over the years to include entire teams working within their specialty towards the success of a single project. With the advance of property technology and growth of the facility security initiative, security specialties can range from environmental planning to access control system expertise.  

Hiring a Physical Security Consultant

Retaining a physical security consultant, just like hiring an employee, is an important decision that requires careful vetting and evaluation. Retention criteria will, of course, vary project to project and industry to industry. However, there are 3 criteria that every physical security consultant must meet regardless:

  1. Previous experience aligns with security objectives of the facility 
  2. Proactive communication with vendors, building owners, contractors, integrators, etc. 
  3. Prioritizes the best interest of the building owner

1. Aligning Goals

Security risk assessments will ultimately define the security objectives of each project. Which is why a risk assessment is so important in the first place. 

It may seem like setting security standards for a building is self explanatory: keep everyone inside safe. But, someone in a remote surrounding location, for example, may actually have very different security requirements than one who is centrally located. 

2. Communication

Project management has grown from a simple relationship between project manager and integrator to that of a team of experts, including various consultants, project managers for integration, installation personnel, architects, etc. This was not a gradual transition either. After September 11, 2001, the budget for security initiatives and personnel increased significantly. And with that, so did the number of people involved in the construction and renovation of buildings. 

This was and still is a positive move in the right direction to better facility security. But with any major transition comes a learning curve. In this case, it was not the lack of knowledge or expertise in security planning or risk assessment, but the communication of all of the parties involved.

Communication remains the biggest barrier to effective and efficient project management. Which is why hiring a security consultant who understands how to communicate effectively, who to communicate with, and when to communicate will result in the ultimate success of a project. 

Communication and Timing

Security consultants are involved in the entire project lifecycle. They play a role on the integrated design team, of which every project has, regardless of scale. Security consultants should be involved in the early design stages of a project in order to make recommendations that influence building layout and features in ways that make buildings inherently more secure. Doing so supports an integrated approach to facility security that mitigates the need for additional security measures to cover vulnerabilities that were previously overlooked.

3. Prioritizing Best Interests

Security consultants are matchmakers for building owners and security integrators. So, a security consultant has to be confident that the recommended security integrator will make the decisions in line with the best interest of the building owner. Similarly, the security integrator needs reassurance that the security consultant will assist and advocate for them in their decision making, or if they identify an issue. 

A security consultant should also be manufacturer-agnostic. This ensures the clients’ best interest is top of mind and the consultant can objectively choose the best technology.

Simply, everyone’s priorities need to align with what is best for the building owner. And prioritizing best interests boils down to trust. Whomever is hiring a security consultant, regardless of project, should feel that there is a substantial amount of trust that he or she is working in the best interest of and as an advocate for the building owner. 

5 Reasons to Hire a Security Consultant

Hiring a security consultant is an important decision that requires some leg work. The upfront overhead that goes into choosing and retaining a consultant can and does act as a deterrent for many projects that should otherwise be seeking the counsel of an expert. Further, it’s difficult to identify the return on investing in a consultant and the tangible value can be illusive at times. 

But, hiring a physical security consultant has very real, tangible benefits. Most importantly, security consultants: 

  1. Streamline security requirements
  2. Integrate security with building design
  3. Perform comprehensive risk assessment and identify business risks
  4. Define the security program
  5. Offer objectivity with expertise

Overall, this saves invaluable time and money in the long run by taking proactive steps to safeguard a facility and its occupants. 

1. Streamlining Security Requirements

There are two different types of physical security requirements that need to be assessed to get a comprehensive understanding of an entire facility’s security ecosystem: 

  • Building function: What will the building ultimately be used for and what are the unique security needs?
  • Building location: Where will the building be located and what are the challenges associated with the location?

A physical security consultant has the expertise and resources to understand how these two work together and can make the appropriate recommendations. Without an expert, all of the considerations would need to be collected and aggregated from different parties within the project management and facility team without the benefit of extensive security-related lessons learned. 

2. Integrated Security and Design

Designing a building for security or with security in mind creates an inherently secure facility. This is the ideal gold standard when it comes to building design. It is also what security consultants do best, and the primary reason to hire one for a project. Without a security consultant to advise on the design team at the early stages of a project, there is no one to coordinate security requirements. And, as we have identified, it’s critical to define and implement security requirements early to avoid the identification of security vulnerabilities after the fact, which lead to siloed and modularized solutions.

3. Security Risk Assessment 

A physical security consultant will perform a security risk assessment for the property. This includes a physical site security survey and associated risk and opportunity analysis. Many times, consultants offer free consultations. 

Risk: A security risk assessment is incredibly valuable to a building owner or architect that needs to make decisions regarding the physical security of a building. But, the value of a physical security consultant lies within the custom risk mitigation strategy and expert advice that will troubleshoot security risks. This is important for avoiding additional cost and liability, which go hand in hand. 

Opportunity: In performing a security risk assessment, physical security consultants can also identify opportunities. Consultants can give advice on how buildings owners and architects can capitalize on these security opportunities to create a more efficient, cost effective, and ultimately secure facility. 

The function of a building plays a major role in the security planning process. For example, if the building will be used for residential purposes, the security strategy will likely look different than a facility that will house offices and enterprise businesses. 

A consultant will understand not only physical security risks, but the business risks associated with each type of building. And it’s important to understand these concerns and address what they are before flexibility limiting decisions are made. Doing so can mitigate the need for additional expenses in the future along with preventing the purchase of unnecessary equipment or services to begin with.  

4. Defined Security Program

Security consultants are incredibly valuable when it comes to advising on the security program of a project. This includes planning and specifications for crime prevention through environmental design, electronic security systems, security operational plans, staffing, response planning, and more.

A security consultant understands how each of theses components work together and how they influence the overall security of the building. This generates a cohesive security ecosystem that makes for an inherently secure facility.

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design

Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is the practice of using urban and architectural design in the physical layout of the building in order to deter crime. This approach leverages human behavior and sociology understanding to create an environment which reduce fear of crime, improve human experience, and reduce opportunities to commit crime. The three elements of CPTED are: 

  • Territoriality: Both the desire to defend the territory one owns and respect for the territory owned by others. The degree of ownership one feels for any particular property increases the extent one will go to defend it. 
  •  Surveillance: The more opportunities there are to survey or witness a crime, the less likely criminal activity will occur. 
  • Access Control: Physical barriers (such as fencing, signage, and vegetation) and objects (such as lighting) that prohibit or inhibit access to a particular area or facility. Managing access to any one area controls movement, which consequently deters crime. 

By combining these three concepts, crime and crime opportunity decreases. 

Physical security consultants have a particularly good understanding of the CPTED elements, how they work together, and the specific design strategies. Enlisting the expertise of a consultant to integrate these concepts at an early stage in building construction is the most efficient use of natural resources to capitalize on facility security.

CPTED Strategies That DO NOT Require a Consultant

  • Maintain a well-kept property by mowing areas where there is grass, trimming hedges, watering plants, and provide garbage cans to reduce litter
  • Keep valuable business assets (company vehicles, inventory, etc.) within visibility of authorized personnel, but out of plain sight from possible threat actors
  • Implement an intuitive visitor management strategy for seamless facility access to avoid unintentional loitering by enabling secure food delivery, client visits, and package management
  • Lock windows and secure entrances when not in use

5. Objectivity

Large project teams mean more opinions and conflicting ideas of what should take priority. A physical security consultant is able to assess a project with objectivity that no one else can, primarily due to the experience they have with the security ecosystem overall. Objective analysis from a third party has more value than most think. Proceeding with a common goal amongst the project team is efficient, saves time, overhead, and cost. 

Security Consultants for Architects

For an architect looking to hire a consultant, there are several specific considerations to take into account while doing so: 

  • Finding a design partner: A security consultant should act as a design partner. An architect should look for a security consultant who respects and is flexible with the design aesthetics they are trying to achieve. This involves finding ways to hide or integrate security into the design of the building, or creating a custom solution that meets both needs.
  • Relationship with integrators: Security consultants should have a professional, respectful, and positive relationship with their security integrators or vendors. A trustworthy relationship between the two gives the architect confidence to proceed with design aspects. It also fills a gap and meets a need for an architect who never has enough time. The ideal consultant challenges the integrator to perform with excellence and honestly evaluate integrator recommendations for design refinement.
  • Understanding of security systems: The security consultant should understand the technical aspects of the security system being recommended for the facility. He or she needs to be aware of the advantages and drawbacks of the system and how it performs in the building’s unique ecosystem. Additionally, the security consultant needs to be able to provide information about the vendor’s product, either from their own knowledge or from the integrator. This is important when the vendor’s website is not tailored to an architect audience, which makes it difficult for the architect to specify the product. 
  • Avoid value engineering: Architects do not need the cheapest option; they need a solution to their design problem. If an architect has a particular need for a specific design or unique building aspect, the consultant needs to be trusted to respect those requests to find the best security system to meet those value-delivery needs as opposed to finding the cheapest option available. Architects should be wary of consultants who recommend value engineering options in late project stages and question how changes impact the ability to meet project performance objectives. 

Security Consultants for Property Owners

If a property owner is looking to hire a security consultant, they too should have specific criteria in mind: 

  • Tenant satisfaction: A security consultant should ultimately have the future tenants of the building in mind when making recommendations to a property owner about security planning and strategy. He or she should understand that in making the tenants of the building successful, satisfied, and safe, the property owner’s goals have been met. 
  • Integration over addition: Property owners should look for a security consultant who prioritizes an integrated building experience as opposed to simply adding a solution on top of one that already exists or will exist. When making recommendations for a security system, the solution should not be a “quick fix” that is siloed from the remaining operational aspects of the building. Solving for one targeted problem is limiting and creates a modularized, rather than cohesive, property experience. The consultant should be able to clearly articulate the value and operations implications of the integrated solution in context of the owner’s business workflow.
  • Detailed insights: A security consultant should be able to provide detailed insights to the property owner, such as the reasoning or logic behind a certain decision. This empowers the property team to identify opportunities to increase efficiencies and decrease operating costs.

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