Emerging Issues in Security

The Need for Good Radio Discipline

Security officers can become complacent, lazy, haphazard, or even highly inappropriate when using company-issued radios to communicate with other officers at a facility or to their security dispatch centers. This unprofessional behavior over the air can reflect poorly on the officer in particular and the security company in general. It helps to have written policies and to enforce violations.

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The concept of “radio etiquette” suggests that all security officers need to be trained and reminded that what they say over the air, even on a so-called “private channel,” may be monitored, recorded, or scrutinized by any number of listening audiences. This could include local law enforcement agencies, representatives of the FCC, the news media, or even the public. Thanks to websites that offer interested listeners a wide variety of frequencies to eavesdrop on, the concept of privacy is both not possible and not encouraged. Even supposedly closed radio systems can be hacked into or heard by other than their intended communicators.

“Radio discipline” can be defined as a professional, legal, and ethical approach to using transmission equipment, in security vehicles, out in public, or at a client’s facility. By written policy, all communications need to be necessary (it’s not meant for idle chatter and gossiping), appropriate (no racist or sexist comments, jokes, or other biased or demeaning comments about anyone or any group), and professional (correctly using station, vehicle, or individual employee call signs, 10 and 11 codes, and the phonetic radio alphabet to spell out uncommon names or locations, e.g., A as in Alpha, B as in Bravo, C as in Charlie, etc.).

Another element of effective radio discipline is not adding to the noise pollution by keeping any desk or portable receivers at too high of volume. A blaring radio is distracting to people trying to work or talk nearby, and it could create confidentiality concerns if something is said over the air that is not meant for nearby ears. Loud radios are also a safety hazard, which can distract security officers as they drive or cause the person listening at a site to lose his or her focus on an angry or threatening person or potential security situation. One adage for safe and secure radio use gets proven frequently: the more difficult or dangerous the mission, the quieter the radios used by the operators. Navy SEALs have radios only they can hear; the janitors at the airport blare their radios loud enough to be heard across the terminal.

New security officers should be trained and drilled in radio etiquette, using role-play scenarios that especially put them under stress. Listening to dispatcher recordings of even well-trained police officers, it’s common to hear them scream into the mics of their radios during pursuits or assaults. Security officers need to practice calmly giving instructions, locations, and descriptions over the air, in a controlled training environment, so their use of their radios in the field or at a client location, is appropriate and professional.

The use of 10 and 11 codes for security officers are often adapted by similar codes used by local police agencies. This commonality of these coded messages makes training and memorization easier, especially under stress.

Security officers need to know they are responsible for the words they choose and use and that the “walls have ears,” whether it’s bystanders overhearing confidential or personal information over the air, clients hearing inappropriate jokes or embarrassing comments as they pass by a security station, or even potential attackers monitoring a security frequency to prepare an assault.