Museum Guards


When a museum employs someone directly as part of the museum’s staff to provide security, these are called proprietary security employees. When the museum hires their security employees from a contract provider, these are called contract employees.  Some museums call their security people guards, some security officers, and others refer to them as visitor services aids or gallery attendants. In this article we will refer to them as guards, the more traditional term preferred by most cultural institutions. But all do much the same thing.

One of the most frequently asked questions is “Should we employ our own guards or use contract personnel?”  That depends. While some will take issue with this statement, most museum security professionals feel that a museum is better off with a proprietary guard force. I agree unless you are totally unable to provide the type of support that a guard force needs.

If you simply employ a guard but no supervision for him or if you have no means of training that guard, or of providing a substitute guard when your primary guard calls in sick, etc. then you are a candidate for a contract service. As a rule of thumb, a security force must be trained, supervised and managed and an infrastructure is required to do this. Simply training your guards is one thing, hiring replacements in a high turnover environment then training and supervising the replacement is something else. The person in charge of security can spend full time just hiring and training.

When you hire a contract service you simply tell the service what hours you want a guard present and they provide the guard. If the guard calls in sick, they must find a replacement. If the guard quits and a new one must be recruited and trained, that’s their problem. The problem here is that you may get a different guard every few days.

Where many museums make their mistake is in not “managing the contract”. Most contract providers insist upon providing a supervisor for your guard force even if you only employ a single guard. Sometimes that supervisor rarely shows up on your site, dropping by only occasionally to check up on the guards. Others sell you the services of a “Chief of Security” to run your security force. This is OK but you must remember that this person cannot manage the contract.  He or she works for the contract provider and represents the contract provider’s best interests. You need to manage the contract yourself and that may take time.

Managing the contract involves making sure that you are being billed for the correct number of hours, that you are receiving what you are paying for, and that problems are not being swept under the rug by the supervisor.

Contract services always provide training to their guards but that training is often little more than meeting the minimum state requirements. Guards learn about the company work rules and discuss general policies and procedures having to do with the company they work for. They learn about their authority and are trained on a policy of when they may take action and when they may not.  What they are almost always not trained in are the museum-specific skills they need to do the job at your museum like access control, parcel control, public relations, emergency procedures, fire prevention and protection, or even in the geography of the building. Many receive only a few hours of most basic orientation at your site before being turned loose on your visitors. If you want guards trained on your museum specifically, you need to specify it.

Some people think that contract guards are paid more than proprietary guards. This misconception comes from the fact that a museum generally pays a low wage for their guards but a higher hourly rate for contractors. Keep in mind that the contract employee may actually be paid less than your own guards with the difference going to the company as profit. If you want your contract guards to be paid a certain minimum hourly wage you need to specify that. By doing this you also know what the contractor’s mark up is!

Some museums hire contract guards as a means of sheltering the museum from lawsuits that may result from things the guard does or doesn’t do. Don’t count on it protecting you from liability. You can still be sued for what the does or fails to do, even if they are actually employed by a guard company.

Here is my “bottom line” on the subject. If you are a small institution with no infrastructure to support a guard force, a contract service is the way to go but expect to manage the contract if you want to be satisfied with them. As your needs grow, consider hiring your own guards but expect to also hire the infrastructure, buy the radios and uniforms, and pay the insurance and benefits for them.

Some consultants offer a service to help you decide which is best for you. Be sure to only hire a consultant who has first hand knowledge in both environments and experience in evaluating the pros and cons of this issue. It is more complex than many think.

Proprietary or Contract?

Reasons Why Contract Guards Are Best

No delay in getting a guard on board.

Someone else does the hiring.

Someone else does the training.

Someone else handles pay, tax and

           insurance issues.

No pension issues.

No background check issues.

No termination problems if the guard

           doesn’t work out.

No uniforms, equipment or radios to

           buy if the contractor provides.

No union issues.

More appropriate for smaller institutions

Reasons Why Proprietary Guards Are Best

Better control of who gets hired.

No need to “manage the contract”.

The guard gets all the money you pay out.

You control quality of people you hire.

Same staff. Guards not transferred to

               other sites.

You control the training.

No need to keep constant track of billing.

You won’t be over billed with “phantom


More appropriate for larger museums.

What is Phantom Billing?

Attention Committee Members!  We need your help in preparing quality articles for this section. I need the following articles:

  1. 1. Hiring a Contract Guard Service. Include information on how to solicit a company for proposals, how to evaluate a guard service, and what not to do.

  2. 2.Introduction to Guard Force Management.  Give us the basics. What would you want to know if you were new to this security management responsibility?

  3. 3.Introduction to Supervision.  How about a bulleted list of tips for a new supervisor. What to do and what not to do.

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Above, we said that it is important to “manage the contract” when you have a contract guard force. This means that you still need someone in charge of security and that you can’t delegate it successfully to the guard force provider who will gladly supply you with a security supervisor or manager. One reason for this is that some guard for contractors have been known to Phantom Bill. This means that they slip in a few hours here and there each week that they didn’t actually deliver. You have no way of knowing this unless you actively monitor your guard schedule or :manage the contract”.

What the

Guard Contractor


What the

Guard Contractor

Sometimes Delivers