The February 14th attack, followed by the bombings in New Jdeideh, Kaslik, Sad al-Boushrieh and Broumana have seen increased demand for private security services from banks, shops, hotels, malls and large institutions, as well as real estate developers with substantial works in progress.
Unfortunately, pro-active security remains a novel concept in Lebanon. The current “boom” is still largely ad hoc, temporary and price-sensitive. In fact, security providers say, it’s a regional thing. Lebanon conforms to the Middle East pattern of taking a reactive, rather than preventive approach to private security.
“This is the trend,” says Jinane Zod, assistant managing director of Zod Security. “People only react once the damage is done.”
Although not exactly a revolution, industry insiders believe there might be a gradual shift towards a more preventive-oriented approach to security.
“The measures we are taking now are permanent,” says Shoughari. “It’s a trend happening throughout the Middle East – just look at the last bomb attack which hit Cairo. We are now faced with a new environment, locally, as well as internationally. The enhanced security measures are here to stay.”
Yazigi believes it is too early to tell whether the panic attack which hit the Lebanese will result in any long-term changes, but does detect a trend in the region towards greater security awareness.
One security firm that spoke to Executive, admitted that his company witnessed a 5% increase in demand after February 14th but that figure soon rocketed to 100% after the Jeddah bomb attack.
Demand has mainly focused on electronic surveillance, monitoring systems more than security guards and Youssef Mohamed Beydoun, vice-president of the Syndicate of Security and Safety Professionals in Lebanon and general manager of Beydoun Fire and Security, estimates that overall sector business has spurted by 30-35%.
“Most of this new demand is coming from the banks,” he said. “It has now become a priority for everyone to increase their security coverage, but banks in general are especially afraid of robbery and hold-ups due to the current political and economic climate.”
Demand for security guards has also surged. They are an easily deployable form of security service, especially when it comes to carrying out vehicle and personal checks, yet they still trail behind electronic surveillance systems in terms of what is wanted in today’s market. Security firm, Protectron, has estimated the hike in demand for security staff to be at around on normal business 25%, although it admitted that tight budgets force many companies to employ their own staff in a security role.
And maybe this is why the industry sees the employment of extra security guards as a stopgap measure. “We can already see a drop in demand,” says Lotfallah Yazigi, president of Securitas in the Middle East. “It was a reaction to panic. People [in office and apartments] would get together and chip-in for a guard to watch the premises for two weeks to a month, but contracts wouldn’t go much longer than that. It was a quick-fix for peace of mind but most people can’t afford this type of service in the long-run.”
Many major banks, hotels large companies and institutions, such as the Phoenicia InterContinental, which has incurred minimal costs in upgrading an already comprehensive security infrastructure, already have adequate systems in place as part of their commitment to comply with international standards and regulations issued by their head offices and who systems and procedures are regularly assessed by external consultants.
“We haven’t hired more people,” says Jana Sleen of the Safir Heliopolitan hotel. “What we have done is increase the number of security guard shifts and tightened security measures, especially with regards to all cars coming into the hotel. Half of our staff is from Protectron and the other half is our own staff. But otherwise, we already had cameras in place everywhere.”
The Beryte Hotel reported to have increased security staff by four, at an additional cost of $3,000 per month, to which will be added the installation of surveillance cameras, at $2,000-3,000.
“It’s an additional cost, but one that everybody has to incur right now,” says Jihad Shoughari, operations manager for the hotel. “After the attack, the army and the police went around to all the hotels in the surrounding area and asked for the films of the surveillance cameras. We have now in the process of ordering 3 or 4 more.”
But it is the banks and shops – for obvious reasons – that have had to burden the cost of maintaining confidence among their client base. Byblos Bank has retained the services of the international Group 4 Total Security, while ABC’s popular Mall in Achrafieh has hired 20 new security guards, at an estimated $7,000 a month, and is reportedly in the process of installing a new surveillance camera system. Supermarkets Monoprix and Spinneys have also committed themselves to assuring their customers with cursory vehicle checks.
Universities, embassies and international organizations have for their part made few requests for additional security services. Virtually all embassies have their security equipment sent to them from their respective countries and are prohibited from purchasing any local products.
The UN, whose offices in central Beirut were reinforced with cement blocks and sandbags following the attacks, claims this was a measure that had long been in the pipeline.
“We asked the government two years ago to make this arrangement around the building, because the UN building in Beirut was non-compliant with international regulations that have been established for the institution – it had nothing to do with the attacks,” says Elias Daoud, head of security for the UN building. “Otherwise, nothing has changed.”
Despite the recent hike in demand for security services, some industry insiders are not convinced that it will necessarily entail an overall increase in the quality and profitability of the sector. According to Haled Jaber, general manager for Security Engineering, there are no rules in Lebanon governing security services. “We tried to push for this through the creation of a syndicate, but it turned into a forum for social events. Every company now has its own standards. We now have a lot of security providers in Lebanon, probably some 100-150, but out of these, I would say there are only 10 which are really professional, offering high quality services and products.”
“Right now the market is booming, but it’s not really profitable,” said one manager of a security company offering, “human guarding”. “Salaries remain low, contracts are offered on a short-term basis. A lot of people working as guards view it as temporary employment, it’s not one they invest in to make a career out of.”
Partly in response to this lack of regulation and partly – or mostly – in response to the recent events in Lebanon and the region, Securitas will be opening the Swiss Academy for Security in Lebanon in May – a first for the region – to train professional security guards at every level.
And who said there was lack of job creation in Lebanon?