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Museum Quality Protection

​MUSEUMS AND CULTURAL institutions are many-faceted jewels in the crown of human civilization. They care for and make available to the public priceless art, irreplaceable historical objects, and treasures of stunning worth. Modern museums and cultural properties also act as educational centers and host public events such as dinners, weddings, concerts, fundraisers, and conferences. All of that means that today’s museum security department has a lot to protect; some also operate in a recession-hit world of “do more with less.” They are meeting the challenge with hybrid security forces and strong training programs.

Hybrid Forces

Many museums and cultural properties have seen a drop in revenue, memberships, and donations resulting in hard budget choices.

“They have to reduce their…recurring expenses, and at most properties, security has one of the largest work forces. When reductions hit, that is where they take place,” says Stevan P. Layne, CPP, president and foundation director of the Denver, Colorado-based International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection (IFCPP), a membership organization for protection professionals at cultural, educational, and public institutions.

FOR PROPERTIES WITH A wholly proprietary staff, the end result of cost cuts is permanent layoffs of fulltime personnel. This leads to the loss of valuable institutional memory, and it essentially throws away the return on the investment that the museum made in each of those security officers when it spent money hiring and training them. Layne says that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of hiring and training one entry-level employee is $5,000 to $7,000.

Properties that use a contract or hybrid force, however, can more easily reduce the size of their security work force without these costs. “When you deal with a contract service, you reduce those charges significantly. You pay a higher hourly rate, but the total cost to the employer is less,” he says.

However, there is still a strong feeling at most museums and cultural properties that proprietary is better than contract. This favoritism results, Layne thinks, from the importance and value of the collections being protected. “It’s the trust factor—they feel better with permanent employees whom they know and whom they feel are part of the family.” Those individuals are perceived to take ownership of the property and defend it, he states.

Some properties are trying to find a middle ground. They have decided to keep their proprietary officers guarding the collections while using a contract force for special events. This approach is being adopted even by institutions that have not tightened their belts due to the recession, because having some contract options also makes it easier to temporarily scale up the staff for certain events or as the facility expands.

This is the case at the Art Institute of Chicago, located in the city’s Grant Park. Drawing about 1.4 million annual visitors, the institute has not cut back on its guard force during the past decade—in fact, it has expanded it. The opening of the new Modern Wing in 2009 made the Institute the second largest U.S. art museum.

Michelle Lehrman, vice president of protection services there, states that before the opening of the Modern Wing, the institute used mostly proprietary officers and a small number of contract ones. With the construction of the new addition, “We took the opportunity to…reconfigure the entire work force. There were several factors—cost being one, obviously—but also the flexibility of the contract staff in numbers. At that time, we were going to have so many new people, there was also a recruitment need,” she states.

Although Lehrman does not wish to give more specifics on their breakdown, she says the force is now composed of both contract and proprietary officers totaling more than 200.

Contractor selection. Museums and cultural properties say that they have to set high standards for their contractors, given the interactions they will have with patrons and others. Some institutions, for example, garner considerable media attention when they hold special events with celebrities and other VIP attendees. The officers on duty must reflect a high degree of professionalism.

Layne says the institution should “start with a detailed specification with stringent requirements upon the contractor as far as personnel screening procedures and the physical and educational experience qualifications.”

Physical abilities must be among the qualifications. Guards must be able to remain standing for extended periods. Officers must also be able to assist in evacuations that include the handicapped, elderly, and small children.

Communication skills are another important aspect of the job. Guards must be able to converse in English well enough to be understood by the public during these emergency situations as well as to understand spoken or written directions and information such as their post orders and the policies of their employer.

The institution should complete due diligence on each contract provider before it is invited to bid if the bids are by invitation. If the bid is public, the due diligence should be done during the decision-making process. The IFCPP recommends that museums require that possible vendors visit the site and discuss the particular property, the guard posts that would be required, and the kinds of special events held. The hiring museum should hold direct interviews with the management of the vendor companies to determine if their management style is compatible with the needs of the institution.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, Lehrman says that the vendor-selection process led back to the company with which it already had a strong relationship—Securitas USA.

Securitas contract officers who work at the Institute must meet “specific requirements for our site. We also interview all the candidates before they come on board. Even after they go through all the steps at Securitas, we still have the final say,” states Lehrman.

The officers’ ability to handle whatever Chicago throws at the Institute is an important aspect of whether they will be approved. “We are a million-square-foot facility in the middle of downtown Chicago, and we’re an encyclopedic museum,” she says. “So the officers are going to have to learn the collection and the layout, and they will also have to deal with every nationality—all of our worldwide visitors and local visitors,” she explains, adding, “Then there are all of the random elements that the city brings—the festivals, and traffic, and other outside things, so it’s ever changing. For example, we just had the NATO Summit. There was [a related] event here, and there were protesters.”


After the selected officers get the basic training with Securitas, they receive museum-specific training on-site. Lehrman says that some new guards have never been to the Institute and know nothing about art. “We start with a museum orientation and an art orientation, then proceed to museum-specific rules and why we have them,” she explains. The officers also receive training from the conservation and curatorial departments.

The Institute conducts refresher training for both contract and proprietary officers “constantly,” says Lehrman. The day begins for the officers with a roll call, at which some training is often included. There is also annual training on various topics on a seasonal basis. For instance, guards get pickpocket awareness training in November and May—when the property traditionally sees an uptick in these crimes.

For the past five years, all of the Institute’s security managers and proprietary security officers have gone through IFCPP training. The managers also receive IFCPP certification.

The IFCPP was founded 14 years ago, explains Layne, as “an educational resource for those people in every level [of museum security] from security officer to top manager. Back then, there was no standardization for training officers, supervisors, and administrators protecting cultural properties.” Today, the IFCPP develops and administers training courses for all levels. It also administers the Certified Institutional Protection Specialist, Certified Institutional Protection Manager, and Certified Institutional Protection Technician designations.

Officers. The IFCPP training program that the Art Institute requires its officers to attend includes a section on customer service. “We recognize that there is a direct relationship between good customer service and security,” says Layne. One example of this is the security officer as greeter. He notes that Walmart has removed all of its store greeters in an effort to cut costs—a move that Layne predicts will actually cost the retailer more in increased thefts.

“We always used to hold them up as an example of what you want at your front door—a smiling guy checking out who is coming in. People who want to commit thefts or vandalize want to be anonymous. The entry greeting takes away the anonymity,” he states. And when coupled with officers who say hello to visitors as they move throughout the property, “It gives them the feeling they are being watched and takes away what they perceive as their opportunity to steal or vandalize.”

Discretion is also important. Officers must learn to conduct all their duties with a quiet demeanor that does not disrupt visitors’ enjoyment of the collections. For example, one of the regular problems in museums is that people get too close to paintings, sculpture, artifacts, or other items. The guards learn how to approach someone, and without seeming angry or aggressive, get them to move back. In fact, it can be an opportunity to act as a friendly educator.

“It’s a dual role. Yes, we want folks to comply with the policies and procedures, but we really focus on how those are presented to people because we…want them to enjoy the visit and want them to return,” says the Art Institute’s Lehrman. “We don’t just tell people ‘Don’t touch the art.’ We give them the why behind it.”

The officers learn how to patrol valuable collections, which includes scrutinizing the objects so that they will notice if damage has been done or if any item, such as a tiny object, isn’t where it should be. They are also trained to keep an eye on the visitors—including small children, the handicapped, and other vulnerable individuals—both to render assistance and to make sure they don’t accidently or intentionally harm anything.

Another area of training is how to conduct package inspections and metal detection, if they are used at the property. Layne says that the trend is for more detailed inspections as well as inspections for all exiting employees.

The course also teaches basic first-aid techniques, such as how to assist someone who has fallen or is having a seizure; CPR; and for at least a select portion of the officers, training in the use of an automated external defibrillator.

MOAB. A key section of the course is on dealing with upset and aggressive people. Layne says that the reality of the situation is that security officers suffer a greater risk of assault than the average worker. “There is a significant amount of risk, particularly if they have no training in how to respond,” he states.

“As part of the basic officer training,” explains Layne, “IFCPP includes a minimal amount of self-defense.” It does not go beyond that because employers are reluctant to have their officers given any type of hands-on training that might lead to some physical interactions that would expose the museum to lawsuits.

But, as Layne explains, the employer can also be held liable “if a hands-on incident happens and the guard had no training and failed to act or if someone was injured.” So officers learn at least what they would need to know to be able to escape or to deescalate a situation.

IFCPP is currently introducing a half-day workshop on the Management of Aggressive Behavior (MOAB)model. Layne says that MOAB teaches officers not to use hands-on management of aggressive persons unless it is an absolute last resort. It focuses instead on how officers can calm down angry people, defuse aggressive behaviors, and avoid violence by verbal and nonverbal communication. It also includes personal defense skills for use if no other option remains.

Layne gives an example of the kind of deescalation tactics MOAB teaches. “At many cultural properties, part of the way they finance operations is renting out halls. When alcohol is served, people can get out of hand.” The standard advice that officers are given is that they should call the police. “But what do you do until they get there? [MOAB] tells the officer to take a customer-friendly approach: enlist the aid of others responsible—friends, sponsors, chaperones—and have them try to settle things down,” explains Layne.

The Art Institute’s Lehrman says the daily roll call refresher training segments can be used to reinforce the aggressive-behavior-management training. “We do role-playing scenarios and when the officers encounter something or when we’ve had an incident, we also use those situations as examples in training for everyone,” he says.

Supervisors. The IFCPP’s supervisory-level training also includes training in how to manage aggressive behavior, because they have found that most supervisors have never received that type of instruction. “Just because they were in law enforcement or the military doesn’t mean they automatically know how the employer wants situations to be deescalated,” says Layne.

There is also the same classroom roleplaying of a variety of possible scenarios used in the officer’s training to manage aggressive or otherwise impaired people. Layne gives one example from the roleplaying training where one trainee portrays a drunk person trying to enter a museum, and the supervisor must intervene. Then the scenario is changed to the person entering having Alzheimer’s. Layne says that participants find the experience more powerful “than a book or a slide or a lecture.”

Supervisors also receive training on how to supervise and how to conduct on-the-job training of incoming officers. The curriculum includes site-specific on-the-job training for the supervisors concerning the collections, special events, and other operational areas.

Executives. The executive-level course covers the hiring, preemployment screening, and training processes, as well as how to handle terminations. Museum security executives also learn about the technology used to secure a cultural institution, including access controls, alarms, fire protection, video surveillance, and other security that directly protects exhibited items. They also learn how to select vendors for all of these technology categories.

“They have to have an in-depth knowledge of the technology because the cost of these systems is astronomical,” states Layne. He adds that the course also provides information about resources available to these professionals outside of the classroom.

Executive-level training includes a fair amount of role-playing. This is because the executives need to understand the kind of situations that officers and supervisors encounter so that they will understand why such training is necessary, says Layne.

The protection of cultural properties requires a guard force—proprietary, contract, or hybrid—that has a high level of specialized training. And that training will pay off in multiple ways. Lehrman says of the training her officers receive, “It gives them a sense of accomplishment and professionalism.”