We all know that communication skills are amongst the most important skills that a security officer can possess. Often, we need to relay messages and information further than would otherwise be possible via verbal means. In order to achieve this, a security officer has a number of tools at their disposal, such as the mobile phone, short message service, Morse code (not so common these days), and of course, radio communications.
In this article, we are going to look at some of the more basic, but all too often forgotten radio communication procedures required for quick, concise and accurate transmission of information via radio.
Basic Radio Communication Procedure
It is important to remember that strict radio communication procedures and disciplines need to be adhered to at all times when using a radio, whether it be a hand held, vehicle based or a base station set up. This is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we observe strict radio procedures to preserve the security of the information being transmitted. Regardless of how secure the equipment you are using may be, always operate on the basis that someone could be listening in on your transmissions. Therefore, names of operatives and locations involved in a particular operation should be disguised via the use of code words or call signs.
When used in radio communications, call signs can perform a number of functions. Their primary function is often to protect the identity of the parties involved in the radio transmission. However, they also serve to simplify matters when communicating between large groups of people. For example, can you imagine trying to communicate with someone on a first name basis when there are three people in the group all called David? Not to mention that it is unreasonable to expect that every person in a group remember everyone’s name.
Instead, it is far easier and safer to assign call signs based either on the Phonetic alphabet or a person’s area of responsibility. For example, C1, C2, C3, pronounced Charlie One, two and three, would be used in place of Ralph, Fred and Bill. This way each person knows who is being called and there is no risk of him or her being identified. Alternatively, if you had three members of your team assigned to the stage area at a rock concert, you could assign them the call signs: Stage one, two and three. Once again, the identity of the caller is preserved and everyone knows exactly who he or she is communicating with.
Code words and call signs are used for much the same reasons – to prevent the true nature of the subject being discussed from being overheard by uninvited listeners. Take for example a situation where a security officer receives a radio call informing him that the door to one of the venue’s cash offices has a broken lock. The call also informs him that the staff member at that location will be leaving the area unattended for a period of time. He is therefor requested to get someone there to keep an eye on the money. If anyone were listening in on the conversation, it would be a simple matter of getting there first or worse, taking the officer out of the picture and helping themselves to the contents of the cash office.
To avoid this situation, code words can be assigned to specific types of incidents or locations. For example, rather than saying the cash office on the third floor in the member’s area, you could refer to its location as “Members 3”. Incidents can also be assigned code words such as “Code Blue”, which might refer to a non-crucial incident requiring assistance when possible. An incident that requires more immediate assistance but is not yet dangerous could be a “Code Yellow” and a serious incident that requires immediate assistance could be a “Code Red”. Similarly, specific incidents can be assigned specific code words. For example, a violent situation could be “Cyclone”. Back up needed could be “Tanto.” There are no set rules for assigning code words. Some people like to use words that employ the same first letter as the area they are referring to and other people like to use words that reflect the nature or function of a particular area or incident. Use any code word you like as long as the team know it and can remember it.
By employing code words, you make it difficult for anyone with criminal intentions to interfere with your operations. Take our example of the cash office from earlier in the article. Someone wishing to take advantage of the opportunity knows after hearing the call, who is attending, where the cash is and the nature of the problem. However, by employing the system of code words and call sign as discussed the call might sound something like this:
“ Cash office to security. We have a Code Blue at Members 3. Require assistance.”
“OK cash office. Escort one en route to Members 3.”
What we have just ascertained is that there is an incident at the cash office in the member’s area on level three that requires attention when possible. This has been acknowledged and one of the cash escort security officers is on the way.
The following key words are used in order to covey certain messages.
- ROGER: means message understood
- OVER: Call sign has transmitted and awaiting reply
- OUT: Call sign is finished transmitting at this time
When transmitting messages, these words used in conjunction with correct procedures make a message far more concise and easier to understand. The correct procedure for transmitting a message is as follows:
- Start the message with your call, Sign and then say the call sign of the person you wish to contact.
- Any time you expect a response, finish you transmission with the word OVER. This will let the person you are talking to know you are waiting for their reply.
- When you are responding to someone else’s message, use the word ROGER to let them know you have understood their transmission. If you didn’t understand the transmission for some reason ask them to repeat the message by saying, “Repeat last call”.
- When you have finished your transmission and wish to end the conversation use the word OUT. This lets the person you are talking to know that you are finished. It also lets anyone else waiting to use the radio know that the channel is clear and they can go ahead.
When putting all of the previous examples in practice, you should have a short exchange that is easily understood, accurate and concise. Let’s look at the earlier example of the cash office incident again. A conversation between trained radio operators should “sound” something like this:
“Cash office to Security, OVER.”
“Security, go ahead Cash Office, OVER.”
“Security, we have a Code Blue at Members 3, Over.”
“ROGER Cash Office, Escort 1 en route, OVER.”
“ROGER Security, Cash office OUT.”
You can see how much more efficient and secure this example is. Cutting out the call signs once communications in this relay are established, can shorten this example even further.
Common Problems With Radio Procedures
Cutting short transmissions
There are a number of common problems that can occur with officers who have either little or no time on a radio net. Probably the most common of these problems is accidentally cutting off the first few seconds of a transmission. This is especially annoying if you are the person they are trying to contact. By cutting off the first few seconds of their transmission, the caller effectively cuts off their own call sign.
As a result, all you hear is your call sign with no idea of who is calling.
To prevent this problem from occurring, simply push the transmit button on the radio and count to two before you begin to relay your message. Do this every time you transmit and you should get your message through loud and clear every time.
Make Sure That You Pay Attention To Radio Calls
Another problem common to people who have little or no experience on a radio net is inattentiveness. Be aware of your call sign and be vigilant for its use. There are few things more annoying than someone who won’t answer their radio either because they are not paying attention to transmissions or because they have turned their unit down or knocked the volume and can no longer hear it properly. The solutions to both these problems are simple – pay attention to radio calls and check your volume at regular intervals.
If for some reason you are going to be unavailable for any period of time, call your supervisor and let them know and then inform them when you are back on air. If you are tied up with a patron or in the middle of something, rather than just ignoring your radio, respond with your caller’s call sign followed by your own and then say “stand by”. When you are free to talk, open radio communications with the last caller using correct procedure and say “go ahead”.
People who babble to hear their own voice and to express their importance can be extremely annoying. These people distract other staff, clog up radio channels and make it difficult for anyone else trying to use the radio.
Radio Training Sessions
Here are a few basic guidelines for training in the correct use of radios:
- During training sessions, set up a program designed to get staff familiar with using call signs and code words. Simulate instances and responses to situations using the radio so that everyone gets experience using the correct procedures. This is the best practice other than on the job experience.
- Try to use the best quality radio that you can afford. These will usually be more reliable and offer better clarity.
- Become familiar with the radio. Make sure you can operate all of its switches, by feel, in the dark.
- Make sure you have spare batteries and suitable recharging equipment.
- Keep talk time to a bare minimum. No chit chat. Operational use only.
- An ear piece is recommended for added security and clarity, especially when in high noise areas. It also enables you to receive messages hands free.
- Remember, everything you say can be heard. Therefore, don’t say anything you do not want anyone one else to hear.
- Learn the Phonetic Alphabet. Any word can be spelled out with clarity using this internationally recognised protocol.
- Don’t forget to do a radio check not only when you first receive your radio but again when you are in your area of operation.
As is the case with all the skills a security officer must posses, practice makes perfect.