Interviews

Šárka Zamykalová: The security industry primarily needs more education

Published: 1. 7. 2022
Author: Lubor Winter
Photo: Photo archives of Šárka Zamykalová
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Security is a term that has recently been discussed ad infinitum in the civilized world. But plenty of Czech organizations are unable to create the conditions and environment necessary for the people who work in the industry. Where is the problem? That was one of the topics we discussed with security expert, Šárka Zamykalová.

How did you come to work in this field? The security industry is usually a male-dominated realm.

That would be my last name... [laughs] (Translator’s note: Zamykalová roughly translates to the one who locks) But yes, you are correct, security is usually viewed as more of a male-dominated industry, similar to other professions where a show of strength is necessary. But there have always been women working in security and there are more and more coming lately, which makes me happy. I believe that we can do just as good of a job as men do. My decision to work in this field was formed by several factors. First, it was my father who will forever be a big role model to me in both life and work. The many discussions we have had about security made me realize just how important of a job it is. The second decisive factor was my former employment. I worked in a prominent company specializing in cybersecurity, and the owners gave me the chance to get to know this domain from many different viewpoints. I have gained an array of valuable experience, which I am humbly grateful for. And the third factor is the nature of my personality. I like our country, and being able to make everyone here feel better and safer through my work just makes sense to me.

You have been working in the security industry for more than 15 years, gaining extensive experience from both the private and state sectors, in Czechia and Slovakia, which means you are qualified to assess the current situation. What are the main issues the industry is dealing with right now?

The biggest issue in security is the lack of prestige, meaning a low amount of appreciation from the public. I am certain that all the issues we have in the industry, whether they are pointed out by experts or laymen, stem from the fact that security has lost importance and gravity in the eyes of the public. People almost act as if being a security worker is a disease. I often see the leadership of different organizations view security as a necessary evil, something that needs doing but is just a nuisance. I even once came across a CEO of a prominent organization that I will not name who told me that they were, “Thinking of canceling the security department altogether.” That kind of approach speaks for itself.

Private security contractors, especially those working in property protection, are troubled by the low prices that their clients push on them. These companies are then unable to provide the quality of service they would like. It is simply impossible at such low prices. That is why some of them do not even sign up for tenders. Many clients do not realize that security requires a complex approach with regard to all potential risks that might arise for the entity in question. The outcome of this complex approach is the recommendation of the appropriate level of security, which then has to be subsequently paid for by the given client.

The state sector is plagued by staff shortages. The police are forced to motivate new hires by providing starting bonuses but even that is not having the desired effect. Why is that? Is being a policeman, not a respectable profession? I personally feel that this is also an issue of our society. The way certain people act towards the police nowadays is terrible. Not too long ago, we used to view policemen in a completely different light, we held them in high esteem. We would treat them with respect because we as a society were more acutely aware of the fact that they are professionals who uphold order, help and protect, and put their own lives on the line if it comes to that. That respect, that esteem has vanished in recent years.

What should be the criteria for selecting a security contractor? The Czech Association of Security Managers (CASM), for instance, reportedly keeps a catalog of model cases listing the appropriate price and level of quality for the different types of services.

Naturally, the choice always depends on the client’s specific security needs. There are certain general prerequisites, however, such as verifiable references, verifiable expertise of the provider, and their background. You mentioned one of the associations dealing with matters of security. It is not the only one, however. Besides CASM, there is the Association of Critical Infrastructure (ACI), National Association of Security Groups (NASG), Chamber of Commercial Security Enterprises (CCSE), Gremium Alarm Association (GAA), Czech Institute of Information Security Managers (CIISM), and others. All of these teams have experts who are well versed in these issues, often specializing in a specific aspect of security. I have had the honor of meeting some of them in person, I know the kind of work they do, and I can say that if they release some sort of educational materials in this field, they will certainly contain relevant information.

What importance do Czech companies and institutions assign to security?

I’ve touched on that a little bit already. In general, they certainly do not think it is as important as I believe it should be. The way our society does things nowadays, though, is to deal with issues only once they arise. The emphasis should be put on prevention instead. Different exceptional events of recent times clearly prove that the cost of the damage caused by insufficient security is often orders of magnitude higher than if the damaged company had paid to adequately protect and secure its operations, property, and employees. In the most serious cases, the item of highest value is truly at stake – human life.

Security managers are often placed on wildly varying levels in the organizational structures of different businesses and institutions. Where would they ideally go?

A manager responsible for organizational security should be outside of the regular chain of command, reporting directly to high management, meaning the executive authority. The management should personally pick the security manager because the trust between these two parties is the cornerstone of a successful collaboration. High management should also provide the security manager with the appropriate tools to effectively do their job. While the manager, on the other hand, should be fully responsible for the domain they are entrusted with.

How close to this ideal state are Czech organizations?

Not close at all, unfortunately. There certainly are organizations where this setup is optimal but those are mostly found in the private sector. Companies there realize just how important it is to protect their assets and are willing to allocate the appropriate resources for security.

The Bill on Private Security Services has been in the works for many years now. Is it really necessary? Or rather, what exactly should it entail?

That is a very popular topic. This bill has been in the draft stage for almost 15 years while the proposed text has changed many times. The current political situation was always reflected in the updates, however. I feel that drafting a bill means you have to take into consideration the different needs and understand them well, keep in mind actual practical processes, and draw on deep expertise. Based on the discussions I have had with a number of experts, some of which are actively participating in drafting this bill, I am unsure whether this legislation will end up being the ultimate tool to solve all of the fundamental issues the security industry has… I am certain that we can help cultivate the environment in many other ways. For instance, by picking contractors based on the quality of their work, not just the lowest price. Or by educating people and appealing to the authorities to help the security industry regain its gravity and prestige.

In a past interview, you mentioned the synergy between the state and private sectors in terms of security. Could you elaborate?

All societies evolve over time and the different sectors should be ready to adapt to this development. In the security industry, according to certain statistical analyses, the private security sector employs more people than the Police of the Czech Republic. This means that private security entities play a vital part in the general security of our country. I am certain that a more extensive collaboration would benefit both sides and help us reach a goal that is important for the entire society – a higher level of security in Czechia.

Do you think that is possible?

People in our industry, no matter if they are from the private or state sector, feel this need. On the other hand, the majority of them see it as “charging at windmills,” so they see no reason to spend time dealing with it. I refuse to admit that something is impossible. Even though I realize that it is a marathon that will require a ton of systematic work and effort. I would compare it to building bridges. A well-constructed bridge will last centuries. The more such bridges we build, the better for both sides. And naturally, we also need to maintain these bridges. If you see cracks, you have to fix them right away. For that, you need a skilled team with experience in building and fixing bridges and you have to arm them with the right tools for the job.

Is there a specific aspect of the security industry that you take particular interest in?

Everyone specializes in something, which is how it should be. Security is a varied, extensive, and ultimately complex industry overlapping with many other fields. Even though I specialize in physical and digital security and everything that entails, I have been shifting more and more towards the aforementioned education. I am certain that it is education that ultimately leads to a higher level of overall security. And it is something I plan to work on in the future as well.

CV BOX

Šárka Zamykalová M.Sc. (born August 28, 1983, in Prague) is an independent security expert.

She graduated in general nursing from The Secondary Technical School in Prague and later earned a degree from the St. Elisabeth University of Medicine and Social Services in Bratislava.

She has been working in the security industry for over 15 years. She has gained security experience as a specialist in the private and public sectors in both Czechia and Slovakia. She specializes in physical and technological security as well as security education.

She lives by the creed: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” “Besides that, I am also of the conviction that life should be enjoyed, not just lived,” she adds.

A photo captured at the conference on procurement in the fields of property, staff and information security, and quality of service providers, hosted by the CASM on February 27, 2020, on the premises of the Chamber of Deputies

Bill

The Ministry of Interior is currently finalizing the different articles of the Bill on Private Security Services. The government should then discuss this bill that regulates the private security service industry by September at the latest. “Seeing as there are thousands of private security agencies and no set of rules to regulate them, this new bill is a necessary measure, one which we have worked on with great intensity,” says Martin Linhart, director of the Department of Security Policy, who is in charge of managing the Ministry’s efforts concerning this piece of legislation. The bill should feature a separation of private security services into five different categories – staff and property protection, private investigator services, transport of cash and valuables, digital services for staff and property protection, and security consulting services. The Bill should also outline the conditions for obtaining a license to run such agencies, which will be issued by the Ministry of Interior. The conditions for security agency staff to be considered fit for duty will also be amended – expertise, health fitness, or reliability, for instance.


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