All buildings in capital must have guards, says ministry

Private security guards will eventually have to be stationed outside every building in Abu Dhabi, from small apartment blocks to factories.

October 28, 2009 / Abu Dhabi / Nashat Hemdan a instructor with The National Security Institute teaches students basic fire fighting training in Khalifa City A October 28, 2009.   (Sammy Dallal / The National)

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ABU DHABI // Private security guards will eventually have to be stationed outside every building in the capital, from small apartment blocks to sprawling factories, the Ministry of Interior has ordered. Col Ahmed al Hantoubi, the director of the private security business department at the ministry, said a federal law to that effect was introduced in 2008 to improve the response to safety and security hazards, but is only now being enforced for large non-residential buildings, such as factories and banks.

Ultimately, he said, all buildings would have to follow suit, and enforcement would start in Abu Dhabi. "It will take a long time, so we are focusing now on instilling in people the culture of safety and security, to encourage them to train watchmen. Enforcing the law will depend on how successful our awareness efforts are, because it is complicated and will involve a lot of sectors," he said. "Surely if there is a security guard, it will be better for buildings. A security guard will be well-trained and can deal with fires, crimes. They know how to report them, to control the fire, provide information on the crime or how to step up to help.

"In the Ministry of Interior, we are fully convinced that a security guard is better than the current watchman. Watchmen are merely doing maintenance and cleaning. He doesn't have basic training on security and safety, especially for large buildings." Some watchmen said it would be unfair to add to their duties, and were worried they would be replaced rather than retrained. Mohammed Hamdi, 27, a watchman from Egypt, who works at a building near Al Wahda Mall, said having a security guard was "impractical". He said although he tried hard to monitor who entered the building, it was not always possible because he had to deal with other things.

"The other issues are part of my job," Mr Hamdi said. "It is difficult, for cultural considerations, to practise access control on the building. Tenants always have guests and large numbers of them. It is considered rude to stop someone and ask them where they are going." If the law is fully enforced, he said, he would get training in private security and continue with his job - or find work elsewhere.

"I assume landlords would provide training for us, not just abandon us for other people," he said. Col al Hantoubi said the first step, under way now, was informing landlords about the new requirements. Most were unprepared to deploy private security guards, he said. Security experts believe the law will lead to safer buildings and, ideally, a greater sense of security for people living and working in them.

Abu Mahmoud, 36, from Algeria, who works in the safety industry, said the change could specifically improve fire safety in the capital. He said it was important for buildings to have a trained security officer not only to act in an emergency but also to reassure people that they were safe. "It is key to have someone who is qualified to act wisely in the event of fire. Buildings should have safety equipment, but they should also have someone who could actually use them," Mr Mahmoud said. "In addition to the private security guard, buildings should also have someone who oversees maintenance in those buildings. Having a private security guard serves as a reassurance to people that their building is under qualified and trained hands."

Abu Ramzi, a 38-year-old engineer from Egypt, said having a private security guard in front of the building in which he lives would solve some issues. For instance, he said, there is a flat where young men act "indecently" by bringing women into the building. "Most of the tenants of the building are families, and what [the young men] do is against the law," Mr Ramzi said. "The watchman is mostly doing other tasks, such as taking care of the lift, cleaning or helping tenants fix things in their flat.

"I think a security officer would prevent those young people from disrespecting other tenants." Under current regulations, private security guards are not allowed to do any non-security work during their shifts. Prof Peter Darcy, the chief executive of the National Security Institute (NSI), said the regulation aimed to keep officers more focused on security tasks. "In the past, guards used to do other jobs in addition to their security job. Now if the police find a guard doing other jobs, they fine them," Prof Darcy said.

The NSI was set up in 2001 by the Ministry of Interior to serve as an oversight body for private security in the country. In February 2009, the ministry decided that all security companies must have an operating licence and send their staff for training at NSI.