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Introduction to Guard Tour Systems



Many companies hire security officers to provide protection of company facilities on twenty-four hour, seven day per week basis. One important duty of these officers is to provide periodic patrols of the facility to detect suspicious and abnormal activity, including doors left unlocked, burned out lights, water leaks, safety hazards, and other such conditions. In an industrial facility, the officer’s duties may also include checking various types of machinery to observe temperature readings or pressure settings.


To get maximum value from the security officer, it is essential that the officer make patrols according to established procedures. In general, patrols should be made at least several times per shift, and should cover all important areas of the facility. Many times, the person managing the security program will establish a patrol route or “tour” that includes stops at all the important points that the security officer needs to check. Depending on the size of the facility, there may be several different tours, each which includes different areas of the plant. The officer usually alternates between tours, doing one tour during the first hour, and a different tour during the second hour, and so on throughout the shift. In this way, all important areas of the facility are checked at least every two hours.


During many shifts, security officers may work alone and with very little or no supervision. Sometimes, security officers want to remain at their posts and don’t want to go on patrol. This can be particularly tempting at times when the weather is bad and going on patrol means going out in the cold or rain. Even when officers do go on patrol, there may be certain portions of the tour that are difficult to access or that require that a large number of stairs be climbed. There can be a tendency for officers to skip these portions of the tour much of the time.


“Guard Tour” systems have been developed to solve these problems. In general, guard tour systems record the activities of the security officers to determine if officers are making their tours when they should, and to verify that they are covering all portions of their tour.


The use of a guard tour system provides two important benefits. First, if officers know that their activities are being recorded, there is a strong motivation for them to follow the rules and make patrols the way that they are supposed to. Second, the guard tour system provides a written record of all patrol activities, allowing discrepancies in patrol procedures to be quickly identified. Appropriate disciplinary actions can be taken against officers who fail to comply with established procedures. The written record provided by the guard tour system can also be used for incident investigation and as proof of patrol activities for insurance companies or regulatory agencies.


Types of Guard Tour Systems


There are three basic types of guard tour systems in use:


Watchman’s Clock System


The “watchman’s clock” is the oldest type of guard tour system in use and has been around since the middle of the 19th Century. The watchman’s clock is a circular device about eight-inches in diameter and has an analog clock face on the front of it. The watchman’s clock is usually provided in a leather carrying case with shoulder strap which allows it to be carried by the security officer when on patrol. Inside of the watchman’s clock is a circular paper dial. This dial is printed with markings that indicate each of the 24 hours in the day.


At various points along the patrol route, “key stations” are installed. Each key station contains a large metal key that looks something like a skeleton key. Each key has a unique key number. The key is usually fastened to the key station using a metal chain to keep the key from being removed. The key station usually has a door that allows the key to be stored when not in use.


When on patrol, the security officer stops at each key station along the route, removes the key, and inserts it into the watchman’s clock. Doing this causes the key number to be printed on the paper dial located within the clock. The key number is printed next to the markings on the dial which indicate the present time. This provides a record of which keys were used and at what times.


At the end of each day, the paper dial is removed from the watchman’s clock and replaced with a new one. The paper dials can be examined by the security manager or supervisor to determine if patrols were completed on time and that all stops along the patrol route were properly made. The paper dials can be filed away to provide a long-term record of all patrol activity.


Advantages of Watchman's Clock System


  • Least expensive type of system

  • Simple and easy to use


Disadvantages of Watchman's Clock System


  • Limited number of key stations can be used in system (usually 30 or less)


  • Watchman’s clock is fairly large and bulky to carry


  • Paper dial must be changed every 24 hours


  • No ability to create automatic reports


  • No ability to provide incident codes to indicate abnormal conditions


  • Long term storage of paper dials can be a problem


  • Does not provide real-time reporting of officer’s activity


Electronic Guard Tour System


Electronic guard tour systems are similar in function to the watchman’s clock system except use electronic rather than mechanical components. An electronic data gathering device, called a “wand”, is used in place of the watchman’s clock. The physical shape of the wand varies depending on the manufacturer, but is usually a small hand-held device in the shape of a pen or small PDA. The wand is carried by the security officer when on patrol.


“Checkpoint stations” are used in place of key stations. These stations contain some type of device that can be read electronically and are used in place of the mechanical key. Depending on the manufacturer and type of system used, a barcode, magnetic strip, or memory button may be used in the checkpoint station. Like key stations, checkpoint stations are installed at various points along the desired patrol route.


When on patrol, the security officer stops at each checkpoint station and scans it using the wand. This causes the location of the station as well as the current time to be recorded in the wand. Most electronic systems also allow the security officer to make a record of any abnormal conditions found at or near the checkpoint station. For example, if a checkpoint station was located at a door, and this door was found unlocked when checked by the security officer, he or she could enter a code indicating that the door was found unsecured. Depending on the system, this code can be entered either on a keypad located on the wand itself, or by scanning the appropriate code in an “incident booklet” that is carried by the officer.


At the conclusion of the tour or at the end of each shift, the security officer places the wand into a “docking station”. This docking station is connected either to a printer or personal computer and is used to download information from the wand. If connected to a printer, all information concerning patrol activities can be immediately printed to create a written report. If connected to a computer, the information from the wand is downloaded into a computer database. This database can then be sorted and various types of activity reports can be displayed on the computer screen and/or printed.


Advantages of Electronic Guard Tour Systems

  • Wand is smaller and easier to carry than watchman’s clock

  • Large or unlimited number of checkpoint stations possible


  • Small size of checkpoint stations allows them to be placed almost anywhere


  • Provides ability to enter incident codes to indicate abnormal conditions found when on patrol


  • Much more complete and advanced reports can be created. Easier to identify missed stops and abnormal patrol activity


  • No need to store paper dials – system can store many months or years worth of activity on computer


  • No need to change paper dial every 24 hours – data is downloaded automatically when wand is placed in docking station


  • Ability to create random patrols with wand telling officer which checkpoint station is next on patrol route (some systems)


Disadvantages of Electronic Guard Tour Systems

  • More expensive than watchman’s clock system


  • Somewhat more complicated to use


  • Does not provide real-time reporting of officer’s activity


Integrated Guard Tour System


Many facilities already have an electronic security management system that is used to provide card access control, alarm monitoring, and closed-circuit television monitoring. At these facilities, it is possible to integrate the guard tour system with the security management system. This type of arrangement is known as an “integrated guard tour system”.


Integrated guard tour systems use card readers instead of key stations or checkpoint stations. Most often, existing card readers that are already used to control doors are also used as “guard tour” readers, allowing them to perform double duty. If needed, additional card readers can be installed at certain points where guard tour stations are needed and a reader doesn’t already exist.


Security officers do not need to carry any special type of equipment such as a watchman’s clock or wand. Instead, they can use a regular access card at the card readers set up as guard tour readers.


Special “guard tour” software is provided on the computer that controls the security management system. This software is programmed so that system knows which card readers are to be used as guard tour readers and which access cards will be used by the security officers.


When on patrol, the security officer stops at each location along the patrol route and swipes his or her access card at the card reader. This causes the time and location to be recorded into the guard tour software. At any time, a report can be created that shows all guard tour activity for any time period. This report can be displayed on a computer screen or printed to create a written report.


Advantages of Integrated Guard Tour Systems

  • No special equipment required – no need for officer to carry wand or watchman’s clock

  • Can use existing card readers as guard tour readers – no need to install special key stations or checkpoint stations


  • Much more complete and advanced reports can be created. Easier to identify missed stops and abnormal patrol activity


  • Provides real-time tracking of officer activity – missing a stop or performing a tour off-schedule or out of sequence can generate an immediate alert at the security monitoring center


  • Large or unlimited number of guard tour readers possible


Disadvantages of Integrated Guard Tour Systems

  • No ability to enter incident codes to indicate abnormal conditions found when on patrol (some systems)

  • The need to provide cabling to card readers sometimes makes it difficult to place a station in all locations where they might be needed (perimeter fence lines, inside vehicles, etc.)


  • Generally not cost effective if facility does not already have an extensive card access control system


Other Considerations

  • Make sure that key stations, checkpoint stations, or guard tour readers are located at the points that you wish the security officer to patrol. In general, stations should be located within the room that requires attention rather than just at the door. For example, if you have a freezer in a room that needs to be checked, it is best to place the station in the room near the freezer rather than on the entrance door to the room.

  • Provide an adequate number of stations. There is a tendency for some customers to be frugal when it comes to placing stations and often will only provide one or two within a very large building. The guard tour system provides maximum benefits when an adequate number of stations are widely placed throughout the buildings.


  • Don’t forget to provide stations at the perimeter of the site (along fence lines and at gates) as well as at critical equipment (generators, pump stations, etc.) located on the exterior of the property.


  • Make certain that security officers are trained to remain observant while on patrol and don't just travel from station to station. With a guard tour system, there can be a tendency for officers to be so focused on “hitting the stations” that they become oblivious to their surroundings.


  • The best guard tour system is worthless if it is not regularly monitored by the security manager or supervisor. If a contract security agency is used, both the customer and the security agency's site supervisor should have access to the reports created by the guard tour system.


The Latest Technology

New technology is being employed to enhance the capabilities of the basic guard tour system. New features that are already available include:

  • Ability to use standard smart phone as a guard tour device or even as a complete guard tour system.  Downloads as an "app" from an app store. Typically uses QR tags as checkpoints and scans these using camera in phone.

  • Built-in email and cell phone capability in guard tour device.


  • GPS integration to enable active and real-time tracking of security officers.


  • Built-in security incident reporting capability in guard tour device. Real-time status updates for all incidents.


  • Built-in equipment inspection reporting capability to automate things such as the inspection of fire extinguishers.


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