GRAHAM Murrell is a 54-year-old British entrepreneur who has enjoyed considerable success making Thailand a safer place to live and do business. The security company he helped establish in 1997, Risk Protection (Thailand), provides well-trained guards and sophisticated equipment for a wide range of clients, from embassies to jewelry manufacturers.
Risk Protection has about 500 staff, with Mr Murrell the only expatriate. “We are quite small in comparison to the ‘big boys,’ ” he says. “The equipment we use comes from all over the world. I get top-end stuff from Japan, the US, Germany, England, Israel and so on. Our clients depend on having a top-notch security system in place.”
The company has five divisions. One is security systems – CCTV, and access control. Another provides security guards. “We also have an investigation division – generally this means internal investigations. We put people into companies to find out who is stealing, who is selling drugs or whatever. It requires background checks. We also provide specialized technical services.
“When we started Risk Protection in 1997 the security systems market in Thailand was in its infancy. Not many people were doing it and very few had any real knowledge about how to do it, which meant zero competition. Therefore, business was phenomenal. Now there are a lot more competitors, but they aren’t necessarily any more knowledgeable.
“The last division isn’t security related – we offer maintenance for swimming pools. This came about because clients who want security for private homes often have a swimming pool.”
In the 1990s Mr Murrell was working in Hong Kong for a security company he described as a “global player.” He came to Bangkok to set up a security systems division for the company, and later decided to help set up Risk Protection according to international standards. This eventually grew into a full service security firm.
“A properly devised security system generally has four components: an alarm system; access control, which comes in various levels, from punching in a simple code to open a door to a software program designed to control hundreds of doors; CCTV; and central station monitoring.
“I estimate that in Bangkok alone there are 3,000 security companies, with six or eight big ones employing 200,000 to 300,000 guards. There are about 2,500 bank branches in Bangkok with guards. Every housing estate has guards, as do hotels, factories and so on. The industrial sector probably hires the most security guards.
“There’s a window dressing element to security in Thailand which has to change. A hotel which we will not name has guards at its car park entrance. When you come in they will ask you to open the boot and then search it with a metal detector. But what is the car made of? Metal. It’s just for show.
“Companies are already reducing budgets for manpower. Twenty or 30 years ago the number of guards in this hotel would be double, but the same hotel in England would have two or three guards who would be highly trained. They would have a security room with good communications and the guards would be patrolling. They wouldn’t be taking static positions as they usually do here.
“Our guards train in the compound of our company, normally for four days before they are sent to a site. We follow the standards of SITO, a security industry training organization. However, we had to re-write their manual to apply to Thailand. The guards also need onsite training because every assignment is different. We place a high level of importance on site-specific standing orders and procedures that our guards are obliged to follow.”
Mr Murrell strongly believes in giving women employment opportunities in his company because “they do a better job than men,” he said bluntly. “We have become dependent on female guards, especially during the daytime. They are more diligent, they know how to follow instructions and they are not so aggressive. Also, they can search men and women, whereas men can only search men.
“A big difficulty is that it doesn’t take long for a guard to become familiar with a staff member at a workplace, especially if, say, they come from the same village. For this reason some customers want guards to be rotated, but I don’t believe that’s the solution.
“I will give you a classic example. I had one guard, an inspector, working the night shift who was caught smoking drugs with a supervisor of the company the first night he worked there. They both came from the same village and for that reason they were best friends in five seconds. So in this case rotation wouldn’t have prevented the guard from ignoring his responsibility. What does work is proper screening and training of guards, and I am pleased to say that the type of incident I have described has been very rare in our company.
“Another problem in keeping a professional guard force is the high turnover. Generally those who take the position don’t intend to make it a career, although some guards do move up and become inspectors. My turnover averages four to six percent of the workforce per month. For some big companies it’s as high as 10 percent. So I have to go out and find 30-40 guards every month.
“With regard to weapons, every company has its own rules. In our company, we don’t allow our guards to have any weapon or constraining device on their person. By law only the police can make arrests. Guards are not even authorized to detain suspected wrongdoers. If they are on private property they can restrain to a level in which they aren’t causing any harm to the person being restrained. If we have, for example, an issue where someone is stealing, the company should call the police.
“Strangely, guards are allowed to carry handcuffs and batons but are not allowed to use them. They can use torches, data collectors and transceivers with frequencies the police allow them to use, but anything else is breaking the law. Some companies give their guards handcuffs and batons, but for us this is just show.”
“There is no question that the technology is improving all the time. The issue in Thailand is the integration of technology with human resources. The guards usually come from a rural background with little education or computer experience and sometimes they struggle to read and write. To expect someone like this to master a very highly engineered security system – it’s just not going to happen. Very rarely are the guard services coordinating with technical security systems in Thailand, which is usually the case in the West.
“We use some spying equipment, like cameras concealed in glasses. To use these devices in Thailand is legal, but to me they are really just toys. In Thailand you can own anything you want in regard to surveillance equipment. The legal issue is in how you use it. For example, this interview cannot be recorded without both of our consent.
“I don’t generally sell spy equipment, but if a customer needs it, we can get it. The equipment, for example, in MBK, is trash. When you go to use it the quality of the picture or sound is rubbish. Nobody is legally entitled to bug people. I do debugging for major corporations. We sweep the building and offices.
On the subject of security for embassies, Mr Murrell said: “Embassies will generally employ the services of manufacturers and agents from their respective countries. They don’t often use local agencies, although I do maintenance for several embassies in Bangkok involving low-end security systems. I mainly supply them with manpower. The embassies with the most extensive security in Bangkok are the Australian, US, UK and Israeli embassies, and some Middle-East countries have stringent security as well.”
“Risk Protection is more like a boutique company. We are very specialized, so I don’t get involved in trying to take on the big companies. But among the so-called top end companies there’s always cross fighting and competition. They outbid each other to the point where they can’t make any money.”
Mr Murrell stressed that he doesn’t offer a people tracking service. “I don’t accept cases that entail following someone’s girlfriend or spouse. When you start getting involved in family it becomes personal and not enjoyable. It can also be very dangerous. However, I have taken cases where clients asked me to track missing people, including kids, and found them.”
(Read the full interview with Mr Murrell online at