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Faces of Security: Jim Sawyer from Seattle Children’s Hospital

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Faces of Security, a new Q&A series that outlines industry experts in various sectors. For our first profile, we’re at Comprehensive Security Consultant She chose to focus on a sector hard hit by the ongoing pandemic: healthcare.

Jim Sawyer

However, Jim Sawyer, director of security at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has a lot more to talk about than just COVID-19. With over 45 years in the profession, Jim is passionate about all things security, and isn’t afraid to tackle controversial topics like politics and climate change. His responses below are insightful, refreshing, and even entertaining. (His answer linking gun control to “rabid bobcat butt” is easily the best quote of my entire career.)

As Seattle’s longtime director of child security, Jim oversees the safety of pediatric patients and thousands of workers at what has been identified as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals. He is a certified teacher of Nonviolent Crisis Intervention (NCI) and a member of the Washington State Crime Prevention Association, ASIS, and the International Association for Health Care Safety and Security (IAHSS). Holds CPP and CHPA certifications.

Jim has taught classes throughout Washington state for law enforcement, schools, businesses, and other organizations. He also directs ongoing lessons for Seattle Children’s employees about workplace violence and personal safety, including a women’s indoor self-defense course. In 2019, he received the Ken Feldman Award for Diversity in Hospital.

Well, without further ado, this is Jim…

How did you get started in this field?

I was studying criminal justice at Shoreline Community College in Washington, and the program allowed recruiters to contact students in attendance. I took advantage of that and began my career in healthcare security in July 1976 – the year Jimmy Carter was elected president. It was an unforgettable trip.

Who has been/was your biggest influence in the industry?

Collectively, I should say both IAHSS and NCI certificate programs. These two entities stress the enormous and growing importance of training, customer service, verbal de-escalation, and the urgent need for genuine and honest teamwork, and they affirm, advocate and ultimately certify them.

What was your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

My best mistake was to develop enterprise-wide environmental risk assessments and allocate the completion of these surveys to a large group of stakeholders. Surveys are of great importance, and there was a need to ask. I corrected this error by assigning program and survey completion criteria to one good supervisor. This makes all the difference; Having a high-quality, reliable staff member to oversee, organize and maintain the program and allow them to coordinate its implementation versus allocating the program to a large group where ownership is not clearly defined. My mistake was delegation and clarity, which, once corrected, made a huge impact.

What are the biggest security issues in your organization? Are there any unique challenges (or advantages) compared to some other organizations?

For health care, the biggest challenges involve every aspect of violence prevention.

Hospitals face daunting challenges, including the massive and unprecedented rise in the number of mental health patients. There was a time when I would see one or two patients contemplating suicide come through our emergency department once a week. Now it is not uncommon to see 25 a day. It is indisputable that this increase in mental health indicates greater and perhaps even greater challenges to the nation. For hospital/healthcare security planners, this is a constant challenge that will serve us well in the next decade.

Another issue and challenge is the growing reality of armed violence. On average, 61 people would commit suicide with a weapon. Every day, approximately 342 people, including at least eight women, are shot through domestic violence. More than 70% of shooters in the workplace are disgruntled and employees are angry, and gun sales have soared to levels nationwide never seen before. These numbers are narcotic, if not devastating, and these facts pose serious challenges to security planners. Also add to this the facts and uncertainties related to the COVID pandemic and the growing realities of the new variables. One can see that the challenges facing hospitals are stark and unwavering.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you work? Have the priorities changed? Have you taken any specific steps to address health and security issues?

COVID-19 changed the world. As one seasoned scholar noted, “Humanity is an emerging gateway, and how we will emerge has not yet been determined.” We look to a future with daunting, if not endless, challenges – variables, climate catastrophe, international upheaval, political upheaval, to name a few. Test for COVID-19 and continue to test security professionals. The issues are many and varied. They include entry screening, COVID testing, mask compliance, emergency interventions, de-escalation of people in crises, addressing mental health bulges, working with people who deny the science and reality of COVID, and the understandable tensions and fears people feel when facing an enduring and multifaceted COVID pandemic. .

At Seattle Kids, we emphasized safe screening, empathy, de-escalation, and the ability to respond quickly. The only thing I feel is that we’ll never go back or go back to “the way things were” – we still have to get out of the gate. The challenges will continue unabated.

What is your favorite part of working in the industry? What was your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

My favorite part of working in the industry is seeing the profession’s growth, rise, and evolution. I have already met some of the best and brightest security profession I have seen and been fortunate to see develop over the course of 46 years. There are some outstanding and exceptional people in the profession, and having the opportunity to work with them – and in some cases, help advance their careers – is an honor.

My least favorite part, at least to me, was the perception, vision, or stereotype that many people had (or still have) that security officers and line staff are rangers who probably have Jurassic DNA, who might smell monkey poo but theirs A place to stop fights etc. Fortunately, this perception waned and the emergency situation and the evolution of the profession continued to grow and evolve.

How can corporate leaders make security a value within their organization?

Company leaders need and must make security an integral partner and participant in organizational processes. To say this is essential is an understatement. The organization’s safety team will help stamp out violence, bullying, and shrinkage—just the tip of the iceberg, if you will. The role of security cannot be underestimated or isolated. To ensure optimal contributions from security teams, company leaders need to place teams strategically so that their role is without doubt and their voices are always heard. The benefits here include, but are not limited to, a safe, therapeutic and violence-free environment.

Where is the industry headed in five years? Do you see any major trends?

The security industry needs to contend with the growing realities of US gun violence. This is not a gun control argument. I’d rather shave a dry, hydrophobic Bobcat into a closet-footage with a box cutter than discuss gun control. However, the increase in domestic guns and historical political polarization suggest, if not confirm, that gun violence will only get worse and that this damned, avoidable tragedy will challenge security planners to an extent never seen before.

Our industry also needs to face the growing realities of climate catastrophe/climate change head-on. Some security planners will ignore or marginalize this issue. However, this is insane and foolish if you will. One of the Knights of the Apocalypse, a man-made climate change, has been unleashed. Security professionals need to address planning to face the weather crisis head-on, and become active advocates for climate change mitigation. Anything less than that is detrimental to the profession.

What are you most proud of?

What I am most proud of is promoting a “zero accidents” vs. “zero tolerance” culture. Zero Incidents emphasizes and advocates optimal customer service and de-escalation best practices, the best violence prevention strategy ever developed. By accrediting Zero Accidents, the organization has the ability to have a safe remedial work environment for all and, in my opinion, this is the ultimate goal and achievement of modern security professionals.

Do you have any advice for those entering the profession?

My advice to those entering the profession is “Go for it!” Some ideas include:

  • Be a wholesale advocate of “zero accidents” and the science of de-escalation;
  • Quest for certifications! CPP is the Holy Grail, if you will, but you have to do it! consider each IAHSS certification;
  • Join – become a member of ASIS, IAHSS and your regional crime prevention associations;
  • Study the science of CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design); And
  • Acknowledging the stark realities and challenges facing us as a nation and as a people – gun violence, political polarization, environmental and climate catastrophe, record levels of both income inequality and homelessness, to name a few.

Finally, acknowledge the integrity and importance of your profession. accept it. There is no limit to what you can do.

Do you want to add anything else?

I recommend the participation of security professionals, that is to say, political participation. I’ve heard some sorrow that as a profession we should never become ‘political’. Are we kidding? Rome is already burning, and security professionals are taking a front row seat in humanitarian affairs, which, if left unchecked, could turn disastrous. These issues that we can and must embrace and engage in include, but are not limited to, climate disasters, the rise in gun violence, racial inequality, the mental health crisis, and the painful realities of income inequality.

What profession is best equipped to provide reasoned feedback on these issues? The ‘engagement’ of security professionals here is not to cross any ‘lines’ but in fact they are embracing a centuries-old concept that we all claim to support; One is called “Democracy”. To this end, we as a profession can make a positive, desired and yes, positive difference.

Jim Sawyer will host Comprehensive Security Consultant Webinar on Tuesday, December 14, “Hard Targeting Your Workplace – Violence Prevention Strategies”. More information and free registration is available here.


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