Safeguarding Virginia's Colonial Past

By McDaniel, Danny | Security Management, July 1994 | Go to article overview

Safeguarding Virginia's Colonial Past


McDaniel, Danny, Security Management


AN OPEN-AIR MUSEUM IS like a bank that keeps its assets outside for everyone to see. The flagship pieces in Colonial Williamsburg's museum collection are eighty-eight original eighteenth-century buildings scattered over a 174-acre site. Intermingled are more than 200 other buildings, many reconstructed on their original foundations, which as a whole, recreate Virginia's colonial capital.

Structures include restored homes, rented to employees, exhibition buildings, historic trade shops, offices, retail shops, restaurants, and hotel facilities. The exhibition and historic trade buildings house an unequaled collection of antique furnishings and decorative arts, while the commercial buildings generate money to offset the museum's annual operating budget.

Surrounding the town are other facilities owned and operated by Colonial Williamsburg, including four hotels, nine restaurants, maintenance and hotel support facilities, a retail shopping area, office buildings, three museums, and a rental property area. In the surrounding county, Colonial Williamsburg owns other support facilities, as well as 3,000 acres of undeveloped land. Seven miles away, on the James River, is another of its properties, Carter's Grove, an eighteenth-century plantation that is one of the ten most frequently visited open-air museums in the country.

Finally, add to this sprawling collection of buildings a population of 3,500 employees, about one million paid visitors per year, and another two million who come to walk around the town, which does not require payment of any fee. Overseeing this conglomerate of people, collections, and facilities--the largest open-air living history museum in the country--is the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Personnel. The security department in an open-air museum like Colonial Williamsburg is a jack of all trades. More than three million visitors bring at least that many problems. The security department is a mobile problem-solving force. Security officers find lost children or lost parents, reunite lost objects with rightful owners, control crowds, direct traffic, and patrol.

Colonial Williamsburg's security staff includes armed, sworn, uniformed, and plainclothes officers, unarmed museum security officers, and communications officers. The security officers have many of the same responsibilities as municipal police officers, except that crime prevention and visitor service, rather than criminal investigations and arrests, are the main focus of their work.

Uniformed officers at Colonial Williamsburg are sworn as conservators of the peace and have jurisdiction over all Colonial Williamsburg property. They patrol assigned areas and respond to calls for service, much like police officers. The officers drive marked patrol cars and have radios and other equipment common to police officers.

Hotel security officers and the department's investigator are armed and sworn but wear business suits. Hotel security officers serve dual roles, working both as security patrols and as investigators in Colonial Williamsburg's four hotels. They are responsible for investigating reports of missing guest property, employee theft, and embezzlement, as well as disputes involving credit card vouchers and guest checks. Investigative activities are coordinated by the department's investigator, while patrol functions are coordinated by the on-duty security shift supervisor.

Museum security officers at Colonial Williamsburg are not sworn and are unarmed. They provide security in two of the site's more traditional museums, the Abby Alridge Rockefeller Folk Art Center and the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. Museum security staff patrol designated areas in the museums; monitor electronic protection systems; and enforce access control and gallery protection policies.

Communications officers, also not sworn and unarmed, work in the department's central station. Communications officers control the department's radio system, dispatch officers on calls for service, answer and respond to the department's administrative and emergency telephones, operate me central alarm monitoring computer, and monitor a CCTV system with more than thirty-five cameras. …

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