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Security in Lockdown: Best Practice for Risk Mitigation

03 June 2020

THE CORONAVIRUS crisis has done more than any other event in memory to demonstrate the multi-faceted nature of modern security services. As Darren Read explains, members of dedicated security teams are also performing a crucial customer-facing role as greeters or receptionists, often providing those vital first impressions in clients’ buildings.

COVID-19 has put security firmly in the spotlight. Since lockdown began on Monday 23 March, it has been one of the few key services working non-stop to keep the public safe and the country’s wheels turning. As the UK Government now starts to ease restrictions, security professionals will also be responsible for managing many of the new social distancing measures necessary for re-opening public spaces and working environments.

Back in early March, we knew that we had to act quickly. Our leadership team could see how the situation was developing on the continent and within countries such as Italy and Spain. Lockdown was coming. Amulet’s parent company, namely the Churchill Group, formed a COVID-19 Working Party to determine how the Coronavirus would impact our clients and what steps we could take to support them during this period.

As a security provider, it was our job to develop pre-emptive risk assessments for thousands of customer sites, duly identifying how building closures or reduced occupancy would affect their security as well as the areas where we could potentially move from a security guarding-focused service to one protecting buildings via remote monitoring and ensure appropriate response mechanisms were in place if required.

Necessarily, part of Amulet’s business continuity planning process was to prepare for possible staff shortages, but the commitment of our teams to carry on with their roles has been incredible.

Dealing with lockdown

The Coronavirus crisis has done more than any other event in memory to demonstrate the multi-faceted nature of modern security services. For years, we have argued that the stereotype of security officers as big and burly individuals is reductive and outdated. Today, our members of staff also perform a crucial customer-facing role as greeters or receptionists, often providing those crucial first impressions in our clients’ buildings.

It has taken an unprecedented nationwide lockdown to hammer that point home, though. Over the past few months, many of our team members have stepped into Front of House roles while our end user customers operate with a skeleton staff. Those same officers have also had to enforce the social distancing rules at sites which house other key workers and for organisations that have set up a rota that allows employees to collect equipment or personal belongings without breaking any rules.

For buildings that were left vacant almost overnight, the right security service depends on the needs of the organisation in question. Some sites need a limited, but nevertheless constant security guarding service. Providing a physical presence in this way serves an effective deterrent, especially so for opportunists who may view lockdown as a chance to steal goods or cause damage.

A physical presence alone isn’t always the safest, most efficient or effective option. Amulet’s own risk assessments in the run-up to lockdown showed many customers, and particularly so those with multiple sites, that a combination of tech-led remote monitoring and security guarding would keep their sites secure. All footage from Amulet’s CCTV cameras feeds back to our Command, Control and Intelligence Centre monitored by trained and licensed operators who capture suspicious or criminal activity and raise the alarm with on-site personnel, Amulet’s mobile response team or the relevant authorities.

Back to work

The UK’s lockdown restrictions are now beginning to ease, of course. People who are unable to transact their jobs from home have been told to return to work. The Government also plans for all non-essential retail shops to reopen from the middle of June, yet the expectation is that the process will be gradual and social distancing must continue wherever possible.

To this end, the Government has published specific guidance for employers, employees and the self-employed on how to work safely during the Coronavirus pandemic. Organisations are advised to review their layouts and process to help maintain social distancing. Suggestions include creating one-way lanes in areas such as corridors and limiting the number of people who are allowed in a building or on separate floors at any one time.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also released its own guidance on working safely during the pandemic with further advice around travelling to and leaving work, moving around and communicating with fellow members of staff. One of the HSE’s suggestions is to stagger arrival and exit times to ensure that lobbies and tight spaces such as stairwells do not become overcrowded. Another is to permit only essential trips through buildings, which is highly likely to be a totally new experience for many employees.

For its part, Amulet is already working closely with customers in this respect, performing further risk assessments to see which measures fit their unique demands as well as ensuring that they understand their responsibilities and that their employees adhere to the new rules. Security teams have an opportunity to take the lead in the coming months and cement their place as essential business partners by providing clients with peace of mind during what has the potential to be an unfamiliar, stressful and confusing period.

With non-essential retail soon set to open, shops will need to apply similar social distancing measures to ensure their visitors’ safety. Those in charge of these spaces will need to strike an even finer balance between safety and customer service. This is especially true for high-end boutique stores where footfall may be a lot lower, but customers’ expectations will be sky high. Security officers will need to make quick and considered judgements on whether customers pose a significant risk. Understandably, face masks are often an unwelcome sight in high-end retail shops.

Stopping the spread

The Government also expects employers to introduce appropriate hygiene and healthcare protocols. As the first point of contact in buildings and public sites, security officers will be responsible for administering temperature checks. It’s likely that anyone who registers a temperature above 38.5°C will be denied access.

Amulet is already providing clients with a simple handheld temperature scanning solution that enables a steady one-at-a-time flow of entry. However, for those sites with high footfalls, such as train stations, schools and offices in city centres, cameras can be installed which use thermal imaging technology to measure the temperature of up to 40 people at once. Security personnel on the ground can then escort anyone showing a high temperature away from the crowd.

We also expect face visors to become a common site in public and at work over the coming months. Every one of our front line members of staff has now been equipped with a full plastic face visor and is required to wear it while on duty, together with personal protective equipment (PPE) whenever appropriate. It’s understandable that some might think plastic visors are excessive for small sites, but this is where a strong relationship with customers and good communication are so beneficial. Ensuring that they’re on board will make it easier to communicate the new security protocols to all building occupants in the long run.

Depending on the sector in which they operate, customers will also have different expectations around PPE. The rail organisations that Amulet works with are naturally more risk-averse and would expect their front line service teams to wear PPE. Corporate offices, however, may have an altogether different reaction.

Nevertheless, as a public-facing service provider, we must do everything that’s reasonably practical in order to minimise the risk of transmission. More importantly, we have a Duty of Care to keep our security officers safe. Their commitment over the past three months has been absolutely outstanding.

Training our teams

The most dramatic change to life in the UK for 80 years demands big changes in terms of how security providers operate. Anyone who is provided with PPE, for example, must complete training on how to wear it and be fully aware of the risks involved.

Beyond this, however, we recognise a genuine need to ensure that our people have the tools, knowledge and skills at their fingertips to navigate an extremely difficult time in which emotions will run high and tempers may fray. Our teams are being trained to cope in this new environment and, specifically, in proportionality. Over the coming months, they will need to balance the enforcement of new rules with the potentially huge risks to public health, ll within a situation that has no precedent. Security officers, for example, will need to use all of their experience to handle negative reactions and exercise common sense in certain situations where social distancing becomes impossible.

Coronavirus is a constantly moving crisis. The Government’s guidance, as well as the measures that service providers put in place following that advice, is subject to change. There is still a great deal of uncertainty around the risks of transmission, the rate of transmission, the possibility of a vaccine and the likelihood of a second wave of the virus in the winter.

If the latter happens, will the Government implement another lockdown that forces organisations to shift their property strategies once again?

All of this means that security providers now need to work as closely as they can with their customers over the coming months in continuing to assess the risks and formulating detailed plans. Doing so will guarantee that security remains front and centre of the country’s efforts to defeat COVID-19.

Darren Read is Managing Director at Amulet (https://www.amulet.co.uk/)