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Re-Imaging Security in the Face of Pandemic

Author: Alan F. Greggo

What challenges and opportunities have emerged for security professionals?  For security sectors?

The first challenge is how to keep thousands of employees safe from an unseen enemy like a virus. Especially in the early stages of an event where we don’t have enough information about the virus strain we will be protecting our people from. This pandemic may be the first of many in an era where influencers included climate change, terrorism and social media, three influencers that weren’t prevalent during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

As businesses open their doors after being closed for a few months, what will the new normal look like?  Security leaders, operations, crisis managers, HR and legal teams involved in planning, or at least supporting the planning led by executive management, must start with a new set of parameters set by the CDC, state government or both.

  • Opening the business at 50% or even 20% of normal capacity to ensure social distancing.
  • Movement of seating, desks and conferencing chairs to 6 feet apart or more.
  • Enforcing staggered shifts to ensure continuity should one shift become ill with the virus.
  • Ensuring employees use masks and are trained how to use masks if they are mandated.
  • Adding signage for visitors and customers at the doors to post precautions that the business is taking and reminders about social distancing. Even signs on the floor where customers tend to gather showing 6 feet apart.
  • Enabling cleaning and sanitizing at all hours, when the business is open and deeper cleaning after hours, if that’s possible
  • Determining how to test people before work each day; whether temperature testing, verbal testing, buddy system testing
  • Adding more precautions if someone is tested positive for the virus.
  • Limiting or avoiding travel and finding solutions virtually; example Zoom and Teams.
  • Work from home becomes a standard that it has not been in the past.
  • There are more steps to a new normal and some will not go away post pandemic.

There is potential for more civil unrest because of decisions or overreach by governments. The challenge is fueled by disinformation, panic and fear of the unknown.  While the information available through health and government websites like the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization is guided by science and the most accurate, the general public can be swayed by social media and political news that may be inaccurate. Pre-election, there have been reports of disinformation being strategically placed by Russia, China or even homegrown terrorist organizations.  People hoarding toilet paper doesn’t make a lot of sense as response to a pandemic without the consideration of panic and not knowing how to cope with the problem. It’s a response that allows them to feel a false sense of security in uncertain times.

For security personnel, learning how to work virtually, even from home, without the benefit of travel to locations within their purview to virtually be effective internationally. Using a collaborative tool like Zoom, Teams, Skype can allow a security professional to hold meetings, address a whole building at once, take a virtual facilities tour, and even conduct a virtual audit. There is a whole world of technology out there to use

Do we have any security sponsored credentials for pandemic crisis response? If not, is pandemic planning part of the many credentialing preparation and testing schemes?

Have new security-related needs emerged?  Do we anticipate others have been rendered obsolete?

We need to monitor our supply levels for PPE to ensure we have what’s needed to supply ourselves for a period of three to six months. We need to have sourcing vendors set up that don’t rely on foreign producers.

We need to be able to protect uninhabited sites remotely when stay at home orders go into effect. Considerations for assessing the assets being protected from risks: Do we use security officers, remote video, alarm systems?  What if security officers can’t take public transportation and can’t get to the work site for duty? Are our buildings well enough protected to survive attempted burglaries, looting or habitation by homeless persons?

Not all companies are interconnected with global security operations centers to aid with monitoring, and response to emergencies. Today’s IOT world takes that a step further with Virtual Security Operations Centers (VSOC). This operation still monitors facilities through alarms, video, access controls, and goes further to be predictive of upcoming threats so we know about them before they occur. For example in an emerging epidemic of a virus the VSOC is monitoring intelligence gathered through social media, news sources, a partnership with companies in the affected area to use predictive models to alert corporate leadership to the emergence of the epidemic and more developed pandemic so preparation and initial mitigation steps can take place. For instance cutting back all non-essential travel, cancelling large international gatherings, and engaging a crisis management team within that corporation well before government starts mandating controls. Then, once government mandates are made to sort out what needs to be done by the business.


What are anticipated to be the top 5 security concerns that emerge as the world recovers from COVID-19?

Concerns include:

  • Re-emergence of the virus in a more devastating form that first experienced. If your company has implemented ESRM for mitigating threats, you know how important the re-evaluation phase is to improve the threat assessment and mitigation cycle. The time for re-evaluation of the pandemic response by any company should be now, not the end of the pandemic. We’re not going to remember the details at some point when we think this is over. Keep a list of what’s working and what’s not for the duration so revisions can be made and implemented at intervals while the plan is still in effect.
  • Emergence of public discord and rebellion against government efforts to contain and control. Citizens were willing to go along with the government mandates the first time around. However, given the economic shock and unemployment experienced will create plenty of opportunity for protests, civil disobedience even to the point of rioting and looting.
  • Violent crime coming to a workplace near you; Many cities have reported murder rates have increased during the stay at home phase of Covid 19 pandemic. Domestic violence is as robust as ever given that family members are in close proximity consistently. Once business start the opening process after months of shelter in place, violence may well spill over into the workplace, may follow employees to work. We must continue to be vigilant as ever regarding workplace violence, including active attacker episodes.
  • Fraud is a concern because the economy takes a big hit during the months of non-essential business being closed and laying off employees. Research studies have occurred on why white-collar crime occurs. Without having the space to explain in greater details, the feeling of entitlement may cause an increase in fraud against employers. Retail columns have been predicting an avalanche of organized retail crime once the door open. ORC is driven by demand by fencing operations and with many retailers closed, fencer’s orders haven’t been getting filled as well.
  • Supply chain management to enable employees to remain safe from production or shipping lines that traditionally see larger groups of employees in confined areas for longer periods of time.


As a profession, what previous practices should we resist returning to, even though 'gravity' may try to pull us back?

It is easy to become complacent about some of the threats we assess and plan for like pandemics because, in the past, they have been infrequent. Security practitioners tend to focus their attention on the risks that are prevalent in the day to day business and that cost us the most to the bottom line. For example, we mitigate destruction of property, burglary, theft and fraud because there is a cost associated with those losses that are easily measured by the business.

We also have strength in crisis planning for workplace violence, disruptive customers and weather emergencies like hurricanes. Those risks that cause a loss of life and cost to the bottom line.  Pandemic occurrences occur less frequently and haven’t always been as deadly as this strain of virus. Many of our pandemic plans, if they existed, were dusty and not perfected. I can see gravity pulling us back to where we are comfortable, if one can be comfortable planning for violence and destruction. We have to force ourselves to also plan for the less exciting epidemic or pandemic. They may very well become a more frequent reality for us in the short run.

Resist returning to travel as usual, especially internationally, until the pandemic is either well controlled or eliminated. Close proximity on an airplane, train or car can diminish the type of distancing necessary from someone contagious. According to the CDC, a person can be contagious if they carry the virus, even without symptoms. Travel should only be essential, for urgent reasons.

Here is one that might be hard for some practitioners in security. Pledge to end taking on the accountability to solve the businesses security problems single handedly. Instead, if there is anything we learned from the pandemic about enacting the emergency plan, we need to know who our stakeholders are and collaborate. Sometimes security leaders suffer greatly because a mitigation plan failed or didn’t get the result they desired. Security leaders generally don’t own the risk to the business, their operational leaders do, or the CEO does. Rarely does the CSO.


How can we contribute to the larger socio-political-environmental opportunities that COVID-19 presents?

If ever there were a time to develop close relationships with law enforcement, government and security officials, this is the time. Ensuring the clear and frequent communication from authorities with your business is essential for survival. It makes threat assessment much easier when communication with police officials are free flowing. An example, in London I can rely on the Met Police to contact me if they find out about a protest or civil disturbance planned before my intelligence partners find out. In exchange I may send information I learned to the Met Police. This open communication results in receiving daily updates on everything police are doing relative to the Covid 19 pandemic to protect the neighborhood where I might have facilities, in another country.

When the world is on lockdown, we should be finding ways to volunteer, support business and education. Reach out with whatever your business is good at. Donate and deliver food, set up and teach mass communication tools, donate and set up collaboration platforms, donate funds to your favorite relevant charity. Make and give away masks; limited only by imagination, you and your team can fit in.  Its good for your brand and its good for your mental wellbeing.

This is a time to educate and be educated. Sign up for self-improvement courses that broaden your skill level and expertise in your field of security. Get involved in planning teams for safe re-opening plans. Create a webinar with your team members to help other businesses respond to the pandemic or plan for future operations. 

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