Security guarding and COVID-19 pandemic: through adversity comes opportunity
A personal view from Paul Harvey, Ward Security, on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on security guarding today and going forward.
If you had asked me the four months ago about the future of guarding, I would have given you a very different answer to the one I am about to write now.
To begin with, it is worth reflecting on how the security industry has changed over the last few months. Where once risk assessment and mitigation were considered one department or even one person’s job, now it is firmly fixed within the centre of business activity. I guarantee you it is the first point on your senior management team’s agenda and this provides an opportunity for the security sector.
Prepared for a pandemic?
Some businesses were more prepared than others, but even the most robust plan needed to be adapted to the fundamental change that simply could not be foreseen. Opportunity came by re-establishing the key role that security plays in enabling businesses operations. Security professionals have been working more closely than ever with clients to provide innovative ways of protecting people and places during a period where owners and managers were working remotely.
Dynamic risk assessment & decision making
A key response to the pandemic is the wider adoption of dynamic risk assessments and decision making to mitigate threats and risks. These are not new concepts. The pandemic, however, has been the catalyst for change in the way that security and risk are viewed and managed. COVID-19 has created an opportunity for the wider security sector to further distance itself from generic, output- based specifications, where service is procured on the information and specification stipulated by the buyer, toward creative solutions, unique to each environment, utilising the expertise of the security specialist.
The challenges of lockdown
The key to effective security is understanding threats and vulnerabilities and having a clear strategy to manage them holistically. The specific challenge created through lockdown and lower levels of office occupancy is the impact on the model of manpower-based services. Asset owners and managers need to reduce costs whilst maintaining security integrity. This is likely to accelerate the integrated approach of manpower, technology, systems and response services, and closer partnerships between stakeholders such as security, cleaning, M&E, FM, property managers and clients, working as one team, delivering better return on investment and improving security performance.
Time to focus on margins
There has never been a better time to tackle the long-standing industry challenge of unsustainable margins. Some security companies, no doubt, find themselves under significant financial pressure during the pandemic. This is partly due to the well documented ‘race to the bottom’, as companies continue to price at margins well into single figure percentages. Overall, it is generally accepted that this is unsustainable. Low margins do not allow you to invest in your people or your business and are to the detriment of all stakeholders.
Our response to the pandemic, when our people and systems protected others when they could not themselves, must be to no longer undervalue our service. Opportunities of this significance seldom present themselves. This may seem juxtaposed to the current demand to reduce cost. By being more intelligent in approach, focussing on risk and delivery integrated security models, the opportunity is here to manage and mitigate risk with a focus on total spend.
New usage of space
Following the pandemic, some organisations are already considering what type of occupiers will take office space and what that office space will be used for and during what times of the day. With it comes a review of how the service they provide needs to adapt to the new expectations. The changing model will reflect the new usage of buildings and public spaces. The workspace has been changing and with it, the skills and profile of the people are also changing.
There is an ever-increasing expectation in customer experience, which needs to be overlaid with the protection aspects of our role and reflected in the calibre of personnel deployed. Each person needs to be as unique as the asset they protect. For example, open spaces and mixed-use developments demand new skills such as behavioural recognition, crowded place management, loading bay management, counter terrorism and hostile vehicle mitigation. The opportunity to demonstrate our expertise and overlay security in our client’s operational model is upon us.
The role of technology
Technology such as CCTV monitoring, access control and intelligence is critical to enhancing security and has a significant role to play in our response to the pandemic and beyond. The optimal way to create safe and secure environments is to combine the expertise of people with the deployment of the best technology. Effective utilisation of cameras, detectors and alarms, enables businesses to identify threats and respond proportionately and appropriately.
The response to the pandemic will continue to benefit from collaborative information sharing and engagement between the police and private sector. Partnership working has been ongoing for many years, including joint testing and exercising. The City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police Service, for example, have liaised for many years with the private sector. Since the turn of the year, the recently formed City Security Council has been a highly effective vehicle for collaboration both across security providers themselves and with police, ambulance and fire services. Likewise, TINYg has developed strong, cross-sector, strategic relationships in the area of counter terrorism and major incident response. As we move through this pandemic, transport and social unrest are major risks that will demand support in all directions. An effective response can only benefit from established relationships.
Through adversity has come opportunity
Security has re-established itself as an essential service. As a sector, we face a challenging yet positive opportunity to address the threats to our industry, never forgetting our core purpose of protecting places, people and lives in a rapidly changing world.
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