The coronavirus pandemic has had massive implications for industries across the economy and the security sector has had to adapt to a very different operational landscape. With the vaccine rollout offering light at the end of the tunnel, Barry Dawson, managing director at Wilson James, examines the impact of the last year and looks at what the future holds for the supply, procurement and implementation of physical security services.
On 23rd March 2020, the UK went into lockdown and life has not been the same since. Many businesses, particularly in retail and hospitality, have spent most of the intervening period with their doors closed, while offices and other commercial premises have been almost empty as people work from home. As a result, physical services providers have had to modify their operational practices as they continue to keep people, property and assets safe.
Cause and effect
Following the lockdown announcement, organisations had to ascertain whether their activities were vital to the continued functioning of society. The physical security services sector’s role was clarified through a government statement, which said, ‘Roles essential to supporting law and order, with the potential to reduce demand on policing, also meet the critical worker definition. This would include, amongst other areas, the guarding of empty or closed commercial, retail or office premises; the monitoring of similar through CCTV or other remote means; and the provision of alarm response centres including mobile units’.
Physical services providers had to demonstrate their professionalism by quickly dealing with new challenges and responsibilities. It soon became clear that most customers were, albeit in different ways, relying on their physical services partners more than ever before. Security teams soon became invisible heroes and, as we make the first tentative steps out of lockdown, they will be on the frontline when it comes to creating a safe and secure environment for the general public as they go about their business.
Plan of action
The increased demands on security officers have forced them to act with greater agility, visibility and versatility than ever before. Whether temperature testing, carrying out customer-facing services, enforcing site-specific measures and/or encouraging social distancing, they have had to use their skills and knowledge in innovative ways. Meanwhile, employers have also had to keep their officers safe by, for example, providing clear guidance on what to do if someone shows Covid-19 symptoms, explaining the importance of high standards of personal and environmental hygiene, and reminding employees that they have a responsibility for safe behaviour outside of the workplace.
To ensure high levels of business continuity, service providers have had to plan accordingly and take preparatory steps, so as to be ready to meet the needs of their customers. Continual communication has been, and remains, a key part of this with the use of video conferencing technology proving an invaluable way to talk to clients and colleagues and make sure that they are up to speed with any developments. It has allowed people to come together to brainstorm, share ideas, exchange best practice tips, monitor workflows, build community, reinforce organisational culture and strengthen relationships.
Security officers have also played a less conspicuous but no less important role in keeping businesses operational. This has involved taking on some of the duties traditionally performed by facilities managers, as well as activities as diverse as rebooting computers and servers to help those working at home, watering plants, temperature checking chillers and freezers and making sure that heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are set so that energy is not wasted.
Physical service providers have made effective use of online platforms to train staff in new functions and offer refresher courses. Similarly, many furloughed officers have taken the opportunity to enhance their work-related knowledge and skills. While live and pre-recorded online training has proven successful, webinars and podcasts on subjects such as using personal protective equipment and implementing government guidance, have also allowed officers to hit the ground running when they return to work. Just as importantly, employers have been able to ensure that their staff are engaged and are maintaining good levels of mental and physical health.
One of the most often used phrases over the last 12 months has been ‘the new normal’. However, what this means varies from person to person and business to business. The fact is, we don’t know what the world will look like, or how our lives will have changed forever.
It is, however, highly likely that working from home will continue to some extent. This will mean fewer people in offices and commercial premises, which could, in turn, have a negative impact on demand for physical security services and/or lead to the integration of security with other business functions. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, security officers have undertaken roles and activities outside of their traditional remits, so could this go further with, for example, a security officer carrying out some receptionist duties?
Mix and match
As buildings become reconfigured to keep occupants safe through the use of contactless access control, facial recognition and temperature checking equipment, security officers will work with technology as part of a comprehensive security solution. Even before the pandemic, technology was increasingly being used alongside a human security presence and, as we enter the post-coronavirus world, there will be greater demand from customers for business intelligence solutions that address current security challenges.
However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the imminent demise of physical security services are much exaggerated, as there will always be a requirement for a physical security presence to offer reassurance to the public. It could be argued that a security officer’s ability to assess what is happening around them and to instantly take appropriate action, will be in greater demand as lockdown eases. It’s also worth remembering that threats such as knife, lone wolf and vehicle attacks could well be an elevated risk as terrorist groups once again seek public attention.
In order to survive and thrive in the months and years ahead, physical security service providers need to think outside of the box, diversify and identify potential new revenue streams such as distribution security, assisting with the ongoing vaccination rollout, and providing vacant property services. The role of the security officer remains irreplaceable and, by thinking creatively, a unique and indispensable solution can be configured that combines highly skilled personnel with cutting edge technology to effectively mitigate risks and threats.
For further information please contact: