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New Challenges in Physical Security in the Age of COVID-19

Oh, how things have changed. Just over a year ago, protective security entailed managing all physical security incidents, threats, and operations – reducing risks to keep people and physical assets safe.

Now, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, organizations have had to redefine the mission of their physical security teams in an effort to ensure that employees and customers avoid likely health threats, specifically community spread of COVID-19. 

Let’s look at an unlikely use case. Whether in airports, concert halls, or sports stadiums, Security Operations in venues of mass gathering had perhaps the most clarified responsibilities. Security managers and guards, there, were tasked with looking for weapons and managing crowds. It was all about protecting people from harm in crowded venues.

Of course, the pandemic has changed that calculus entirely. The demand for social distancing means that full-capacity crowds are gone. And for the limited-capacity crowds that remain, security staff might be called on to enforce masking mandates.

Nor are these just considerations for narrowly defined entertainment venues or other venues of mass gathering. Manufacturing, logistics, government, education, and frankly any large enterprise that has invested in sizeable campus facilities and expects its employees (or customers) to return to work at some point must adjust to the new normal.

Download COVID-19 Return to Work Plan Guide

What will the process look like? Entertainment venues might give the business community at large an early clue. Sports teams, in particular, have been making decisions as to how many fans they will allow in stadiums once their postponed, cancelled, or new seasons begin. Will they operate at half capacity? A quarter? A tenth?

And that’s only the decision made before doors open and fans come in. Fans traditionally wait in lines at stadium and concert hall entrances. How to ensure appropriate social distance, then? Much less when fans leave?

These considerations all have their correlates in non-entertainment venues, as well, where organisations might task physical security teams with ensuring distance is maintained when some portion of employees return to the office – perhaps, prior to mandatory temperature screenings at office entrances.

Physical security teams might also have to work out the thorny restroom scenario, both in entertainment and non-entertainment facilities. Will there be designated times for restroom access to ensure some semblance of order?

Then, there is the question of other congregate settings, like cafeterias in the enterprise or concession stands in entertainment venues. Will they be closed down altogether?

Finally, physical security teams with jurisdiction over facilities and cleaning staff will see their workload double as businesses reopen. Not only will that staff have the responsibility to ensure facilities are cleaned thoroughly, but they will also have to do so in compliance with new reopening regulations, with the spectre of safety agencies citing non-compliance. In that environment, physical security teams might have to find inventive ways to ensure cleaning staff maintain compliance.

The key, here, is that these safety and security considerations cannot be disaggregated from the much larger question of reopening and the return to work scenario. Like any other scenario that carries acute risk to the business, return to work requires careful planning.

Need to ensure the entire effort goes off without a hitch? Download our comprehensive Guide to Planning Your Return to Work Strategy:

Download COVID-19 Return to Work Plan Guide