It’s obvious that COVID-19 has shifted the focus of physical security management. Guards, formerly responsible for managing physical threats to people and assets, are now being asked to step into a safety protection and promotion role.
How are they faring? Well, the recent hotel quarantine incident in the Australian state of Victoria suggests that the transition hasn’t been seamless. What could help improve the quality of physical security management in the age of COVID-19?
So, what’s been happening? Details are emerging piecemeal, but so far what we know is that Victoria is in the midst of a surge in coronavirus cases, the overwhelming majority of which are being linked to infections in quarantine hotels – 99 percent, according to testimony by the Department of Health and Human Services.
At these hotels, security personnel were contracted by the state to stand guard over returning travelers during their mandatory 14-day quarantine. Guards came from security firms who were often contracted at short notice to provide personnel. Security firms also subcontracted the work out.
Now, cases are escalating. Guards got infected, then, spread the virus to close contacts in the community. And so, the question going forward is, how can we do better? The concern is made all the more pressing, since physical security management will be occupying this hybrid safety role for the foreseeable future.
Inquires have begun into the failure of the hotel quarantine scheme, and there’s much we can glean for physical security operations in the age of COVID-19.
Firstly, training of security personnel has to improve. In the first day of hearings, testimony emerged showing that the information given to guards about face masks was inappropriate. The guidance included that mask use was not required. In training modules, guards were marked incorrect if they answered that mask use was required.
There was also guidance stipulating that PPE was not required for security guards escorting guests for exercise breaks or fresh air, bringing in new returned travelers, or interacting with travelers on the hotel quarantine floor. In those instances, mask use was only recommended when social distance could not be maintained.
Testifying at the inquiry, an expert in infectious diseases argued that the training guidance, suitable for general public consumption, was inappropriate for security personnel working in a health setting, looking after people who were potentially COVID-19-positive.
Even when guidance was later updated to wear masks in areas where local transmission was present, experts still found it insufficient, offering that the advice would be confusing to security personnel who might not be aware of community transmission.
However, the issue of inadequate training is not new in physical security management, though the substance of many of those trainings might have shifted in the era of COVID-19. Neither is the challenge of ineffective contractor relationship management.
So, where should we start looking? While many jurisdictions mandate training as part of a worker’s induction, the quality of those trainings can vary widely. Historically, poor training, minimal involvement in safety initiatives (specifically), and low supervision have all endangered contract employees, who may have barely acquired the necessary skills or knowledge to pursue the job at hand. It’s no surprise, then, in these incidents, contracted security personnel were working far outside of their areas of expertise.
Boosting the quality of site-specific trainings to guards on the ground has to be a priority for physical security management, regardless of who does the hiring. Best-practice, contractor lifecycle management has to be emphasised, as well – not just robust training and orientation, but pre-qualification, pre-job task and risk assessment, monitoring the job, and post-job evaluation, too. Other best practices include:
- Perform more thorough vetting of contractors through clear performance indicators outlined ahead of time. Be as detailed as possible about the scope of work in the contract.
- Have a dedicated team or manager monitor contracted work from tender to post-job evaluation. That team or manager should:
- Address issues that arise during the contract process, either personally or by engaging a suitably qualified person within the business.
- Consistently solicit updates on lagging and leading indicators of contractor performance to identify areas for improvement.
- Clearly communicate safety values to contracted workers during orientation and training.
- Requiring contract employees to pass stringent orientation tests before working on site.
- Maintain proper permitting and certification standards for contract employees in a centralised database.
- Perform frequent job assessments to ensure contract employees continue to meet work health and safety obligations.
Finally, health and safety will continue to occupy an outsized role in physical security management in the age of COVID-19, which puts the focus back on well-trained security personnel (direct or third party). As such, having a digital physical security management system that can manage key details of staff, contractors, volunteers, and other external parties, including their competencies, compliances, and site inductions will be the only way to manage and reduce risk. To learn what specific capabilities matter, download our buyer’s guide to physical security management software.