The recent events in Ottawa and Quebec that resulted in the death of two members of our armed forces certainly woke us up. It is still to be seen how the security landscape will change based on these events in the long term. Although many sources called them terrorist attacks and some comparisons were made with 9-11, I do not believe this is accurate. Terrorist attacks are meant to create fear by conducting gruesome deeds and taking as many people down as possible. Terrorists take time to plan and coordinate an attack and have a certain level of sophistication. The events here in Canada didn’t have a long planning cycle and were not sophisticated. These attacks were inspired by terrorism, but seem to be the acts of mentally disturbed lonely people acting on their own. They were susceptible, due to their mental state, to the ideas of radicalism as preached by ISIL.
In the short term, the events have resulted in increased security around official celebrations as experienced during Remembrance Day. Also the government is expediting the plans to give the country’s security forces greater powers in the areas of surveillance, detention and arrest. In the private security world it has also lead to some changed policies in malls and around events. Increased security measures may not be kept in place over time, as these horrible events prove to be isolated incidents.
What is still a concern is the response, or lack thereof, to a shooter incident. There was panic and a general sense of not knowing what to do among the public and security personnel. Members of the public were confused and started to run either towards the gunshots, away from them or decided to stay put. It is essential that security personnel are being trained on how to deal with an active shooter. They need to direct the public, give correct advice when being asked and lead by example. This may result in the right approach if an incident should happen. There is no time to think in the moment and security guards should be able to fall back on their training and act accordingly. Some companies have decided to train their guard force more thoroughly to mitigate some of the risks surrounding a shooter incident. Malls are particularly vulnerable since easy access is essential to their operations. Hence the decision of many retailers and property management companies to train their employees. Mall and in store security personnel have an important role to play. They can prevent a panic response and lead the members of the public by giving direction and showing them what to do. Unfortunately the question is not if an active shooter incident will take place, but when. The preparedness of all involved will have an influence on the outcome. A rude awakening may lead to some measures that will result in a better response to violent events in an increasingly violent society.
In many ways, the market for security guard services is commoditized and it is challenging to find real differentiators. One of the ways a difference can be made is by being really responsive. Responsiveness can be measured in two ways: by how well the customer has been listened to and the speed in which a request has been fulfilled. Service delivery needs to meet the expectation. This can be accomplished by making sure to have all incoming requests for services directed to someone (a manager) that can make the right decision. This manager needs to ask the right questions to be able to fully understand, spell out and make the request ready for execution. This manager also will not only ensure a person will show up, but he/she will match the job with the right individual. The match should be made based on the requirements and culture of the customer and the capabilities of the guard(s). The speed of fulfillment is important since after confirmation, the customer can be assured his security request is being taken care off. Being able to respond quickly is something that should be part of the organization, and in its DNA and culture. It is a sense of urgency, of always wanting to help the customer ASAP with a short-term request, proposal or advice. The people, processes, systems and infrastructure should all be aligned to make this happen. For some verticals in the security market this is essential.
When my wife and I decided to have some landscaping done, we approached 3 different suppliers. Two of them I assumed were busy as it was difficult to set a meeting for a quote. One supplier was quick to respond and made a drawing and provided a quote within 2 weeks. The difference in cost between the 3 suppliers was not huge, but still relevant. The quick responder was the most expensive, and stayed in this position even after negotiating the price down. However in the end, we chose this company since we believed that their focus on servicing the customer would continue during the execution of the job. We were not disappointed. This is a perfect example of the importance of responsiveness as a differentiator even if a small premium needs to be paid.
After the decision was made to spend our vacation in Canada this summer, my family quickly settled on camping in Algonquin Park. We loaded up the van, including our mountain bikes, and drove to an outstanding campground where we had a spot by one of the lakes. When we entered the campground there was a sign that said, “Caution Bear in the Area. Do Not Leave Food Unattended”. Although the direction was clear, it was not very comprehensive. After a few days we spotted 3 bears; a mother with 2 cubs. We were not the only tourists in the area and many people came by to observe the bears and to take pictures. Since there was a good supply of berries in the area, the bears returned every day. People started to become bolder and approach the bears a little too closely. Well maybe not too close, since no one was aware of any guidelines. Several times the park ranger came by to send people away but he did not give clear guidelines about distance, noise levels and do’s and don’ts. We saw the bears stressing out when they felt surrounded by tourists. Although we did not see the incident, we heard that the mother bear came to the defense of her cubs and chased after some intruders.
A simple information card with safety rules handed out at the camp entrance would have done the trick and would have made observing the bears less risky and less intrusive.
The same applies to the security industry and the lack of direction in several instances. Clear instructions, a quick reference card and training (including logic and reasons for the rules) will make guards and LP officers more effective and will reduce the number of incidents. During this summer there were several occurrences involving guards working in our industry who did not know how to deal with difficult situations. Clear guidelines and instructions are essential to enhance security around campsites frequented by bears and people not behaving appropriately. When I discussed it with a park ranger, he actually thought that it was a good idea to be more specific next year to protect the bears and the tourists alike.
People that come from Europe to Canada, especially from smaller countries, generally have no idea how big the second largest country in the world actually is. I moved from the Netherlands almost 8 years ago. I worked for a large company with many branches in all provinces, including Sudbury and Timmins. One day I decided to drive from Toronto up to Sudbury. When I finally arrived 4.5 hours later and caught up with the branch manager, I asked him if we could also visit the satellite branch in Timmins while I was there. He then told me that this would take another 4 hours one way.
Northern Canada is a vast area, rich with natural and mineral resources. Exploration has been going on for quite some time resulting in a large number of mining operations. These mines generally require security, either “in house” or by a security contractor. These mining sites have their own dynamic. It is a community on its own with mining personnel and contractors working close together, guided by a large number of procedures and safety guidelines. Often they are located so far up north that the employees stay on site in camps and work for 2-6 weeks in a row. Working in these remotes sites can change the mood of people and from a security perspective, it is really important to stay alert and be ready to deal with tense situations when they occur. Proper training is vital to prepare guards for this type of work. Courses such as “Mining Security”, “Advanced First Aid” and “Non- Violent Crisis Intervention” can have a tremendous impact on how guards deal with a situation.
Only after visiting some of these remote sites, can you really gain an appreciation of the vastness of the area and the enormous distances. I may wait a bit before doing the Trans Canada Highway, although it would be rewarding.
I can still feel the movement of the ship when I close my eyes and think back of working in the Merchant Marine. In order to save on salary costs, shipping companies reduced crew sizes considerably resulting in long shifts on the bridge and in the engine room. No matter how busy the crew was there was always time for safety training. The training focused on possible disasters and emergencies such as fire on board, sinking ship or piracy. The importance of emergency training never seemed to be questioned.
Nowadays, in discussions with representatives of major companies I often hear that there is no time or money to spend on training or training exercises. Or there is acknowledgement of the importance of training, but managers are too busy to organize it. There is a high risk attached to this way of thinking. If an emergency arises and employees have not been trained they may make the wrong decisions leading to injury or loss of life. Just having employees read the procedures is not enough. They may know what to do when being asked, but they may respond differently under stress. The only way to improve the effectiveness of response in an emergency is training, repetition in learning the theory and practicing the drills. Emergency situations may happen and by giving employees proper training, a company will limit the possible consequences to their staff, reduce liability and protect their reputation.
I was never involved in an emergency at sea, but the focus on training made me feel comfortable and limited any liability against the shipping company if something were to happen. It feels pleasant to close my eyes, think back and feel the movement of the ship. Unfortunately, some need to open their eyes and acknowledge they need proper training.
It was 6 years ago that I had a frightening experience in the workplace. I had to terminate an employee for cause. The meeting, conducted with a lady from HR, was quick and to the point. The employee was given a short verbal explanation and a letter outlining the reason for their termination and the consequences. We walked the employee to his locker; he grabbed his personal belongings and left the building without saying much. It looked somewhat uneventful and I went on with my busy day in operations. When I left for the day and walked to my car, it was already dark. Several guys were gathered close to my car and one was sitting on the hood. They were making remarks about the ‘wrongful termination’, my expensive car and murmured words I don’t want to repeat. Although I was afraid, I continued to walk to my car and asked the guy sitting on my hood if he would please step away. He was reluctant but slowly moved. I was really scared and expected to be punched. That didn’t happen and they let me drive away, but I was shaken up for sure.
Of course I should have known better. It would have been easy to put some security in place just in case. In hindsight, I should have known that this was a somewhat high-risk termination. Simply having a couple of security professionals involved, the situation would have been different and more controlled. For example, one guard could have walked me to my car while the other covertly filmed the incident with a video camera. Unfortunately these high-risk events are happening more and more in our society. Last week’s incident in a Toronto office building illustrates what can go wrong. It is important to recognize that and make sure to take measures to mitigate the risks. Employers need to focus on duty of care and having security professionals that are well trained in non-violent crisis intervention and conflict de-escalation. Now when assessing terminations I ensure that all appropriate measures are in place to ensure the safety of others and myself.
When doing my MBA years ago, my favorite professor used to say, “children bring in the world.” What he meant was that new trends and technology are often brought into the home and presented to you by your own children. At that time my kids were too young to bring anything in except for viruses from daycare. Now my kids are teenagers and I can see the professor was right. It amazes me to see how easy young people adapt to new technology and applications. They are so used to working on their wireless devices, while their handwriting gets worse and worse.
The security (guarding) industry is following these trends. Many companies provide security applications for their guards and clients. The applications run on PC’s, laptops, tablets and smart phones. They support scheduling, incident and daily occurrence reporting, patrols and compliance measures. The benefits are clear since handwritten reports are often hard to decipher. Additionally, the information provided is real time and required action can be taken instantaneously. The systems used also allow for easy storage of data and extraction of information to use for KPI reporting and to monitor trends and developments.
Technology change is visible in the security industry but they will never catch up to our teenage population.
With great interest, I followed the winter Olympics in Sochi from both a personal and a professional perspective. To be honest, I am watching a lot more television than I usually do. Since the whole family is active in skiing and snowboarding we try to see as many events as possible. Furthermore, it is hard to escape the hype around the Canadian men and women’s hockey teams. Add that to a Dutch heritage with interest in speed skating and the picture is complete.
From a professional standpoint, my focus was on the way the Russians were ensuring security. The presence of so many security officers on the streets makes for a clear deterrent. Also the technology and the intelligence play an important role. Most noticeable was the early preparation of the security of the games. Early preparation and involvement of all relevant stakeholders supports a multi-angle approach and enough time to develop scenario thinking. This not only holds true for large events as the Olympics, but for all security operations. The length of the preparation time is of course determined by the size and the complexity of the project. However the results are always better with ample time to prepare, brainstorm and run through different scenarios, identifying the risks and measures to mitigate.
Boxing Day for me is another day off, the opportunity to relax and spend time with family. I can think of many things more fun than going to a shopping mall and experiencing the frenzy. This year however was very different. The Christmas week was spent in the US skiing and my teenage kids really wanted to go shopping for a couple of hours. They had made a list of items they wanted to purchase at 2 stores. I offered to accompany them to the mall. One of the selected stores (let’s call it store A) displayed complete chaos. People were cursing, aggressive and pushing one another to get to the merchandise. Since my teenage kids were determined, they still wanted to get what they came for and I stayed close in case I needed to step in. Eventually they got the items they wanted and we were happy to leave store A and head to store B. When we arrived at the store we saw an orderly line of people, waiting to get in. Several security guards were present to make sure the shopping experience stayed orderly and controlled. The presence of the security guards seemed to have a strong calming effect on the shoppers. The guards behaved in a professional manner and spoke to the people in line. They were also preventing theft and damage of merchandise. Although store B invested some money to keep the situation under control, they probably had a better profit in the end through preventing unnecessary shrinkage. I am glad the kids only selected 2 stores giving us the opportunity to get some night skiing in.
On Monday evening November 18th a severe storm hit an area north of Toronto. At 9:50pm, I was sitting reading a magazine, next to my son who was playing on his X-box. All of a sudden the TV went black and all the lights went out. I quickly looked outside and didn’t see any lights in the neighbourhood. I walked over to the kitchen where we keep an ‘easy to grab’ flashlight. I told my son to wait in the living room and I went down to the basement where I keep an additional flashlight. When I came back, my son and I decided to brainstorm the possible consequences and things we needed to take care of, since we had no idea how long it would last. Our list included items such as; check if the schools are open in the morning and to use our smartphones as alarm clocks. At 5:30am the next morning, the power was restored just before I was planning to take a freezing cold shower. It appeared that the power had been out for 50,000 households. I explained to my son later that we are prepared for an emergency. We always have jugs of water and extra food stored. We also have a large gas burner and several gas cylinders, so we can at least get by for a week with a family of 4.
This may explain why I was surprised to find out that many companies don’t have any emergency plan in place. This means when an emergency happens the thinking and preparation still has to start. Knowing that emergencies mostly strike unexpectedly and that many companies and people may be detrimentally affected; it implies taking a huge risk. Preparations for emergencies including security needs are essential. It may be a good idea to enter into several agreements with security vendors so you know that your company will receive support since aid may be limited. Involving vendors in the early stages of the thinking process makes sense and prevents you from ‘staying in the dark’ if an emergency situation occurs.