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.
Seven years ago I emigrated from Western Europe to Canada with my family and many assumptions about my new home. Although bothcountries are considered western, I was surprised to encounter so many cultural differences. Though we could have chosen to emerge ourselves in associations of the old country, we decided to adapt our lifestyles to become at least partly Canadian. This approach made our integration easier. Noticing this approach, people from our neighbourhood started to accelerate the process by inviting us to typical Canadian events like curling, Thanksgiving and hockey night in Canada.
Within the security industry finding a ‘cultural fit’ is equally important. When done right, the selected security guard has enough interest and motivation to become part of his new work environment. The difference in settings is enormous, from a busy store in a shopping mall to a quiet remote mining site. Paying attention to customer specific requirements and culture as well as a candidate’s background and interests pays off. This approach will lead to higher customer satisfaction and lower turnovers simply because there is a fit from the start. This is a life lesson that has helped me change the way we do business.