Where should the focus of physical security management of commercial properties be in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? It’s all about risk management and the thoughtful application of procedures, writes Luke Percy-Dove*

All workplaces are vastly different today, due to COVID-19, and will continue to be so for some time to come. But businesses don’t experience less risk when people aren’t at work – just different risk, needing different security methods. One of the most significant effects of COVID-19 has been a reduction of people in the community. While the natural assumption is that this may be a good thing from a risk perspective, it’s not all positive.

If you’re a managing commercial properties, your security strategy must adapt to the change in operations and maintain consistency under all circumstances. We’re now 18 months into the pandemic in Australia and have mostly adjusted to life under the new controls and restrictions. Given the pandemic’s course, the rules around our workplaces are unlikely to change for some time yet.

This means that security is going to need to continue to function in anything but a business-as-usual fashion for some time to come. So, what does this mean for managing risk and security in commercial properties? Essentially it means security may continue to have to function in an altered state for many months and possibly 12 months or more after the pandemic ends – that ending remains opaque.

This is because the security functions of commercial property were structured to deal with a set number of people, over a set number of hours each day. But now, workplaces are mostly empty and the security needs of our buildings and open spaces are very different.

And even when workplaces reopen, the expectation is that the hours of operation could be vastly different to allow people to start and finish at different times. This will help with social distancing in the workplace by restructuring working hours to allow people to continue working from home, avoiding everyone being in the workspace at the same time.

Either way, the days of maximising the available floor space through the use of cubicles and workstations appears to be over for the foreseeable future, and perhaps even permanently. As a result, our workplaces now and into the future, are quite different.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) plays a significant part in crime prevention by making people easily observable. However, the whole philosophy of CPTED breaks down when people aren’t around to observe, and in turn discourage, criminal activity. We’ve seen a number of incidents over the last few weeks that we believe were contributed to by the current pandemic. These included:

* An assault and bag snatch in a shopping centre that all but went unnoticed because of the low level of patronage
* A shop front that was the target of a very brazen robbery that occurred on one of Melbourne’s busiest roads
* An armed robbery undertaken by people wearing face masks as many in the community are.

Crime hasn’t stopped because of the pandemic. In some respect, it’s lower in some categories but higher in others.

We’ve also had to review incidents associated with rough sleepers, illicit drug use and opportunistic theft in places where we haven’t seen them before. We’re also attributing these activities to the inherently low levels of vehicle and pedestrian around town. Our workplaces are different and the risks that the workplaces are exposed to are now also different. The question is, has your security strategy adapted to the change in operations? And how do you know if what you’re doing is effective or not?

Security needs to be as adaptive as the world we live in is unpredictable. And what is absolutely apparent, is that over the next 18 months, our world is going to continue to change as we strive towards a new version of ‘normal’. This means that the security strategies we deploy will need to be fluid enough to deal with the changing work environment, while maintaining a property’s risk position at an acceptable level. Two areas to focus your security management plan on right now include:

* Update the standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for security officers: The operational security elements of the business are going to keep changing, which means that supporting documents should be continually revised in line with the changes. SOP’s rarely get updated and will be the first thing overlooked. Yet, they’re a key element of any functional security strategy.

* Training and induction for security staff: Training and inductions for security staff need to keep adapting to the changes in security operations. They’re also unlikely to adapt, because this is an area of the security industry that has always been under-managed by clients and service providers alike. During times such as these when we’re operating with reduced resources and budgets, this will be one of the first things overlooked.

For security to be effective, it needs to adapt to both local and global changes. It needs to remain consistent under all circumstances. And consistency is very difficult to achieve if we’re managing security and risk on the fly, as is happening in so many businesses right now. Risk has not gone away, it’s just different to what it was. Are you managing your security and risk position effectively?

* Luke Percy-Dove is one of the most respected and highly regarded security advisers and security design consultants in Australia and has been a trusted key player in the security industry for more than two decades, delivering security solutions for hundreds of businesses and organisations nationally.

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