3 Ways to Start Security Conversations with Occupants

July 2, 2012
How familiar are your occupants with your building security protocol? If it’s been a while since they reviewed your handbook or you held a security briefing, make sure your building population has up-to-date security information. Use these three tips to jumpstart conversations about risks, policies, and reporting.

How familiar are your occupants with your building security protocol? If it’s been a while since they reviewed your handbook or you held a security briefing, make sure your building population has up-to-date security information. Use these three tips to jumpstart conversations about risks, policies, and reporting.   

1)    Teaching Moments
Many companies provide occupants with security information: leases, handbooks, emergency action plans, maps of evacuation routes, building websites, orientation materials, bulletin boards in common areas, brochures, and email reminders.

But will an administrative assistant remember what the handbook says about a telephone bomb threat when such a call comes in? Will students and faculty remember evacuation procedures on short notice? A continuing conversation between security and occupants can make it more likely.

“You have to avoid making it onerous for tenants,” says Charles L. Baxter, a principal with Baxter Consulting. “The idea is to build and maintain an awareness of security.”

Baxter uses teaching moments to strike up awareness building conversations. Suppose someone reports that a purse was taken from the reception area inside the entrance to an office on the fifth floor.

“You should have a mechanism to tell everyone in the building about this,” he says. “There is an obligation to tell tenants about something that could affect everyone.”

Mechanisms might include the email and text components of a mass notification system. The message should inform without alarming, while asking people to keep an eye out for suspicious people for the next hour or so.

After such an event, Baxter posts flyers on bulletin boards that explain what happened while reminding people of the relevant security measures to prevent such incidents in the future.

“The posting would capitalize on the interest in security generated by a theft,” he says. “It would say that while security takes all necessary steps to prevent thefts, we have to rely on tenants to be security conscious.”

“It would ask tenants to be more mindful of suspicious behavior, to refuse tailgaters when entering access controlled doors, keep valuables out of sight, lock office doors when leaving, and report suspicious people and packages,” Baxter continues. “Do this constantly and positively, conveying to everyone that the actions they take will benefit everyone.”

2)    Use the News
The news produces teaching moments all the time. For instance, the University of Pittsburgh recently received dozens of bomb threats targeting landmark buildings across campus. The threats were written on walls and sent by email, forcing evacuation after evacuation.

That kind of news offers an opportunity to talk to building occupants about bomb threats. A couple of postings might lead with a report of the University of Pittsburgh problem and go on to discuss how to identify a letter bomb or suspicious package and what to do. Another compelling subject is what to do if you receive a telephone bomb threat – what information should you ask for?

If you see a news report about a mugging in a parking garage, use it as an opening to stay alert when leaving at night. Invite those who are particularly uncomfortable to ask for an escort.

Postings might end by inviting readers to a website with other security tips. Some tenant handbooks devote entire sections to security and emergency procedures. That material could be posted on the website referred to in the posting.

3)    See Something, Say Something

Since 1995, Mike Fickes has contributed over 200 security articles to publications covering hotel, industrial, office, retail, critical infrastructure, and education. His interests include security management, policies, strategies, and technologies.

The security conversation should also go both ways – from security officers to tenants and from tenants to security. “If a tenant sees someone taking pictures of the building, security would like to know about it, especially if the building is high profile,” says Geoff Craighead, vice president with Universal Protection Service.

“Great numbers of tenants are constantly moving in and out of downtown office buildings,” he continues. “As a group they literally see everything, and you want any information relevant to security to get back to security. Tenants are security’s eyes and ears.”

That’s the theory behind the Department of Homeland Security’s television, radio, and print public awareness campaign, “If you see something, say something,” which has expanded into Walmart stores and the Mall of America.

A security director could create a similar campaign for the building. A low-key campaign, playing in the background in the form of bulletin board posters and an occasional email, would help raise awareness just like Baxter’s teaching moments.

There are two aspects to security conversations with tenants. “One is that building security has to set security standards and policies for the building and communicate that information,” Craighead says. “The second asks for information from tenants by saying that you are the eyes and ears of security for all of us. That’s important because of the way the world has changed in the last 10 years.”

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