Understanding COVID-19 Impacts on Security Staff and Property (GSX+ 2020)

09/30/2020 | By Robert Nieminen

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted buildings in a myriad of ways, from addressing maintenance issues due to long-term vacancies to implementing temporary safety measures like the installation of plexiglass shields and physical distancing signage as businesses reopen. Likewise, facility security operations are facing wide-ranging challenges in applying best practices for keeping tenants, visitors and staff safe, and in identifying improvements to facilities to address current and future viral outbreaks.

Heat scan

Start by Supporting Staff

When it comes to improving facility security operations during the current (or future) pandemic, start by supporting your team, according to Myron Love, president and principal consultant, Dominion Security Limited, one of three co-presenters at the 2020 GSX+ virtual tradeshow who addressed COVID-19 facility security.

“Stress management for security team members is very important,” Love says. “It’s important for us to support the unique nature of the security officer’s role and understand what they’re going through and dealing with while we handle this crisis. It’s going to be significantly different than what others in their organization might be going through.”

Love says this can be accomplished by:

  • Reinforcing their importance

  • Emphasizing your appreciation

  • Promoting their accomplishments during and after the situation calms

“Security teams are crucial to emergency response and recovery process for your facility,” Love notes. “We have to make sure our officers feel valued, that the team feels like the organization cares deeply about what they’re trying to accomplish, and hopefully we can convey that we’re looking out for their best interest as well.”

This involves paying attention to the mental and spiritual health of security staff who are often under a great deal of stress and to offer support and resources, he says. Managers can address these needs by recognizing the emotional labor placed on the team and identifying available government, community and organizational resources to help.

Of course, personal protective equipment (PPE) is a high priority as well, but the level of protection and type of PPE offered will vary depending on staff duties. “Review the scope of responsibility for your security team and see if your security officers have the same level of responsibilities, and if those responsibilities include the need to improve issuance of PPE or if they need to have other considerations taken,” Love urges. “Keep in mind that not all operations require the same level of covering or PPE.”

He identifies three different degrees of risk exposure for staff and the appropriate PPE that should be provided:

  • Level 1. Non‐medical grade mask or personal face covering, enforced hand‐washing protocol; low-risk functions where social distancing can be maintained but scope may require constant direct interactions with customers, clients or others; functions may include loss prevention screening, visitor management, interior patrols with pauses in work.

  • Level 2. Medical grade face mask, enforced gloves and hand‐washing protocol; medium-risk functions where distancing cannot be maintained, workflow is consistent enough to require wearing masks for an ongoing period, or work assignment requires additional protection from touching surfaces or food; recommended by the CDC for first responders; functions may include foot patrols in crowded areas or posts within six feet of pedestrian routes.

  • Level 3. N95 respirator, gloves; high-risk areas where the risk of encountering or handling COVID exposure is potentially high; functions include healthcare organizations admitting/treating symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals.

Design Considerations for Facility Security

Presenter Mark Schreiber, principal consultant for Safeguards Consulting, Inc., addressed the need for protection measures across three layers of a facility:

1. Property perimeter and entrances

2. Building perimeter and entrances

3. Interior areas to protect

He offers several different strategies to address these areas, including physical access control, screening processes, record keeping of entry and exit, and clear signage and communications, among others. Many of them can be applied immediately and don’t need to wait for a construction or renovation project to begin, he notes.

[Related: How FMs Can Save Lives During Mass Casualty Events]

“What’s most important and still very strong is physical access control. We’ve clearly identified that people should not be approaching facilities, going on our property unless they have a reason to,” Schreiber explains. “Therefore, physical access control is one of the common methodologies to mitigate, whether you have people who don’t have a right to be on your property from coming onto your property and possibly bringing the virus into your environment or being exposed to the virus if it’s already in your environment; so, physical access control has a very large piece to play.”

As people move inside the building, other security measures come into play, as they do not just stop at the doors of the facility, Schreiber says. “Within the interior areas, we still have to support occupancy requirements, which may be not just for the overall building but different areas, sections of the building and different offices within a collocated building, for example.”

Considerations for interior spaces include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical distancing of workspaces

  • One‐way directional paths in office

  • Personal wearable/badge/asset sensors to support distancing

  • Disinfection of common-use areas

  • Antimicrobial product selections

  • Contactless/touch‐free operations

Leveraging Technology for Safe Reopening

Technology is playing a significant role in the safe and optimal reopening of facilities in the current pandemic environment, explains Leonard Ong, APAC Region Chief Information Security Officer, GE Healthcare. “The primary goal in reopening is really to minimize exposure and transmission within the community,” he says.

According to Ong, technology can be leveraged to:

  • Prevent—measures such as safe distancing, limitation on maximum number of people in a group, wearing mask while leaving home, etc.

  • Detect—quick identification of affected individuals allows prompt determination of when and the whereabouts of individuals who are potentially exposed.

  • Respond—prompt actions will minimize potential spread of the infection in the community through contact tracing, stay home notices and/or quarantine.

“One good example on how we are handling reopening is by having visibility of movement on individuals,” Ong explains. “As people are moving, entering and exiting facilities, they will have to check in to the facility. That will give us a time stamp on who, where and when.”

Ong offers an example of a facility check-in procedure that utilizes technology to improve security and safety:

1. Every Individual must enter and exit through designated facility entry points.

2. Entry points are equipped with:

  • Contactless temperature scanners

  • Site‐specific QR‐code

  • Barcode scanners for manual check‐ins

  • Staff to verify check‐ins

3. Exit points are unmanned and check‐outs are expected without manual verification.

The data collected at these checkpoints include an individual’s identity, entry and exit timestamps, as well as facilities and sub-facilities visited. Using this data, Ong says contact tracing applications, such as those available on iOS and Android, can further augment existing measures.

The data collected for contract tracing typically includes a visitor’s mobile number, identification and a random, anonymized User ID. In Ong’s example, the tracing software is developed and hosted by the government and is not accessible to third parties to provide a level of privacy protection.

“Speed, cost and capacity are the key considerations in a successful reopening, and there has to be cooperation between the public and government, because otherwise it will make some of these measures unsuccessful,” he concludes.

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