Moving with the times

by Justin Bentley, CEO, International Professional Security Association
It is not that many years since the choices for protecting a client’s site was either plenty of locks, barred windows, fences, etc. or the use of one or more night watchmen. I use the old fashioned term reluctantly but accurately, because these were normally individuals with little training and would be there to dial 999 if their presence was not sufficient deterrent for some.

Since then technology has kept progressing, CCTV, in the true nature of its name as a localised system, and intruder alarms meant that the room that once housed the night watchman’s kettle became a local security hub. The signal loss over distance for analogue CCTV transmission restricted the location of the monitoring point, with larger sites sometimes requiring the use of signal boosters for their furthest cameras. The systems still required at least one individual on site to observe the images and either provide or summon a response in order to protect the site.

As the next step, the advancement of security products has meant that we now realistically have moved to another stage. CCTV signals are transmitted digitally, enabling a camera to be watched just as clearly at the opposite side of the world as it is at the opposite side of the building. Software can monitor cameras for movement or they can be linked with separate detection hardware, e.g. PIR sensors, which enables fewer people to monitor effectively a greater number of cameras. When coupled with other technology such as intercoms, electronic door locks and smart building management systems, a lot of functions previously performed by an on-site security officer can be provided by one central control room.

So far this may read like there is no requirement for security officers any more, however this would only be true if watching CCTV and unlocking doors was the sole duty of a security officer, plus the electronic systems covered 100% of the site and never failed, and additionally where an intrusion was detected that the response, either police or mobile security patrols would arrive in sufficient time to arrest the individuals or at least minimise loss (either theft or damage).

There are many activities which require one or more security officers on site, typically day time scenarios of controlling access to site at a time when staff, contractors and legitimate visitors need to be allowed in with the minimum of inconvenience, whilst preventing access to others. There are also plenty of other security functions and also “value added services” i.e. fire prevention, first aid provision, etc. which security officers can be providing to a site.

A service provider that can provide a combination of on-site and remote services should be able to come up with a tailor made package that meets a client’s requirements and provide the expected quality of service. Innovation and a willingness to use technology is likely to come up with better combinations, e.g. using security officers at the main entrance of the site whilst the goods entrance at the back is monitored from a control room removing the need for a full time security officer at that location, however it is not a distraction for the security officers required at the main entrance.

Similarly a risk assessment might identify times where it is acceptable for a site to be protected by remote monitoring only. Such assessments should take into consideration such factors as the location, do buildings border public land or are they surrounded by a perimeter fence, how secure are the actual buildings, what assets are on site, how portable they are, likely response times for that location by either police or mobile security patrols, etc. Changes in security provision methods may also need the agreement of insurers.

Another consideration when relying on technology solutions is who has responsibility for the maintenance of hardware. Equipment failure will happen at times, however the important aspect then is how quickly it is resolved. Lengthy discussions about whether the fault is on site, at the monitoring station, or somewhere in between and hence who is responsible, disrupts the provision of service and puts the client at risk, so the logical solution is for the security provider to also have full responsibility for the equipment, with the expertise in-house or on call to resolve all problems.

Everybody across the industry is aware that the cost of provision of security officers is constantly increasing. Those paying National Minimum Wage see the amount increase year upon year, and those wishing to pay above the minimum also have to track that margin. At the same time the costs associated with employing individuals also are rising. Therefore contracts that have previously been multiple security officers 24/7 now could be reviewed to see if there are more cost efficient ways of providing an equal or sometimes improved level of service. Security companies have complained for a long time about the low margins in providing security officers, if that is currently their only option for providing a service, then it might be time for them to adjust their business model.