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Always essential

The versatility of security professionals has come to the forefront during the pandemic


Of the many images that will come to define the COVID-19 era — health-care workers labouring tirelessly for days on end, seniors’ homes on weeks-long lockdowns, mask-wearing politicians providing daily caseload updates — the sight of security guards servicing everything from supermarkets to hospitals will surely rank among them.

Since the pandemic struck, we’ve seen a shift in the perception of the role that security professionals play in protecting not only our security, but also our health and safety. Indeed, now more than ever, the value that front line security professionals can deliver has become glaringly obvious. In many cases we’ve seen organizations — in particular institutions such as hospitals, retailers and commercial property management firms — struggle to hire security talent as demand has surged throughout the pandemic. Maintaining a robust security team, or outsourcing those duties to an experienced security firm, has meant the difference between maintaining customer service levels or becoming overwhelmed by the new realities of life and business in a pandemic.

We’ve learned that while a strong security presence is vital, it needs to be deployed and managed strategically. In that sense, forward-thinking organizations have leveraged their security teams as brand ambassadors. This is particularly important as lockdown and social-distancing fatigue has created a perfect storm of factors with the potential to spur conflict. And make no mistake, the stress and frustration of having our everyday routines entirely disrupted — not to mention the mental health impacts and financial implications that have made this crisis difficult for so many Canadians — will linger for a long time yet. That’s where security guards can make a difference. They have the ability to:

  • Engage with the public or customers in a positive way. A friendly, fair and equitable interaction can ease the burdens weighing on so many of us, while helping keep businesses safe, secure and even profitable.
  • Inform customers or the public about their health and safety responsibilities. Yes, security guards can be educators, too. Because while most individuals don’t want to break the rules, they live busy lives and simply forget (or don’t fully understand) the expectations being placed upon them. Factor in rules and regulations that may not only vary by province or regions within each province, but even across municipalities and from one retailer or institution to the next, and you have a perfect storm of confusion — but also a great opportunity for education.
  • Remind customers or the public of responsibilities. Note the deliberate use of the word “remind” rather than an emphasis on enforcement. With tensions running high, organizations need to mitigate the risk of conflict stemming from issues such as building access limitations, mask requirements or social-distancing rules, among others. Having a robust security presence and professionals who can work with stakeholders to maintain policy compliance can help navigate these challenges in a productive and even (relatively) pleasant way.

Of course, for any of this to work, it’s vital for security professionals (whether an internal or outsourced team) to be properly vetted and trained. What does effective security training look like in the COVID-19 era? It’s about covering the standard considerations such as loss prevention and property protection using leading-edge technology, but also de-escalation and non-violent crisis intervention. It’s about doing what it takes to maintain perspective and not over-reacting when a situation boils out of control, and always remembering that a security professional’s job is to represent the client’s brand as much as the security firm that employs them.

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In that sense, security is very much a public relations position — and an essential one at that. It’s simply taken a public health crisis to underscore the point.

Winston Stewart is the president and CEO of Wincon Security (www.wincon-security.com).