Security in the time of COVID-19
Businesses and schools are taking extra security steps to protect public from the virus
By Alanna Fairey
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taken the world by storm in recent weeks.
As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 is a new strain that was discovered in Dec. 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans. Symptoms are similar to that of the flu and common cold.
Declared a pandemic by WHO on March 11, there are at least 422 confirmed or presumptive cases in Canada, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau.
Since the rapid spread of the virus, businesses, educational institutions and conference centres have taken the extra step to not only ensure that the spread of the novel coronavirus is minimal, but to minimize panic.
According to crisis and emergency management specialists, security safety protocols such as these are the only way to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 is mitigated.
In contrast to the 2003 outbreak Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), coronavirus has had a much more widespread impact, resulting in governments and businesses making some massive decisions.
Individuals who have been infected by COVID-19 can be contaminated or infected without showing symptoms for up to two weeks, which can result in a quick spread of the virus.
According to Darryl Culley, president of Emergency Management & Training Inc., the potential for a quick spread has resulted in tough security measures.
“It’s about adding that extra vigilance on how do we identify who may be potentially at risk to the disease, and then how do we protect them?” Culley said in a recent interview with Canadian Security.
“From a security perspective, it’s about monitoring and trying to reduce that risk.”
Richard Moreau, director of business development at Calian Emergency Management Solutions, had similar thoughts about the need for the public to take such security risks seriously.
“We’ve made sure we’ve provided the best practices and reinforce what needed to do in the workplace from the get-go,” Moreau said.
“It was a gradual build up that we heard further refine our communications.”
‘Business under contingency’
With the status of COVID-19 evolving on a daily basis, the need for updates and communication has been a top priority.
Yves Duguay, president of HCiWorld and Canadian Security columnist, feels that many companies are not aware that there’s a very frequent occurrence of hazards — both natural and manmade.
Duguay has advised that companies should invest in what they can control, which is how they should respond to a pandemic crisis.
“We don’t control the threat environment and the risk, but we can invest our limited resources into being prepared,” Duguay said. “You don’t have control of the laws and the regulations, you’re not in control of the environment. But you certainly can take control in how you can prepare yourself to better respond to emergency.”
Duguay added that the best way for companies to have control over COVID-19 is to prioritize communication in real time as strategies develop.
“I heard a couple of people on conference call saying, ‘We have to consider that we’re running this company in business as usual,’ and it’s not business as usual — it’s business under contingency,” Duguay continued.
“In the future, people and companies are going to be working under the auspices of business on the contingency more often than anything, and just as often as what we used to consider business as usual.”
Over the last few days, companies have been sending out emails and numerous messages with updates regarding cancelled events and how they are tackling COVID-19. This is a step in the right direction, according to Moreau, but the public needs more to feel safe.
“I think in a situation like this, you need to leverage all communication needs to reach your internal and external audience,” Moreau said.
“Doing it only via one set of media — whether it’s social media, whether it’s just TV, or whatever is not going to get the job done.”
Moreau and Culley agreed that solutions such as videoconferences and hotlines were an effective way to inform the public about security updates.
“Video messaging is a lot more effective because it engages the visual and the auditory as well as the kinaesthetic,” Culley explained. “When you pass those messages out via video for a company that is dealing with the public is actually demonstrating it.”
Culley shared that he became aware that a plethora of Costco locations had been advised to designate employees to be stationed in front of the store to wipe down the handles of the carts with a disinfectant towel as customers are entering. This is an effective way to give people peace of mind of health and safety precautions, according to Culley.
“That really sends a message that we’re not just telling you to be careful,” Culley explained. “We’re actually taking steps in order to do that.”
Better safe than sorry
While some businesses have closed down indefinitely, employees have been asked to work from home when possible, avoid physical contact with others and wash their hands on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, colleges and universities, such as Humber College and the University of Toronto, have moved their remaining classes and exams to online platforms.
Robert Kilfoyle, director of public safety and emergency management for Humber College, shared that the school’s Critical Response Team (CIRT) monitored the situation almost hourly as the COVID-19 situation escalated.
“Early on, we implemented enhanced cleaning protocols and screening of individuals presenting at our various medical clinics and centres on campus,” Kilfoyle said.
“There has been ongoing communication to our community advising them of the appropriate protocols to follow to limit the spread of the virus.”
Kilfoyle shared that all departments and faculties at Humber endured thorough Business Continuity Plans that provide details on how best they can continue operations during a business disruption. Humber has seasonal flu cleaning protocols on campus, in addition to early screening and detection of health issues through the Student Wellness Centre and student residences.
“All of these plans are effective and have allowed us to rapidly respond to this pandemic.”
While the repercussions of COVID-19 have changed daily, Humber learned how to prepare for such an outbreak.
After the 2017 outbreak of Norovirus in their student residences, Kilfoyle and his team used that as a learning experience for future outbreaks and pandemics.
“We learned valuable lessons that have been applied to our response to this current pandemic,” Kilfoyle shared.
“Particularly as it relates to issues of communications and making necessary adjustments to the academic expectations for students that have been impacted — our enhanced cleaning protocols are a direct result of lessons we learned during the Norovirus outbreak.”
Classes and exams are not the only things being cancelled or postponed as a COVID-19 safety measure.
Organizers for conferences and events — such as ISC West 2020, originally scheduled March 17-20 — have taken to cancelling or postponing scheduled events, directions that several organizers have been advised to follow as COVID-19 worsens.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly; our customers, partners and staff have worked diligently to create an ISC West experience for the industry across converged security innovations, public safety best practices and strong community collaboration,” Will Wise group vice-president of Reed Exhibitions said in a prepared statement. “It is imperative that we maintain our commitment to prioritize the health and safety of everyone involved with ISC West.”
ISC West has since been rescheduled for July 20-22.
Since Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada would be closing its borders to most foreigners to fight the spread of COVID-19 on March 16, it has become abundantly clear that security is not a department, but a value and should be treated as such, according to Duguay.
“Security is probably not going to be worth very much unless there’s a really strong support from the CEOs, the senior executives and the board to say that this is on our heat map, and we need to do to be serious about how we approach them,” Duguay said. “And not just tick the box type of approach.”
Moreau and Culley have both stressed that it is for the best interest of everyone that they be followed so that COVID-19 can be rectified quickly and without causing further damage.
“The bottom line is to reinforce what people are saying out there and take the measures that are being asked seriously,” said Moreau.
“If you’re being asked to self-isolate, do self-isolate — don’t decide to self-isolate when it when it’s convenient.”
As companies and schools continue enforce their security and safety measures, Culley believes that if the public continues to follow the security and safety measures, the symptoms of COVID-19 will soon be a thing of the past.
“As a country and as a society, we’ve gotten through major issues before whether they’ve been world wars, outbreaks of tuberculosis or limited issues with SARS,” Culley concluded.
“But in the end, we will bounce back and hopefully be a better, more caring group of people — we’ll have empathy for each other, as we get through this.”