Canadian Security Magazine

Suspicious incident awareness: Part 1 of 4

By Paul Koscinski   

Features Opinion

In the wake of recent security threats, including the arrest of an ISIS sympathizer for alleged plans to bomb the U.S. Consulate and buildings in the Financial District in Toronto, a video threatening a strike on the West Edmonton Mall, and other threats occurring in the Greater Toronto Area and other parts of Canada, proactive public & private sector security program managers have been taking steps to educate their front-line security staff and business units across their organizations.

Front-line security operators are being briefed on situational awareness tactics to assist them in recognizing suspicious incidents, and to immediately report those incidents during periods of heightened readiness, initiated in response to potential threats to the community, and the industry.

Senior Managers in charge of business units with exposure to external environments are being similarly briefed. Business units comprised of Customer Service and Building Operations Staff have a significant role; they are the front-line of many organizations, and are often in a position to be the eyes and ears of the organization. The importance of front-line staff working in any capacity cannot be overlooked in a comprehensive security and risk management program. An alert and aware member of your organization can be a valuable asset and significantly extend the network of security coverage beyond the complement of personnel charged solely with the protection of your business.

Security leaders responsible for protecting critical infrastructure, public spaces, high density office and residential buildings, and mass assembly facilities have to look beyond the limitations of technology and human resources, and find innovative ways to engage all members of their organizations. This approach is especially important for organizations concerned about security risks because of their proximity to potential high value terrorist targets, as well as facilities susceptible to other criminal acts through targeting of valuable assets, and/or personnel. Security staff must be objective in their view of suspicious incidents, and remain vigilant at all times. Furthermore, they should educate and encourage others to be aware of their surroundings, and to remain alert to potential risks in their environments. In this four-part series on Suspicious Incident Awareness we will explore a variety of external and internal risk factors that may affect your organization’s security profile.

Suspicious incidents are unusual circumstances that present a real or perceived safety, or security risk, and exhibit indicators of departure from the norm. The indicators of suspicious incidents range from obscure to obvious, and the severity of their consequences from innocuous to potentially deadly; they all can have an impact on business operations of your organization. Every organization with a comprehensive security and risk management program should have a policy respecting suspicious incidents, and every member of the organization should be familiar with this policy, and how to report incidents. Front-line staff should be cognizant of suspicious incidents that may provide indicators of a potential security risk. All reports of suspicious incidents should be thoroughly investigated to mitigate the potential risk, and to ensure that the organization meets the appropriate standard of care.


In order to prepare for the eventuality of addressing suspicious incidents, and to develop an awareness of suspicious incident indicators security staff should be trained on what to look for and how to react when encountering suspicious behaviour, in particular, and how to protect themselves and their organizations from internal and external risks, in general. Security Program Managers should also have a profound understanding of potential security risks posed by the location, proximity, and alignment of the assets under their protection with other organizations having a greater threat risk potential than their own, and in turn keep their staff informed of potential security risks that may be realized through such an association. This will enable staff to have advance knowledge and awareness of their environment as it relates to organizational security and risk management. For example, security and operations staff working at premises situated near the U.S. Consulate in Toronto have undoubtedly been briefed on the risk profile of the neighbouring facility, in an effort to enhance their awareness and operational readiness in case of a security incident.

In the next installment of this series we will examine internal factors affecting the security profile of your organization, with an emphasis on safeguarding information relevant to critical facility infrastructure and security operations. A well-designed security program must take into consideration threat risks from external sources, but also consider how to minimize vulnerability from within its organization by controlling potential unintended disclosure of sensitive information. Building awareness, among staff in your organization, on the prospective negative consequences of such disclosure may go a long way towards achieving prevention.

Paul Koscinski is Public Safety & Security Specialist at National Life Safety Group.

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