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Positive pandemic

Thanks to its work so far during the Covid-19 pandemic, the private security industry has something positive to talk about, the latest in Prof Martin Gill’s thought leadership webinars heard yesterday.

Also striking about that positive message was that the three speakers came from different continents – Australian Security Industry Association Ltd (ASIAL) chief Bryan de Caires; in the United States, Michael Gips, a board member of the Global Life Safety Alliance; and in the UK, former BSIA chairman and Security Industry Authority (SIA) board member, now a non-exec of several companies, Geoff Zeidler, pictured. What each of the three men had to report about how private security has fared during the lockdown, and much more, could have applied to the other two.

Giving first the Australian perspective, Bryan de Caires said that security was often under-valued, but the industry had responded very quickly to changing demand. Security had to perform a role for returning travellers, who had to stay in hotels for two weeks on their return to the country; at work at supermarkets and in shopping centres; and did screening of people entering offices and factories. He said: “The industry stepped up very quickly and put in place measures to enable its workers to work safely, with all the right PPE; and respond very quickly to the needs of government and the corporate sector.” Hence the industry was able to pick up some of the slack due to a lack of activity elsewhere for example in events requiring crowd control. Restrictions on movement of cash and valuables meant the cash in transit (CIT) sector was ‘struggling a bit’; ‘but overall many in the industry have been able to maintain a fairly steady workflow.’ As for the electronic sector, many projects have been brought forward, to take advantage of building being unoccupied.

Such work, he went on, underscored the vital role (‘day in, day out’) for the industry, and in a crisis Security is expected to be there, 24-7: “There’s a lot of positive stories to come out of the industry.”

While echoing much of that sentiment, Michael Gips did point to some of ‘the worst of security’, such as a public perception of security as guards, whereas the work is more diverse than that; and the buying of lowest price services.

Geoff Zeidler hailed new service innovation, by ‘companies that are really stepping up’. How the security industry had work to do to inform the public perception of security became a theme of the webinar, and judged to be separate from the security industry talking among itself, and telling buyers and customers what it did (and indeed why).

Like others speaking of the pandemic, Zeidler spoke in terms of opportunity. “Security officers have been recognised by the government as key workers,” he pointed out; he called for a re-setting of expectations and perceptions of the industry, because ‘the industry has moved on and people can see how it’s changed. We have got to show that’.

As for some of security edges being ‘blurred by FM [facilities management services]’, Zeidler suggested that private security in the UK was very bad at co-ordinating itself, such as to do something about declining margins. Here he raised the UK umbrella body the Security Commonwealth, made up of some 40 associations.

Prof Martin Gill had introduced the webinar by explaining its method; of debating what is good and bad, so that ‘we get a better type of security in the future’. He now raised the point of whether to call the security person an officer or a guard. Michael Gips defended using the word ‘guard’ (that others dislike because it implies all the person does is guard something or someone). Gips defended his use of ‘guard’ for that very reason; because some guards are not trained, and in some US states (which have responsibility for licensing of security) the badging requirements are ‘minimal’.

On officer low pay, Zeidler said that wages have declined, but that was not universal; he added that guarding companies have to take some responsibility for what business they actually want.

For past and future webinars, under the OSPAs (Outstanding Security Performance Awards) banner, visit Tomorrow’s is; ‘the Offenders’ Perspective’.


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