Coping with COVID-19

Issue 4 2020 Editor's Choice

COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown have made us rethink the way we interact with people and operate our businesses. Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to four security service providers – from a one-man business to a company employing over 850 people – about their new business reality and how they are coping with the stringent regulations.

Carlo Klopper, managing director of FS Systems, says the company has a skeleton staff in place for emergency call-outs, especially with respect to assisting critical essential-service providers.

“Compliance with stringent health and safety procedures has always been a priority for us so this is just a more evolved version of what we were doing before the lockdown. We have addressed the new requirements by issuing all our staff with gloves, masks and disinfectant sprays. We have also continued to hold weekly online safety toolbox talks, now specifically focused around COVID-19.”

The toolbox talks and regular communication with field services teams ensures that everybody is on the same page and, as a further link in the chain, the company’s human resources department checks in on the field and remote teams and reports back to management on any issues that may arise, allowing them to be addressed quickly.

In terms of COVID-19 we have to be open to the fact that small businesses will struggle and crime will increase. So people will have to give serious thought to crime and definitely the fact that it will become more violent in nature. This means making definite mindset changes in terms of security.

Andy Lawler.

Andy Lawler, owner of Sentinel Risk Management, says that he only ventures outside his property when it is absolutely necessary. “I am fortunate to live in a complex that has its own gym, so I use those facilities to keep the stress of the current situation at bay. As the sole employee of the company, I cannot afford to take chances, so I spray all foreign surfaces with disinfectant before and after I make contact with them. I also wear a mask and gloves when I leave the complex. I must emphasise, however, that there is no point in using PPE (personal protection equipment) if you do not follow the correct procedures for wearing a mask and gloves. You need to constantly disinfect gloves and, very importantly, do not fiddle with your mask when it’s on your face!”

Adopting a risk-aversive attitude

Lawler explains that most of his clients are taking the restrictions very seriously and this reticence to make contact with others outside their familiar family circle means that clients are waiting until after social distancing restrictions are lifted, or when the virus is contained, to commit to the installation of new cameras and other equipment. “It makes a lot of sense that they should adopt such a cautious and risk-aversive attitude. After all, they have already demonstrated their commitment to safety by considering the deployment of security technology.

“Since most people are at home anyway, there is little reason for them to log into their systems, since they are already at the source of the detection. Unfortunately, we are seeing that this in itself is hatching a new trend amongst criminals. In the past, criminals would wait until the residents were away from the home to commit opportunistic type crimes. With many people now being in the home environment on a continuous basis, there is a growing probability that more carefully-planned, armed robberies may become more common,” says Lawler.

Caesare da Silva.

Caesare da Silva, ISF SFP service manager, Johannesburg, says that the company has issued communications to all staff members that are in line with the recommendations made by the World Health Organisation (WHO). “We have instituted the general use of PPE for technicians in the field to include three-layer masks, goggles, gloves, as well as hand sanitisers. It is imperative to curb the spread of the virus and risk of exposure, so we have briefed all our teams on the correct use of their PPE and we continue to reinforce the importance of social distancing, self-hygiene and awareness.”

With over 850 employees on the ground, Xone Integrated Security faces a major logistical challenge in terms of complying with the government’s regulations for containing the COVID-19 virus. Richard Groenewald, managing director of Xone Integrated Security, says that in many instances the large residential estates and mines that they provide guarding for have made accommodation available on site so that guarding staff do not need to leave the premises.

“To that end we formulated leaflets and memos to staff, giving them guidelines and tips on how to protect themselves, recognise symptoms and what the rules of engagement should be, based on recognised government and health authority literature.”

Richard Groenewald.

Rules of engagement

Groenewald says that because there were clear indications prior to 27 March that the lockdown would be a likely scenario, Xone had already started providing its employees with hand sanitisers as early as 11 March. “We provided them with enough hand sanitiser for use at both work and at home, since we did not want them unnecessarily exposing their family members to any accidental contact. We also educated all employees on management expectations of social distancing and non-contact with other people.”

In terms of the use of face masks, the company has decided that employees should wear them in instances where they have been requested to do so by clients. “Also, at the moment we prefer our employees to clean their hands with alcohol-based sanitisers rather than use gloves. Our approach to this is dynamic, reacting to changes in regulations and recommendations as the authorities obtain more knowledge.

“Interestingly, we have discovered that during the lockdown, our off-site employees in the administrative, logistics and sales divisions are operating very effectively from their home offices so we anticipate that this will continue even after the social distancing is relaxed,” says Groenewald.

Remote and on-site maintenance

How are the companies coping with the maintenance of security systems during the lockdown and for the future-anticipated continuation of social distancing? Lawler says that where maintenance work is required, he would definitely assist clients, but obviously with all the necessary preventative measures in place.

“The nice thing about cameras and DVRs is that we can use Zoom as a meeting tool to, for example, show clients how to reset their DVR. We are in essence equipping clients with a tool they can carry into the future that will allow them to handle the small ‘maintenance’ things that would normally incur unnecessary travel costs for installers and system integrators. It also has a positive knock-on effect as we are perceived to be trusting our clients to be involved in the process,” says Lawler.

“Where clients have integrated IP systems, we can remotely monitor and maintain systems online. The challenge during lockdown though is the servicing of physical hardware, especially evacuation systems and fire services. For this reason, we have put emergency call-out procedures in place,” says Klopper.

Carlo Klopper.

“Based on what we have learned from the lockdown, we expect that many more client systems will become cloud-based in the future. This would lead to more streamlined operations going forward as it eliminates much of the ‘waste’ that was part of business processes. We have used the opportunity to address how we can collaborate and find solutions faster. It will allow us to invest in strategic, skills and operational improvements that will sustain us in the future,” Klopper adds.

“We understand the importance of measuring the impact the coronavirus has had on many of our customers and how we can collectively move forward to ensure both the safety of our clients’ staff and assets as well as address efficient spending during these economically challenging times,” says Da Silva.

“Certain maintenance criteria will still be governed by regulatory bodies and legislation, which will still be a requirement. We have been issued with a mandate by the SAQCC which outlines discussions with government that registered fire companies may render fire protection services to listed essential service providers. We do have the necessary work permits and CIPC documents to conduct servicing which falls within the outlined sectors,” Da Silva points out.

“We have, wherever possible, been offering our customers telephonic support and have, where necessary, dispatched standby teams to rectify faults and servicing of life safety and electronic security equipment. However, the true impact of this pandemic is yet to be realised so we are working closely with our clients to minimise both the risk of not servicing equipment and exposure to the virus,” says Da Silva.

Staying in touch with clients

Remaining top-of-mind for clients when you cannot physically meet with them can be challenging. Fortunately, the digital era allows companies to communicate with their clients in real time using a number of mechanisms.

“We maintain visibility with our clients through our manned standby facility as well as via email communications,” says Da Silva.

Groenewald agrees that emails are a primary form of communication with clients as well as scheduled Zoom meetings, where appropriate. “We also have WhatsApp groups where we share up-to-the-minute information with clients. We have enabled our entire administrative team for home office communication which allows them to keep both our clients and our own employees in the loop.”

The distribution of both internal and external newsletters is a valuable tool for FS Systems in its efforts to stay connected with all stakeholders. “We developed a company app that we use specifically for the dissemination of technical information and we use a ticketing system for the fielding of technical queries. Our social media posts have been increased in frequency to ensure that everybody is kept in the loop. Our employee teams collaborate through the Microsoft 365 suite and we have an online technical training programme for our field service teams.

“There is no doubt that system integrators are facing very big challenges with the advent of the virus but we had already invested a substantial amount of resources into systems and software prior to the current regulations in order to allow us to deploy remote project and system conceptualisation. Furthermore, our sophisticated customer relations management (CRM) platform allows us to accurately measure customer engagement, to provide us with the necessary feedback to assisting in our operations remaining sustainable,” says Klopper.

Lawler says that he has taken the opportunity to upgrade his website and post more on social media. “Sadly, much of my income is derived from official speaking opportunities and my membership of the Business Network International. With the current regulations, this income stream has dried up but I would certainly not be averse to conducting more online conferences and content talks.”

“It has been a very challenging time for the industry as a whole as there has been a significant reduction in productivity, not only nationally but globally. It is important for all organisations to realise that we are in this together and there is very little control in our hands other than ensuring national guidelines and lockdown regulations are adhered to,” says Da Silva.

For more information contact:

• FS-Systems, +27 21 685 1111, [email protected],

• Sentinel Risk Management, +27 82 953 1594, [email protected],

• ISF SFP, +27 11 247 7800, [email protected],

• Xone Integrated Security, +27 82 906 7600, [email protected],


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