A few years ago, the platinum sector and other mining strike action, protests and social disruptions led ultimately to a devastated local economy and poverty in the North West province. The central control room of one of the companies I work with was one of the few areas where the personnel staffing was not reduced, as it was seen as critical to managing and resolving many of the issues during strike action and the aftermath.
More recently, facing major industry strike action, I was asked to provide training for another client’s control room personnel to prepare them for possible disruptions and on what to look for. In at least one major mining theft case, the control room was targeted by the armed gang of criminals as part of theft from mine premises crimes to reduce the effectiveness of a coordinated security/police response to the theft, as has been the case in some buildings in central Johannesburg. And in campus protests, we have had control rooms burned and destroyed as part of the on-campus violence. Facing major challenges, we need to remember that control rooms and command centres are central to an effective diagnosis and response to risk conditions.
New period of unrest
We are now entering a period where we will be facing a range of difficult and sometimes extreme situations, including criminal threats, legitimate and illegitimate mass actions, and organised and spontaneous protests. In some cases these are already occurring in the country. Criminals may use some of these legitimate protest opportunities, but also act independently inside and outside companies to steal under these increasingly difficult circumstances.
It is essential to have informed, coordinated and professional responses within control rooms at this time, based on effective surveillance and professional communication. Add to this the threat of COVID-19 both within and outside the control room and the need to monitor safe practices among staff, visitors or customers, and control rooms are becoming potentially very busy and stressed places. So what strategy is best suited to handle these multiple demands, risks, and threats?
Consolidating people and core business
My recommendation is to focus on consolidating people and core business, and reaffirming surveillance priorities. New technologies can cause disruption to existing systems and work methods, and can distract from core functions and established methods that people are comfortable with. Introducing incremental changes at this stage would be the best option.
Stretching people at this stage is also unwise given the general levels of tension facing control room personnel and the community more broadly. Expanding information sources to facilitate intelligence driven surveillance is probably the best upgrade consideration at this stage, which can include equipment capabilities and outside information sources. It can also include more effective reviews of current collected data, which I will touch on later.
Consolidating in order to deal with risk in the environment outside the organisation that can impact on the organisation and its assets should probably start with a review of the safeguarding and protection of your current control room. Is it sufficiently protected to deal with possible threats that may arise, including potential riots or armed intrusion? If things get to be too much, is there a Plan B to ensure the safety of control personnel. Other activities from the external environment that can be considered are listed below.
• Check your standard procedures are up to date, ensure they cover possible scenarios, and make sure that personnel are aware of them. This particularly relates to events and communication contacts.
• Ensure that any practices related to protection of the control room and its members from COVID-19 related contamination are in place and enforced with a zero tolerance policy. This includes when people are outside the control room, as you don’t want your operators ignoring social distancing while they are having lunch, waiting outside, or taking a smoke break.
• Do risk evaluations of outside areas and perimeters on a regular basis and use intelligence-based surveillance strategies for outside areas and vehicle movement.
• Expand your surveillance zone to outside rings around your site through sources of information such as social media groups, community chat groups, number plate recognition, lists of known suspects, and the congregation of groups where this doesn’t normally happen.
• Communicate potential threat areas through company-linked social media accounts, ideally customised to areas that would impact on employees.
• Identify and respond proactively to potential threats to portray a competent image of surveillance.
• Review areas for new ways of penetrating the premises or removing goods from the premises.
Consolidating the internal capacity of the control room and the impact on the internal organisation issues should include:
• Auditing procedural adherence in company practices.
• Do a training or development needs analysis with each member related to systems and surveillance functions within the control room.
• Conduct simulations with staff and work on interactions between control room and physical/response security.
• Train and coach people in critical performance areas that will have an impact on service delivery.
• Check out back areas that aren’t often looked at to ensure no suspicious activities are occurring.
• Use off-peak time for reviewing recorded footage in areas which are key concerns of management.
• Actively manage control room staff using a performance management system or measure, and set up a feedback loop and discussions to focus on development needs.
• Do virtual roadblocks to check people are exiting the property carefully and access control is managed effectively, as well as reviewing movements around other areas on site.
• Verify the movement dynamics of staff, particularly in blind spots. Also check movement of goods into blind spots.
• Hold review and feedback meetings with staff to share highlights and achievements.
• Conduct a self-audit.
• Get suggestions and comments from control room staff on potential improvements.
Maintaining a tight focus on service delivery and adding value from the control room has the dual benefits of greater protection of the organisation and its people and assets, as well as reaffirming the skills and approach within the control room environment and getting these recognised across the whole organisation. It also ensures readiness to cope with the difficult circumstances in which organisations currently find themselves.
About Craig Donald
Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on
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