Human or machine?

February 2013 Security Services & Risk Management, Entertainment and Hospitality (Industry)

Hi-Tech Security Solutions posed the question of the importance of guarding within an effective security management plan. Are guards being replaced by technology?

Dave Crichton, MD of Bidvest Magnum believes that there will always be a need for guarding in the security portfolio. “There are undoubtedly a number of industries and markets where the role of the security officer is diminishing and being replaced by technology, but in the hospitality industry, where the security officer performs a secondary meet-and-greet role, the human element will remain.

“In addition, a properly trained security officer will be able to make a decision in, for example, the course of action to take to suppress a fire. Therefore, for health and safety reasons he can be a great asset to an organisation or facility.”

Jenny Reid, director of iFacts, agreed that security officers are essential to a good risk management plan. “Manpower forms one of the key elements within the five components of a security risk assessment and management plan. The other four are technology, systems and processes, physical security and how the system is managed. Effective and thorough screening and assessment of the manpower is a vital element to ensure that an honest security officer is able to do the job correctly.”

Andrew Page Wood of VideoIQ said that with the tightening of belts, companies and individuals are insistent that technology needs to be more effective than guarding, yet cost the same, in order for a transition to be justified. “We have seen the typical security officer evolve from purely guarding to becoming a customer interface of sorts.

Crichton added that clients are requiring security companies to adapt their costing to suit the client’s budget. “In many instances this means that clients are demanding the elimination of the human element due to the direct cost of labour and the indirect cost caused by poor service. The security industry needs to improve efficiencies in order to remain competitive and one way of countering labour issues is to build technology into the risk management strategy.”

“Technology will aid in surveillance but it is unable to differentiate between a shopper and a shoplifter. This opens up a market for security officers to be trained as specialists in reading suspicious body language as a tool in risk management,” said Page Wood.

“In areas of low activity, the installation of barriers and technology often replace security officers as a form of access control. The use of technology such as weighbridges and the scanning of products is also replacing manual checks,” said Crichton.

Match the human to the technology

“One should ideally match the security officer to the technology to ensure optimisation of the process. On that note, one cannot merely implement off-the-shelf training that is not accredited or approved. Training should be customised to the specific risk and the technology used. In order to ensure that risk management is approached in a completely objective manner, it is advisable for clients to employ the services of an independent risk assessor,” added Reid.

Crichton agreed with Reid and added that pure guarding companies tend to be extremely one-dimensional. “They just cannot handle the whole portfolio as their focus has always been on the human element. Having said this, however, it does not mean that pure guarding companies do not have an important role to play. In fact, there is a gap in the industry for the inclusion of premium guarding services.”

Reid concurred with the specialist guarding scenario and clarified that it is more desirable to employ the services of separate companies to ensure that service levels remain high in both the guarding and technology arenas. She said that in the past she had found an independent management company to be extremely effective because the loyalty of the manager was to the customer and not to the security company. This ensured that the level of service was much higher.

Crichton said that there has been an increase in the number of guarding companies offering technology as part of their portfolio. “This seems to take the form of guarding companies acquiring small technology companies and offering a hybridised service. However, I would tend to agree that it is better to keep the two services separate. This allows clients to ensure that if they are having issues with one element in the security mix, they are able to keep things on a fairly even keel by relying on the other element until the issue is resolved.”

“In addition, there is a rather ironic phenomenon worldwide; where low-income guards are deployed to protect a high-value asset. Because of this disparity, while many security officers can resist temptation, there is unfortunately a documented history of those who collude with criminals and syndicates,” said Page Wood.

“From a SASA point of view, I would also like to say that we encourage all consumers to make use of our gold class members, which will ensure that they are utilising legally compliant companies. This ensures that the security officers receive both the correct payment and benefits,” said Reid.

Manage technology

Page Wood believes that technology is needed to complement and, in some instances even replace, the observation and detection element of guarding. “However, it cannot be technology for technology’s sake and certain prerequisites need to be met to ensure its efficacy. The most critical factor that needs to be addressed is the delivery of instant, accurate event notification without false alarms.

“In order to do this, the technology needs to inform a control room, in real-time with information that for example quickly shows that there is a real threat, how many people are involved, their specific locations and where they are headed. This then allows the control room operator to deploy the appropriate resources. Video analytics plays a large role in providing accurate verification on the event that is occurring,” said Page Wood.

“With the huge leaps in technology development recently, we are now seeing a rapid move to off-site monitoring or remote guarding as a solution. For this to work effectively two elements are key: accurate, instant information as above and secondly, reliable bandwidth and connectivity, specifically in remote areas where wired installations are not possible. Together with this we are also witnessing the rapid uptake of edge technology, whereby all intelligence is held within smart cameras and only essential data is transmitted, in order to preserve bandwidth and ensure line integrity,” Page Wood continued.

All technology should be extremely easy to install, operate and maintain. “It should really be a case of ‘put it up, connect it and off you go’. In addition, the system needs to be able to alert a number of people when an event occurs, via SMS or e-mail or even directly on a smartphone app. This allows the security manager and the response unit to receive identical data on an event as it occurs. Finally, it is critical that all data can be retrieved quickly and accurately. With the clever databases that these new smart cameras have it is really quick and simple to find a specific person or vehicle and determine whether they have popped up in other footage, in order to track their movements over time,” Page Wood concluded.

The SIA perspective

Steve Conradie, CEO of SIA said that technology should be used when it is appropriate to do so. “I believe that if a security officer can perform the same function, then there is little point in spending extra capital on deploying technology. However, I do acknowledge that there are instances where technology can supplement guarding and possibly even replace it. Each individual circumstance should be reviewed on its own merits and requirements.”

Conradie cautioned that in order to provide benefit to the client, training on new technology needs to be provided. “The judicious use of technology is coupled to the correct implementation of its functionality. When it cannot be optimised, it is of little benefit to the client. However, it is important that guarding companies give due consideration to the synergistic use of technology to provide their security officers with added impetus.

“I anticipate that we will see increasing instances where technology overtakes physical guarding. A number of factors, including increasing labour costs and the negative impact of strike action, will exacerbate this. Other influencing factors include the slowness by government to legislate the unit standards and learnerships for the industry and the rapidly increasing costs of licensing a security officer by companies,” he concluded.

Tips on how to improve guarding and risk assessments

Page Wood offered the following pointers aimed at increasing the client’s guarding and risk assessment experience:

* Reduce the dependency on security officers for observational purposes, rather use good technology to do this where viable.

* Reduce overall operating costs by equipping controllers with accurate and up-to-date information, which will then reduce the number of false alarm responses.

* Automate detection by using proper video analytics and be aware of the increased risk of using motion detection instead. Research and understand the difference between the two as it may well spell the difference between success or failure.

* Centralise monitoring to separate monitoring (e-guarding) from the pure guarding function to eliminate collusion.

* Limit bandwidth use by deploying intelligent edge technology, this will save a fortune in data costs.

* Install a system that can provide instantaneous forensic search data.


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