The role of a security manager would be hard enough if you just had to deal with the criminal element trying to gain entry to your estate. Unfortunately, security managers are in a situation where they need to deal with ever-growing criminal attacks, but also with obnoxious residents, poorly performing staff and service providers who want to take the money and run. And that’s on a good day.
To get a better idea about the challenges of securing a large estate, Hi-Tech Security Solutions invited a few security managers to join us in a round-table discussion where we discussed the realities of their jobs. As is the case in most security managers’ lives, a couple couldn’t make it due to unforeseen circumstances on the day, but we were joined by:
• Mark Lightfoot and Hans Jorna from Blair Atholl.
• Juan Koch from Eagle Canyon, and
• Titus Sithole from Monaghan Farm, who joined telephonically.
One of the biggest challenges Sithole is dealing with at the moment is the maintenance of security equipment. There is no shortage of volunteers when it comes to installing a big security solution, but there are few companies that will commit to effectively maintaining it for you over the long term. Then, he notes, when you do find someone to handle maintenance, they only focus on one aspect of your solution, such as access control, for example, meaning you still need to look for another service provider for surveillance and other technical support.
This leaves the security manager in a tight spot as maintenance must be undertaken regularly by skilled people. And if one service provider doesn’t live up to the job because they are looking for the big deals, the changeover to another untried provider is fraught with uncertainties and a potential for security disruptions.
While this is one of the challenges Blair Atholl also faces, given all that could happen, Lightfoot says his biggest challenge in terms of security is the day. “What’s going to go wrong in a day? No matter how precise your planning is, you can’t account for everything.”
And the things of the day simply carry on. From break-ins to community involvement, fence statuses and so on. And he agrees with Sithole that service providers can be a challenge. There is no shortage of candidates to install a solution, but after-sales service is where the service provider market generally falls flat. The same applies to guarding service providers. The estate needs to manage them carefully to ensure it gets what it is paying for. You need not be aggressive, but you need to stand your ground and demand performance.
Jorna handles the maintenance and infrastructure for Blair Atholl. The problem he faces is service providers not having stock available when equipment breaks or fails due to an attempted break-in. He often finds that sending something to be fixed results in the device being missing for three to six weeks before it comes back. That means the system is down, or at least vulnerable if the estate doesn’t keep its own store of spares, which is very costly when it comes to surveillance or access control products.
His second biggest challenge is nature. Fire is always a problem in winter and electrical cables used for fencing, for example, are ‘absolutely not fire resistant’. The cables, the bobbins and everything else are plastic and melt. A small veld fire can mean your electric fencing is gone.
And then it seems jackals around Blair Atholl are able to chew through electric fencing, regularly resulting in an alarm in the early hours of the morning. Apparently, the electric fencing industry has yet to develop a jackal-proof solution.
Jorna also confirms the previous comments on service providers. “As long as they can sell you something new, that’s fine, but the repair side needs to be improved dramatically.” He would like to see a joint venture between a few estates and a service provider to ensure a reasonable amount of spares are kept in stock. This would assist Blair Atholl and other estates that are in the same boat.
What do you want from security?
When trying to understand all the challenges one has to face, Lightfoot says the first step is to define what security is. “What do you do in security and what forms part and parcel of security?”
At Blair Atholl, security goes beyond access control and guarding. Lightfoot says it incorporates anything from catching dogs and snakes to being a paramedic, to being the guy that goes to your wife’s aid when she gets stuck without a spare wheel, and so on. “Security is, in a nutshell, everything. So you need to decide on how you are going to approach your onion with lots of layers.” (The security onion refers to the layers of security, each built on top of the other.)
In fact, Lightfoot includes maintenance in his security operations, because, in his view, maintenance is a critical part of security. “I can’t run the security if the maintenance doesn’t work and vice versa,” Lightfoot states.
Koch says there is no silver bullet for the problems estates face in terms of security. He says Eagle Canyon’s security focus is to render service to residents on all layers of the onion. “Our motto is, how can we be of service to the residents. The residents, at the end of the day, must experience a seamless integration of technology, hardware, software and everything in between.”
An important part of the layered (onion) approach to security is making sure the correct triggers are in place to initiate the correct responses to various situations, be they criminal, fire-related and so on. Koch says you must ensure every event triggers correctly in your control room, which will then oversee the response required. Critically, this will also require the seamless integration of all aspects of the security operation, whether technical or human, internal or external.
“It’s the integration of all those levels into a well-oiled, functioning system that allows our residents to go off to work in the morning and know that everything will be looked after, from animals that are lost to kids that are safely back from school. Ensuring that everything is looked after, almost invisibly, is the biggest challenge.”
And when it comes to technology integration, seamless integration is the key to success. Koch says Eagle Canyon has everything centralised into the control room which is run by a service provider. The control room really is the heart of the estate’s security. In addition, making the data collected in the control room available to everyone who needs it is another critical aspect of effective security.
In Koch’s case, he has access via a smartphone, through which he can log into the estate’s cameras, see what’s happening in the control room and so on. He also gets regular reports on the security situation at the estate.
Service providers who are able to make the relevant information available to the estate manager and those responsible for security in the HoA will find their jobs much easier as having the relevant information ensures decision making becomes so much easier. It also allows the security leaders to identify and mitigate emerging risks before they become a problem. And bringing all that information into one device for easy access makes the process efficient and much simpler for all concerned.
Processes and scenarios
When it comes to human resources, Sithole raises the issue of which option is best for staffing an estate’s security function. The benefit of internal staff is they are committed to the organisation and can get to know all the relevant rules and processes, as well as the people they work for and with. However, as Sithole notes, ensuring they stick to the processes set by the estate can be difficult when individuals only comply when under observation.
He notes that, despite having policies and procedures in place and in writing, as well as going through training processes, there are some that just don’t want to adhere to them. This is not only a breach of their contract, but it can result in security vulnerabilities and the relevant consequences in a worst-case scenario.
Lightfoot says this is why he believes in contracting a guarding service provider. The guards and operators who meet the standards of the estate are just as valuable to the security function as if they were employed directly, but if someone refuses to stick to the prescribed processes, the estate can simply ask for that person to be replaced. If the individual was directly employed that can become more of a challenge. Of course not all security functions can be outsourced so there is still a need to select internal employees carefully.
Koch adds that a service-level agreement (SLA) is critical in this respect. “I as the security manager know that I am only as good as the people reporting to me and those in my command centre. I therefore work closely with service providers and internal staff to ensure my SLA is in place and is being adhered to.”
Added to this, Koch believes discipline among the security staff is important, as is having processes and scenarios for them to work according to. Standing operating procedures (SOP) that are managed and updated where required is the first step in ensuring everyone works towards the same goal.
He also believes in the positive implementation of discipline. “As a manager, you need to walk that extra mile with the individual who is battling to align himself with the standing operating procedures, policies and scenarios.”
All round table participants are believers in scenarios, where every incident a security officer may face has been dealt with in a scenario, giving them a clear path on what to do when it happens. Koch gives the example of when a resident arrives at the estate, driven by a visitor. Most often, the resident leans over from the passenger seat to scan a biometric for entry, which is a breach of protocol at the estate and the access guards need to know this and how to handle it.
Adherence to the security policies of the estate applies just as much to third-party providers. This is why Koch says the contract must detail what is expected from them and there must be people who are held responsible. Eagle Canyon has regular meetings to address these issues, both with members of the estate’s board and the service providers themselves.
Part of Lightfoot’s SOP is that his team always needs to know what to do in any given situation. In the instance where they don’t know what to do, his standing rule is for them to phone him. This ensures that if something goes wrong, the people involved will have the backup to say they did call and then followed instructions.
Risk management is preparation
While the talk revolves around security, estate security managers are actually risk managers. It is their job to identify risks and the probabilities of those risks happening. In every risk management scenario, the goal is to be prepared for possible or known issues, so that the response when they happen is streamlined and the negative impact minimised (although the best scenario is if the preparations prevent those risks from ever happening). Estate risk is no different.
Lightfoot and Jorna give the example of maintenance. Their estate has an issue with veld fires and the impact they can have on their electric fencing. Good risk management therefore dictates that fire breaks should be prepared before winter sets in to minimise the potential for damage. Although, this doesn’t always stop the damage when flames move at four metres-per-second, as has been experienced at Blair Atholl, it does minimise the risk overall.
An estate is a continually changing environment, says Koch and you need to be on top of whatever the latest situation is. Whether it’s school holidays which means more kids around during the day, or being situated next to an industrial area with the implications thereof, being prepared for anything is the job.
Do your due diligence, states Lightfoot. You need to know your risk, build a risk profile and manage it. The more you know, the more you can prepare and the better your security function performs.
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