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November 12, 2021


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IFSEC Interviews

Security and COVID: Resilience, expansion and upskilling – yet challenges remain, explains Professor Martin Gill

A recent report from the Security Research Initiative – ‘Covid-19 and the implications for the security sector: what happened and what has been and is being learned?’ – could be seen as a pat on the back for the security industry from the security industry. However, behind the headline, some stark warnings were clear. Julian Hall speaks to Professor Martin Gill, Research Lead for the project, as the two dive further into the detail. 

Resilience, expansion and skilling-up

Carried out by the Security Research Initiative, a rolling venture from Perpetuity Research, between January and February this year, the survey, comprising 500 replies from industry professionals, revealed that ‘83% of respondents felt that overall security had performed well in the crisis’.

Professor Martin Gill

Research lead, Professor Martin Gill, criminologist and Director of Perpetuity Research, (Gill was also named in IFSEC Global’s Top Influencers in Security and Fire 2021) felt that this should come as no surprise.

“One of the characteristics of the security world is that it is entrepreneurial,” Professor Gill told IFSEC Global.

“Most people who work in security either work in a supply office or in a private business, and I don’t think we should be particularly surprised that working in a business environment means that business opportunities present themselves in different ways. When your focus is supporting organisations through turmoil then, in some ways, you could argue that you come to the fore at this point.”

The pandemic, Gill says, allowed security firms to make a “whole group of trained personnel immediately available to sectors that needed it.” Gill gives examples such as retail (managing social distancing and access control); hospitals (co-ordinating the safe passage of patients for treatment and managing vaccination centres), and also empty buildings, where one respondent remarked that they put nine security guards on site for protection from squatters.

Remote monitoring was, of course, in demand for most of the lockdown period, and a majority of the survey respondents thought demand would increase for this as well as for mobile patrols and for technology, such as CCTV and access control.

“COVID-19 is still lingering in the public’s consciousness – and 59% of respondents felt that security would retain a greater priority than previously due to fear of future pandemics – but the virus is not the only threat to a sustained outlay on monitoring and other services.”

Meanwhile, 65% felt the pandemic may hasten this shift to more technology and less personnel.

Three-quarters of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that security professionals developed new skill sets during the pandemic, ones that would be invaluable going forward.

Virtual supervision “enabled a way of working that would have been seen as impossible beforehand,” observes Professor Gill. Learning to work without close supervision was another aspect of this.

Other respondents talked about ‘blended services’ where technology and security were combined to help with, for example, traffic management and health and safety. This often involved interdepartmental co-operation, which was an important feature of the pandemic/lockdown period. “They were forced to work together,” says Gill, “and now, going forward, they have a way of building things up.”

“There was the sense in which suppliers have been able to be useful to clients. There were flexible, adaptable, reacting quickly. There was also a sense in which that currency of credibility and of value would hold them in good stead going forward.”

The challenges ahead for security

While there are many positives coming from the pandemic – 69% of industry professionals responding thought it was right to expect marked improvements and innovation in security from now on – the future is, as every security watcher knows, inherently uncertain.

Gill recalls that the massive interest in security around Y2K, 9/11 and other incidences of terrorism eventually wanes.

“The risk dies off, then so does the interest.”

COVID-19 is still lingering in the public’s consciousness – and 59% of respondents felt that security would retain a greater priority than previously due to fear of future pandemics – but the virus is not the only threat to a sustained outlay on monitoring and other services.

“What happens when, following a crisis, we get economic austerity? We know what happens when cutbacks occur. Security is one of the groups to be the first to feel the crash. So, caution is needed.”

This caution does appear to be heeded by those who replied to the survey, with 75% of them feeling that ‘despite good intentions, the financial constraints that are likely to follow the pandemic will undermine any progress made.’

In addition, a sense of wariness is evident in the survey’s finding that 55% of security professionals indicated that ‘there are other service functions that stood out more for their achievements than security did during the pandemic’, examples included cyber, crisis management and health and safety.

Among the concerns arising out of the pandemic were the crimes that could be committed remotely, such as opportunities for online fraud and unauthorised access to important details such as business accounts. “Technology made it all possible, but it wasn’t designed for that purpose, nor were people prepared for that environment,” remarks Gill.

Coping with new challenges, adjusting to new working conditions and the returning to the office inevitably means that mental health is a concern in the security sector as it is in any other.

Read the full report from the Security Research Initiative, here.

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