We all talk about the importance of security, but enforcing protocols can be remarkably challenging when our security responsibilities seem to be growing by the day. It can also be stressful at a time when we’re being bombarded with daily headlines about cyber security breaches, commercial property vulnerabilities and the like. Even constant requests to reset email passwords can become daunting.

But for a commercial or residential property owner or manager, paying attention to security is a crucial requirement for ensuring the safety of occupants and residents, as well as protecting valuable assets. Still, we often encounter organizations that have struggled to maintain and enforce security best practices, be it simple measures such as installing effective lighting around a property or even ensuring that doors are closed and locked at the end of a work day when the property is empty.

Why? The unfortunate reality is that for many organizations, taking a proactive approach to security is at the bottom of their list of priorities. They tend to react to security issues rather than developing a strategy to help mitigate risk, satisfy legislative requirements, reduce the threat of legal liability and implement reasonable measures to protect their assets—be it people, property or both—before unwanted situations develop.

Sound familiar? To help you make security a top organizational priority, we’ve put together four simple steps designed to help keep your people and property safe and secure:

Make it easy—One of the greatest challenges with security is that it can be complicated. When in doubt, embrace a philosophy similar to the one that legendary Apple CEO Steve Jobs employed when designing game-changing devices such as the iPhone and iPad: if the instruction or device can’t be followed or used by a four-year-old, it’s probably too onerous for the average person to effectively deploy on a regular basis. Your security protocols and infrastructure should be designed to suit the unique characteristics of your workplace or commercial property, and should be so simple that they become virtually reflexive for key stakeholders to use or follow.

Make it fun—Many organizations have turned to strategies such as gamification to gain security buy-in from their staff. That means setting up systems where employees or residents—in the case of a property such as a condominium—are rewarded for following established protocols. Sometimes that can involve a more elaborate points-based system. The stakeholders in question can gain points which they can then redeem for something of value—a half-day off work, for example. While gamification can be highly effective, it can also require significant work, especially in the set-up phase. A simpler approach might be offering monthly recognition and even rewards to those who have best adhered to security policies and procedures, in the same vein as an employee-of-the-month recognition program. The point is that incentivizing stakeholders does help improve the odds of compliance—which is the core consideration when protecting your property.

Build it into the onboarding process—Whether it’s considerations over digital or physical security, one of the most effective ways to ingrain a sense of vigilance across your organization is to offer new employees orientation training that includes specific reference to their security responsibilities. Those points should also be built into your organization’s workplace policy and procedures manual (which you should have, by the way) and employees should receive regular refresher courses reminding them of those obligations and updating them on any new security measures or technology that you might have introduced in the interim. Of course, your onboarding process should focus not only on physical security—ensuring that the doors are locked at night, for example—but also IT security, which is an increasingly daunting threat for virtually every organization. That includes everything from alerting staff to the potential of phishing or other nefarious cyber scams, to the importance of securing and protecting physical tools such as laptops and USB sticks, which tend to be a prime (and easy) target for cyber criminals.

Hire ample security—So, you’ve managed to get buy-in from staff and they’re actively (and happily) following security procedures. But do you have enough security staff on-site to properly protect your property? This tends to be another major oversight as organizations will often attempt to cut corners and reduce security expenditures to bolster their budgets. Having ample security to patrol a property is a core requirement if you want to keep it safe and secure. Work with a reliable and experienced security firm to determine the number of personnel you need, then develop a comprehensive strategy to highlight and defend potential vulnerabilities.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security 

One of the most enduring memories from the vicious van attack near the busy Yonge-Finch intersection that shook Toronto residents last month—not to mention Canadians from across the country—was the scene of bodies strewn across the sidewalk, desperately awaiting medical help.

First responders acted so quickly and with such incredible professionalism that it was clear their work helped limit the carnage to 10 dead and 16 wounded. Without their swift action, who knows how high the death toll could have climbed?

Another image was just as powerful. That was the alleged driver of the van, Alek Minassian, being arrested by an officer who used both discretion and restraint to take the man down without firing a single shot. But watch the footage of the arrest closely and you’ll notice something going on in the background that was as interesting as it was disturbing—a handful of individuals emerged from an office building and stood for a second, stunned, watching the bizarre incident playing out before them.

Now, it would be easy to chastise the individuals for not immediately realizing what was happening—in particular, noticing a police officer who at that point was brandishing his gun—and quickly taking cover. But why would they? Toronto is a remarkably safe city. Situations like these are unprecedented and would leave anyone reasonably grasping for a real-time plan to maintain their own safety. The video shows the bystanders slowly coming to the realization that standing by and watching the events unfold wasn’t the wisest course of action. They soon disappear offscreen.

In my last blog I underscored the importance of designing a comprehensive emergency preparedness and disaster response plan for your organization or commercial property, and being ready and able at all times to activate it. I want to highlight another important lesson from this incident: that effective security strategies don’t necessarily end at your building’s front door.

In an emergency situation, your security team (which could be composed of in-house staff or personnel from an outsourced firm such as Wincon Security) must spring into action to secure the premises and ensure the safety of everyone inside. That’s a given. But the property’s EPDRP should include a contingency for extending those protocols to the outside of the building, as well. Why? As we saw in the video footage from the van attack, it’s reasonable to assume that a building’s occupants could—unwittingly or not—wander outside your front door and find themselves in the middle of a dangerous situation.

Ideally, after identifying the risks associated with the situation and making a real-time assessment to determine how best to manage it, your security team will alert a building’s occupants of the need to remain calm, follow instructions and seek safety. Let’s assume your building has a PA system—and if not, that’s another major problem that needs to be addressed. If the threat or emergency is occurring off of the premises, it’s then up to security to make an announcement requesting that occupants remain inside until given further notice. If not, then an evacuation might be in order.

Either way, security teams need to be given a mandate to monitor activities across a property, including in the surrounding grounds or neighbourhood, while always staying on top of breaking news and developments to keep a step ahead of the situation. Our team members are trained to do exactly that, with their duty being to secure a complete perimeter, not only the core area that is the focus of their daily patrol duties. Unfortunately, not every security firm takes the same comprehensive approach.

We can be thankful that none of the individuals in that second video (of the alleged attacker’s takedown) were injured in any way, although I’m sure they were at least slightly shaken when they realized the magnitude of the scene playing out in front of them. But with the right planning, training and a proactive, strategic approach to security, their incursion into a live, potential shooting incident, could have been stopped. Let’s hope commercial property owners, managers and security teams take this lesson to heart when the time comes to revise their security plans—then take the time to extend those plans past the threshold of their buildings.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

Photo courtesy of CBC News

 

The calm of employees darting to and from work and innocent passersby enjoying a sunny Monday stroll in north Toronto was shattered on April 23rd, when an individual hopped a curb near the intersection of Yonge and Finch and engaged in a murderous rampage, running down and killing 10 people, while injuring 16. A terrified city immediately fell into a state of shock and fear, then mourning as the names of the deceased and injured were eventually released.

The alleged driver of the vehicle, Alek Minassian, was quickly apprehended by police, ending the rampage and restoring a new normalcy to the city. While Toronto is one of the safest cities on the planet, we were all reminded of the need to be vigilant and prepared for emergency situations, however unlikely they may be. That last part is important. Only a tiny fraction of one-per cent of us will ever be involved in such a gut-wrenching tragedy.

For that we can all be thankful.

The challenge is that when disaster strikes or an individual or a group of people become intent on causing harm to others, we must be prepared to react with a comprehensive emergency preparedness and disaster response plan (EPDRP). I outlined the importance of having just such a strategy in place in a recent blog, focusing on the nuts and bolts of designing a customized plan that makes sense for your organization.

But the Toronto van attack targeted pedestrians on a public street. How would an EPDRP help in such a situation? The answer, in this case, is that it wouldn’t. But a variation of that tragedy plays out in workplaces with alarming frequency across North America—particularly in jurisdictions where gun ownership is more widely accepted. Increasingly, vehicles are becoming the weapon of choice for those intent on causing harm thanks to their availability and ease of access. All it takes is for someone to drive a van through a storefront or to run down employees in a busy parking lot—see the murder of a Canadian forces member by way of car attack in Quebec in 2014—and the ease at which these crimes can be committed becomes apparent.

For commercial property owners and managers, not to mention employers intent on protecting their staff, the EPDRP is a tool to help ensure readiness and to take action when worst-case scenarios play out.  The one point I want to re-emphasize from that previous blog in the wake of the Toronto van attack is the need to communicate the plan to employees, and to conduct regular drills to make its deployment simple and reflexive. It’s crucial to work with your security firm or in-house security personnel to develop a plan that addresses potential vulnerabilities across your workplace. The plan should also nod to operational realities such as shift changes or periods of increased vulnerability, as well as logistical concerns relating to the layout of your property or building.

Most importantly, we remind our clients that an effective EPDRP is about people more than anything else, and most notably how they react in a challenging situation. The key is to remind employees, residents (in the case of a condominium property), customers or other stakeholders of the importance of remaining calm in a troubling situation. Then it’s about ushering them to safety and away from danger as soon as possible. At times that could involve a lockdown scenario if an assailant is threatening your property. In the event of an attack similar to the van incident, it could mean remaining inside a building until receiving the all-clear from authorities.

Deploying a plan and keeping stakeholders calm and safe will be the responsibility of your security team. Are they sufficiently trained in these protocols? Are there enough security personnel on duty at any given time to ensure that if an emergency situation occurs, your organization will have the staffing needed to keep the building and everyone inside it safe and secure? Again, these may only be once-in-a-lifetime incidents, but when they happen, you need to be ready.

Almost nothing could have prevented the tragic van attack that shattered so many lives, but if there is any positive lesson we can glean from the incident, it’s that it’s never too late to be prepared for emergency situations—even the most unlikely.

In part two of this blog, I’ll explore another important takeaway from this tragic event.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security