It goes without saying that 2020 is a year that many of us will be glad to forget, just as we look forward to a socially distanced and happy holiday with loved ones. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has challenged everyone from individual Canadians and healthcare professionals to business owners and bureaucrats in ways that we couldn’t have imagined as recently as early March. But the many struggles of the COVID-19 crisis have also reaffirmed our strength and resilience as a country. In the face of adversity, we adapted and managed, even as we continue to mourn the many lives lost and the scores of businesses brought down by the ensuing economic disruption.

The security industry has not been immune to the pandemic’s harsh economic impact. Companies large and small have reeled as affected sectors such as hospitality, travel and retail were forced into shutdown mode or were suddenly required to scale back business in ways that immediately lessened the need for security coverage. But I’m proud to say that through it all, Wincon Security has managed to not only navigate these stormy waters, but thrive.

The reason, of course, is because we’ve built incredible partnerships with our many clients. Their loyalty and support has been pivotal to Wincon’s success for more than 26 years, and in hard times, they’ve remained by our side. We’re grateful for the opportunity to protect their people, property and assets, and we can’t wait to see how we can find new ways to meet their security needs in the years ahead. The push to constantly improve is a core value, one that we embrace and also consider a responsibility that we simply won’t take for granted—it will continue to drive us to deliver even better service to our customers long after this pandemic has passed.

Case in point: We made significant investments to upgrade our technology infrastructure this year, while also working to enhance our employee training and development programs. We believe that delivering effective security solutions is about far more than doing the basics. In most cases, our security personnel are not only frontline representatives of Wincon Security, but also of our clients’ brands—be they retailers, commercial property managers, or any company in between. Their work on-site can significantly impact that brand experience, which is why we constantly strive for new ways to enhance our team’s customer service skills with real-world, situational training.

Of course, helping our customers succeed means staying at the forefront of new technology reshaping our industry. We’ve continued to research the latest in security software and hardware from facial-recognition cameras to advanced biometric systems that could have applications across both commercial and residential properties. That work is ongoing as we enhance our organizational commitment to research and development, which includes enhancing our own back-end technology infrastructure—a critical investment that enabled much of our administrative staff to work remotely during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, none of our success would be possible were it not for the tireless dedication, professionalism and hard work of our team members. At the pandemic’s peak, they put themselves in higher-risk public settings to ensure that our clients’ properties and people were kept safe and secure. They neither complained nor refused the challenge. Instead, they made it to work each and every day with an attitude that exemplified the very best that Wincon Security has to offer.

To better protect them, we recently implemented a new Whistleblower Program that provides a mechanism to report everything from sexual harassment to any form of unwelcome behaviour experienced while on the job. We’re committed to providing a safe, welcoming and fruitful workplace experience—and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that our company culture isn’t negatively impacted by unacceptable behaviour. Our whistleblower directive to employees is simple: If you see something, say something.

So, as we look back on 2020 and raise a glass with the promise of a better 2021 ahead, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you and your family a happy holiday and a healthy New Year. While rising COVID-19 case counts remind us that difficult months still lie ahead, vaccines give us hope that a return to normal is on the horizon. This year proved that we can make it to the finish line—safely, securely, together.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

When the COVID-19 outbreak took hold in March, it was difficult to imagine the size and scope of the challenge that lay ahead. Industries ground to a halt as social-distancing measures forced the closure of everything from offices to recreational facilities. Businesses and their employees faced unprecedented uncertainty. Security firms such as ours weren’t spared from the widespread economic impact.

While some clients needed less of our time, many sectors called on us to do more—much more—to help them weather the coronavirus storm. Business leaders quickly realized the degree to which they needed trained security professionals to help them manage everything from store line-ups to protecting shuttered office buildings. Perhaps most importantly, those that needed additional help from Wincon Security came to understand that we could not only protect their people, property and assets, but we were also well-positioned to become an extension of their brand. Because our people are well-trained and committed to providing industry-leading service, they could rely on us to positively reflect their company values and uphold their service standards.

Specifically, they could rely on you—our employees—to make the very best of a very challenging COVID-19 situation.

By no means are we out of COVID-19 crisis mode as a second wave of the outbreak looms large. We’re likely to face more difficulties in the weeks and months ahead before we can put this pandemic behind us. But I know that because of your dedication and commitment to excellence, our company will emerge from this stronger than ever. The past six months have only proved what I already knew about each and every one of you: You care. You’re passionate about servicing our clients. You want to make your communities better by helping to make them safer. You want to help our company grow and achieve even greater success together.

Through it all, you not only showed up for work every day, but you demonstrated unbelievable engagement and professionalism. Our competitors faced widespread labour shortages, but all of you ensured that we were able to meet client demand for our services. And you did it with a smile from behind our Wincon-branded face masks. At times that meant exposing yourselves to the general public to do your jobs. But you did it without complaining because that’s what was needed.

As a business owner, I couldn’t be more proud of your hard work and commitment to becoming better at your jobs every day. You’ve proven once again that Wincon is a partner to our clients—be they on the commercial property, retail, condominium or residential sides.

Along the way we’ve taken efforts to ensure your safety in the workplace, whether it’s in the office or at client sites. That’s meant investing in personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizers, increased cleaning of everything from our headquarters to patrol vehicles and even purchasing those aforementioned reusable Wincon masks. Rest assured, we’ll continue making the necessary investments to keep you safe and healthy on the job. Nothing is more important to us than your well-being, as well as that of our customers and partners. We hope the new workplace normal—however it continues to evolve—alleviates the need for such stringent health and safety measures, but that day could still be a long way off.

In the meantime, our strategy is focused on finding innovative ways to service our clients as the COVID-19 pandemic carries on. Many of you have shared ideas to help us find new efficiencies and service-delivery methods as we’ve worked to achieve that goal. We invite you to continue making suggestions and thinking about ways to make Wincon an even better security provider.

As a company built on service and driven by culture, we have the tools we need to make it through this pandemic. Let’s continue working together to achieve our goals and prove once again that there is no emergency situation that our team can’t handle.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO

An emergency can happen anywhere, anytime.

A fire, flood, natural disaster, an incident involving a disgruntled employee threatening violence. Preparing for an emergency is critical to ensuring the safety and security of employees or residents across your properties. But if that’s the case, why are so few commercial property owners prepared to handle just such an event?

In our experience, fewer than 10 percent of commercial property owners or condominium corporations take proactive steps to develop a comprehensive emergency preparedness and disaster response plan (EPDRP). Those that do rarely communicate the plan or conduct drills to ensure that, in the case of an emergency, the action plan is executed properly. To say this is an oversight would be a huge understatement.

It’s critical for organizations to maintain an easily deployed EPDRP to avoid any unnecessary loss of life in the event of an emergency, as well as to mitigate the threat of litigation or penalties for not taking the necessary, reasonable steps to be prepared. Now, you may be wondering—particularly if this is your first time thinking about the topic—how to design an EPDRP. It’s a good question and one that we’re asked whenever we engage a new client.

With that in mind, here are seven steps for designing an emergency action plan that makes sense for your commercial property and assets:

Wincon Security personnel are fully trained to manage on-site emergencies, even when a formal EPDRP hasn’t been drafted.

Assess the risk—This is the critical first step we recommend when developing any EPDRP. Every property is different, and so are the individuals who either work or live there. To fully understand the risk, you’ll first need to understand what could happen in an emergency situation, even unlikely ones. If your building is in a known flood plain or a tornado-prone area, for example, your plan should reflect those potential risks. If yours is a commercial property, assess the risk from the kinds of activities that are conducted on the premises. If you produce chemicals, for example, your risk levels will be far greater than those at a warehouse facility. In addition, do a headcount to determine how many individuals live or work on site. If you’re a condominium corporation responsible for the well-being of thousands of tenants in an ultra-high-rise building (a scenario I discussed in my last post), the complexity of designing an emergency evacuation action plan will be far greater than in a building of fewer than 10 stories.

Ensure full legislative and insurance compliance—Depending on the location of your property, there may be a set of provincially-mandated emergency preparedness rules and regulations that need to be followed in order to ensure full compliance with local legislation and requirements set out by your insurer. Work with your lawyer, HR team and stakeholders such as local fire or police departments to understand your obligations and ensure that your EPDRP not only complies but even exceeds those minimum requirements. The last thing you need in the event of a catastrophic emergency is to face litigation or legislative penalties because you didn’t take the necessary steps to obey relevant laws pertaining to emergency preparedness and evacuation procedures.

Consult with your security firm and appropriate first responders—Again, police, fire, and paramedics are a great resource to contact when developing an EPDRP. Whether preparing plans designed to respond to a potentially horrific incident such as a live-shooter scenario at one of your properties, or taking steps to ensure speedy evacuation in the event of a major fire, first responders are obliged to provide information pertaining to legislative requirements and are (at least in my experience) eager to help mitigate risk for property owners, while minimizing the threat of loss of life in an emergency situation.

Of course, your security firm will be another important resource to help develop an EPDRP. Any reputable firm should even be able to offer a templated plan, then assist in customizing it to suit your specific needs.

emergency action plan security response in toronto
We often work with clients to prepare a custom emergency action plan just for them.

Train all security staff—This is a critical step. In our case, all Wincon Security personnel are fully trained to manage on-site emergencies, even in cases where a formal EPDRP hasn’t been drafted (we typically work with clients to prepare these plans as part of our onboarding process). Your security team members will usually be your very first responders and will likely be the ones making a call to police, fire or paramedics in the event of an emergency—while also meeting first responders and answering questions when they first arrive on site. Security personnel should be fully trained to handle any emergency incident that could reasonably occur on your property. Remember, every building is different, and its occupant population is unique. An EPDRP must be customized to suit all stakeholders’ needs.

Have a plan to stabilize the situation—So, you have an emergency, your security team helps evacuate the premises and now you have several hundred residents or dozens of employees waiting outside the property for first responders to arrive. Now what? Any comprehensive EPDRP should also have a stabilization plan that includes details on where to shelter accident victims until help arrives on the scene, for example, or a relocation spot in the event of a natural disaster that threatens your property. Simply clearing the building isn’t good enough.

Communicate the plan—Many companies go through the motions of creating an EPDRP, only to let it gather literal or proverbial dust on a shelf or in a hard drive. The only effective plan is the one that your security team, management, staff, and other key stakeholders fully understand. Include an EPDRP briefing in your employee onboarding process, then provide a refresher on the plan at least once a year. We even recommend giving everyone from security staff to rank-and-file employees a brief, basic quiz to ensure they understand key points such as how to exit the building from their workstation.

Practice—Remember those annoying fire drills you used to do in school? Well, it turns out they were a pretty useful tool—and they still are. Be prepared to practice emergency procedures such as having employees or residents evacuate your building, and execute steps laid out in your EPDRP. Drills should be conducted at least twice a year—and at random times—to make sure your people know how to respond if, or when, disaster strikes.

Why you need to prepare a return-to-work security plan now

As lockdown measures are slowly eased across Ontario and the rest of Canada, organizations are preparing to return to the new COVID-19 workplace normal. But nothing is simple when it comes to navigating the uncharted waters of social distancing and industry-wide lockdowns–especially when it comes to developing a return-to-work security plan.

While a return to business may still be weeks away for organizations in some parts of the province, no one can afford to be idle. As a business owner/leader, you need to start planning today to ensure that your workplace is as safe and secure as possible once your employees return to the fold—and that you comply with all relevant government health and safety rules and regulations.

“It will happen in phases, it will be very complex and it will look different for every organization.”

Bill Knightly, Cushman and Wakefield’s Chief Operating Officer of Global Occupier Services

Security plays a key role

Of course, safety and security planning is about much more than ensuring the availability of sanitizers and protective equipment, ramped-up hygiene practices, or establishing social distancing rules and protocols. Those are, of course, essential foundational elements. But there are many security-related components that need to be addressed in a comprehensive and strategic return-to-work plan, many of which will take time and resources to implement.

Cybersecurity, access control, monitoring employee movements and activities, and secure collaboration practices, are among many items that need to be integrated into a well-architected security plan. The good news is that your security provider can play an important role in helping develop and execute a fully integrated strategy—one that addresses the new (and in some cases, rapidly evolving) demands around health and safety compliance, risk mitigation and technology.

A return-to-work security plan should cover everything from basic policies around distancing rules and staffing requirements (some organizations may resort to staggered hours, for example, or a combined office/work-from-home model to minimize personal contact), to more complex technological initiatives around health monitoring and building access and control.

Cybersecurity training
Analyze cybersecurity vulnerabilities and requirements in your action plan.

Conduct a security infrastructure audit

An integral part of the initial planning stages is a thorough review of infrastructure equipment. Planners need to examine what needs to be improved or updated. Are repairs required due to the protracted pandemic shutdown? This is an especially important checklist item for facilities that have been fully closed for a long period of time.

Organizations will also have to familiarize themselves and their employees with the plethora of new safety protocols that are being introduced, including those established by public health authorities and/or the building managers, or your company itself. With that, extensive retraining for both security personnel and other staff will be needed before doors re-open for business. This will need to be refreshed as new guidelines evolve in the months to come.

Bear in mind that security personnel, in particular, may be required to perform additional services, from temperature checks and entrance/exit screening, to more frequent patrolling and social distancing enforcement.

Analyze cybersecurity vulnerabilities and requirements

With the rapid transition to a work-from-home business model, organizations should also be making time to review their cybersecurity protocols. During the recent, rapid escalation in remote workers accessing cloud-based services from multiple devices, organizations had little time to assess their network security in an in-depth way. Now that you have a bit of breathing space, it’s time to develop or enhance your current digital security strategy as part of your return-to-work plan. This should include a rapid redeployment backup plan in the event of a future shutdown.

A safe and secure workplace will likely involve new technology investments. As you plan, consider the role security solutions can play in reducing touching of surfaces; tracking and tracing movements to quickly isolate and address potential outbreak situations; or responding to social distancing infractions (e.g., alerts when employees enter a restricted area).

There are a number of technology enablers that can be integrated into existing security systems to meet the demands of a post-lockdown work environment and ensure that only authorized employees or visitors can enter your premises. Examples of tools being implemented right now across some organizations include swipe pads on doors, touchless registration, “smart” barriers at entrances and exits, biometric scanners, remote locking systems and pressure sensors, and mobile two-factor authentication.

Additional video surveillance systems, along with thermal scanners and face recognition software can help identify suspected infections while tracking the contact and movements of anyone within range of a potentially infected person.

All of this needs to be supported by HR policies that clearly outline restricted areas, who has access, and policies around travel and sick leave—among others. Work with your HR team and potentially even a qualified labour and employment lawyer, to draft effective policies customized to the needs of your workplace and employee culture.

Return to work
The key to action planning is planning early and often as the situation evolves.

Getting your workplace ready to reopen

Global real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield has developed a document entitled Recovery Readiness: a How-To Guide For Reopening Your Workplace. It’s a handy starting point that outlines six guiding principles on how businesses can ensure a safe and efficient transition to workplace readiness.

Here is a distilled version of the principles:

  • Prepare the Building—Implement cleaning plans, pre-return inspections, and HVAC and mechanicals checks
  • Prepare the Workforce—Create policies for deciding who returns, shift/schedule management and employee communications
  • Control Access—Enforce protocols for safety and health checks, building reception, shipping/receiving, elevators and visitor policies
  • Create a Social Distancing Plan—Follow guidelines for decreasing density, schedule management and office traffic patterns
  • Reduce Touch Points and Increase Cleaning—Implement open doors, clean-desk policy, food plans and regular cleaning of common areas
  • Communicate for Confidence—Recognize the fear employees may feel in returning to the workplace and work with them to alleviate their anxiety

Plan early and be flexible

There’s no question there will be a great deal of uncertainty as organizations plan their return-to-work strategies.

“It will happen in phases, it will be very complex and it will look different for every organization,” Bill Knightly, Cushman and Wakefield’s Chief Operating Officer of Global Occupier Services, noted in a recent webinar. “We know progress is unlikely to be linear … We know the rules of the game are likely to change as we’ve seen inconsistent messaging from health authorities and governments around the world.”

That being said, a safety and security planning professional can help alleviate the uncertainty and tailor a fully integrated security plan to meet the specific needs of an organization and its workforce. The key is planning early and often as the situation evolves.

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Winston Stewart, founder
Wincon Security 

The current emergency situation has evolved rapidly in Canada and around the world with the declaration of the coronavirus pandemic and ever-escalating measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Our team has been closely monitoring these developments and has enacted Wincon Security’s emergency preparedness and disaster response plan accordingly. Our focus at this point is ensuring the health safety of our clients, the occupants of the retail, industrial, educational and residential facilities we protect and, of course, our employees.

These are extraordinary circumstances and we’re responding with workplace policy and procedure updates in real-time. We’re in the people business and are fully prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead. This pandemic is testing the resolve of individuals and organizations across our economy with the introduction of everything from social distancing measures to outright closures. To do our part, we’re monitoring and implementing the advice of local, provincial and federal health agencies and ensuring we go a step above and beyond to protect the people at the heart of Wincon Security.

Our focus is on helping you navigate the hurdles that lie ahead.

With that in mind, we’ve implemented the following policy changes effective immediately. We are:

  • Permitting administrative staff to work remotely or from home where possible
  • Enhancing hygiene procedures across our workplace and at client sites
  • Adjusting resourcing at some facilities and shifting our guards to sites where a physical presence is required, or utilizing technology such as advanced camera systems to monitor facilities where a physical presence may no longer be necessary (e.g., office buildings whose tenants are temporarily working from home)
  • Cancelling all in-person client meetings for the time being and stopping all non-essential business travel
  • Conducting client meetings using teleconferencing platforms until further notice

As first responders entrusted with protecting the people and assets across your commercial or residential properties, we take great pride in providing high-quality customer service, no matter the situation. This one is turning out to be one of the most challenging that we’ve experienced in our organization’s 25 years of operation.

Our focus is on helping you navigate the hurdles that lie ahead in as efficient and seamless a way as possible. We’ll be providing insights in the days and weeks ahead to help you manage and implement everything from data security procedures for employees forced to work from home, to tactics designed to help ensure social distancing and to restrict access to your facilities until the pandemic wanes and life can return to normal.

We believe the key to success at this point is to remain calm and educate employees, tenants and other stakeholders of their role in maintaining health and safety across your properties. This is likely going to be a protracted event that will cause considerable disruption in the coming months. Count on Wincon to be there with you every step of the way.

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Winston Stewart, President and CEO

It’s not easy being royalty. Just ask the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced in January that they’d be stepping back from their royal duties, working towards financial independence and moving to Canada—yes, Canada—the world recoiled at the upheaval shaking the usually staid House of Windsor.

With the royals in crisis over Harry’s snubbing of his monarchical calling—this despite the fact that he’s currently sixth in the line of succession and has no real chance of becoming king—the Queen struck a deal with her grandson that saw him lose several peerages and official titles in return for a life of (relative) freedom in B.C. Then came the next question: who would pay for the Sussexes’ security?

That’s a delicate topic and a political minefield that the British and Canadian governments have been attempting to tiptoe through without causing public uproar. Just last week it was announced that the RCMP would cease providing security to the couple in the coming weeks, the assumption being that they, or the British government, would now be picking up the tab.

One question I’ve been asked of late is an interesting one: What, exactly, does it take to protect a prince? And estimate that Prince Harry’s security could cost in the millions of dollars accurate? While I don’t have any insider knowledge on the topic—and nor should we speculate on the security measures that would be undertaken to protect the Sussexes while in Canada—we can look at the tactics that would be used to protect any VIP or high-net-worth individual whose family could be vulnerable to privacy intrusions or, worse, threats to their safety.

To start that process, a private security firm that specializes in protection for high-profile individuals would be called in to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. Verifiable threats against the family’s safety would be taken with the utmost seriousness. Security specialists would monitor inbound communications by phone or email, as well as social media activity, for hints of potential criminal threats on the horizon. They would then draft that aforementioned security strategy taking into account those potential risks and implementing tactics to proactively mitigate each one.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle - security guard issue

As part of that risk assessment, a security team would sweep the VIP’s property (once a suitable one was located, of course) to analyze any and all points of vulnerability—including by air, land and water. They would work to lock down any potential access points (the property could potentially be fenced) and highlight weaknesses. A security detail would patrol the grounds as needed.

Any VIP’s home would undoubtedly be equipped with a very high-tech camera system. This would likely include facial recognition software and would be monitored 24/7 by a security detail stationed somewhere on the property or very nearby. Non-celebrity VIPs might rely on remote monitoring instead. Every window in the home would be equipped with glass break sensors and could even be retrofitted with bullet-proof glass. In the case of the Royals, RCMP or British authorities would determine the necessity of the latter feature based on their initial security assessment.

Inside the home, officials would work to make security measures as inconspicuous and unobtrusive as possible. One common feature of luxury homes for the very wealthy or famous are panic rooms—a space where VIPs can take shelter in the event of a home invasion. The trend nowadays is moving away from dedicated panic rooms to a specific functional room in the house, such as a master bedroom, that can be locked down in an emergency. Whatever the proscribed solution, most VIP families would likely have a reinforced space with full communications—and possibly even a dedicated air supply—that could serve as a mini-fortress in the event of a threat such as a home invasion, an attack or a kidnapping attempt. The likelihood of any of those scenarios playing out is slim, but security officials don’t take chances with the safety of their high-profile charges.

Because very wealthy people tend to jet-set and home-hop on a regular basis, they often have only a relatively short list of property options limited to homes with suitable security infrastructure.

A last point on the cost to protect a VIP couple, especially one as high-profile as Harry and Meghan: Initial estimates that the Sussexes’ annual security expenses are in the high six figures are likely understated. If the couple are engaged in public events while in Canada, the cost for their protection could easily climb to more than $1 million per year. Simply having round-the-clock protection involving multiple security professionals can be extraordinarily expensive, let alone the cost to secure venues at official engagements.

Living the high-net-worth or celebrity life isn’t cheap, especially when you’re two of the most famous faces on the planet. Who foots the bill for Harry and Meghan’s security while in Canada remains uncertain, but let’s all hope the Queen is picking up part of the tab—this one could get expensive.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

A long weekend of shootings that saw 17 people injured in 14 separate incidents over the recent civic holiday sent chills across our city. Even Toronto Police Service Chief Mark Saunders was quick to acknowledge both the unusually high wounded toll, the sheer number of security-related incidents and the brazenness with which the alleged assailants acted.

Residents wonder when it will all end, and how to stay safe in the meantime.

Three suspects have since been arrested in connection with several of the shootings. Saunders told reporters that additional resources would be deployed “in specific places that we think will help deter and reduce the gun violence that’s occurring in the city right now.”

Gun crime on the rise

What we need to keep in perspective—as was the case after the van attack in North York last year that saw 10 people killed when a disturbed young man ran down people at random on Yonge Street—is that Toronto is still a remarkably safe city. Our crime rate is low and the threat of becoming a victim of violent crime is scant.

Still, gun violence has been on the rise in recent years and that requires a certain level of vigilance, particularly in vulnerable or lower-income areas where gangs and other troublesome actors tend to spend most of their time.

According to police statistics, Toronto experienced two and a half times more shootings in 2018 than 2014—a shocking increase that should give us all pause.

Why has it taken a rise in gun crime and the death of a child to empower a public agency to protect its residents?

New security measures

One of the recent deaths—that of a 16-year-old—came in a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) complex in the city’s north end. According to a CBC report, that prompted a promise for action on the part of the housing agency:

“… TCH chief executive officer Kevin Marshman [promised] to do more to address what some residents have decried as a woeful lack of security at their buildings.

Starting in September, said Marshman, full-time security officers will be stationed in the Jane and Fallstaff community. Also coming, he said, is enhanced lighting around the buildings and cameras on the roadways coming in and out of the complex that can capture license plates.

Marshman added that TCH also hopes to conduct a community safety audit — a joint effort with police and residents to physically walk around the properties to identify gaps in security and what needs to be done to make things safer.”

While we can all applaud TCH’s commitment to taking action, a bigger question remains unanswered: Why weren’t these measures implemented years ago? Why has it taken a rise in gun crime and the death of a child to empower a public agency to protect its residents?

A trend towards enhanced security 

That question may never be fully answered, but Marshman’s statements are likely indicative of a new trend that we will—and likely should—see emerging across our city: a stronger security presence, particularly in vulnerable communities.

Police tape - security lessons from Torontos van attack
Increased safety will require private security partners.

We need more foot patrols to protect private and public spaces, and in many cases that will require the involvement of private security partners given the already stretched resources of the Toronto Police Service. It will likely mean more camera surveillance using artificial intelligence and facial recognition software to recognize bad actors before or after they commit crimes. We need better lighting to protect paths and parks, and greater community cooperation similar to the walk-safe programs that university campuses have implemented and maintained for years with widespread success.

In the wake of the recent spate of violence, many of Canada’s mayors are calling for either an all-out handgun ban or stronger restrictions on handgun ownership—a move that many chiefs of police across the country also support. This would undoubtedly help address the issue, but it may not be enough. As police budgets are cut in many jurisdictions, those crucial eyes and ears on the ground are lost. Again, this is where private security firms and technology can help fill the gap. But employing their services requires an increased budgetary spend and a willingness to stand behind important policy changes.

Will our leaders at the federal, provincial and municipal levels heed the call? Or will they make relatively tiny security commitments that seem meaningful, but fail to create a long-term impact in our communities?

Balancing security with civil liberties will be a challenge 

In the end, we want to keep our city free and comfortable and avoid it taking on the feel of a surveillance state. But we also want to ensure that all Torontonians feel safe to go about their business. Exactly how we accomplish the goal remains to be seen, but we can rest assured that it will take creative, innovative thinking to curb the latest ‘summer of the gun’ and restore a greater sense of safety and security to Canada’s largest city.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

With the holiday season in full swing, there’s a very good chance your team is getting ready to wind down and maybe even let loose. That’s right, it’s the time of year for the unforgettable office party, an opportunity for employers to show their appreciation to staff, to share a few cocktails at or away from the office and enjoy some time mixing and mingling and (hopefully) not spending time reflecting on work-related matters.

But with the yuletide festivities come a great deal of risk for employers.

Now, I’m not trying to call humbug on your holiday party plans. But it’s important for organizations and their HR teams to understand the employment law liability involved in hosting a gathering in the workplace. That risk increases exponentially when alcohol is being served and employees are left to find their own way home from the office party. Of course, some employers assume that organizing a gathering off-site relieves that liability, but that’s unfortunately not the case. Anytime an organization sanctions an event such as this, they’re on the hook until their employees are home safe and sound.

It’s wise to have security guards or personnel at larger parties to help address any issues that can arise.

You might think the logical move would be to pull the plug on the party and spend that budget elsewhere. Not so fast. Holiday events are a great team-building tool that can help drive engagement. They’re also an important part of building a strong workplace culture, so it would be foolhardy to cancel such an invaluable opportunity to boost employee morale. The better approach is to think safety and security first when organizing an event, keeping these five tips in mind:

Make your policies clear—The objective here isn’t to be a buzzkill before the party gets started, but to remind employees that even though they’re enjoying the boss’ hospitality while off the clock, they’re still technically bound by the same policies that govern their behaviour while in the workplace. That message should be delivered in a subtle way—a reminder rather than a lecture—but it should be explicitly communicated, either by email, in print or at a team meeting.

Hire security—If your staff party is small, say, fewer than 20 people including spouses, hiring a guard may not be necessary. But it’s wise to have security personnel in attendance at larger gatherings to help address any issues that may arise. That could mean dealing with intoxicated patrons who become a little unruly (which happens all too often) or simply patrolling and watching over items such as gifts or coats. Many business owners and managers are shocked when their events are targeted by thieves who root through jackets or walk away with purses and bags when their employees are busy enjoying themselves. What they don’t realize is that this kind of Grinch-like activity happens all the time, especially at large corporate gatherings that are preyed on by groups of professional criminals. Do yourself a favour and hire a trained and experienced security team to help make your holiday event memorable for all the right reasons.

holiday party cheers
Keep your employees safe and having fun this year by hiring a security guard if needed.

Choose the right location—Set the conditions for your event’s success from the start by selecting the right venue. Whenever possible, try to pick a spot close to your workplace or close to where the majority of your employees live. This isn’t always feasible—especially for organizations located in the suburbs, whose workforces travel long distances to work—but doing so can be a practical way to encourage staff to leave their cars at home and take transit to work on the day of the event. At the same time, try to avoid choosing a hotspot surrounded by bars or clubs, which only encourages employees (particularly younger team members) to keep the party going well into the night and potentially past the point of intoxication.

Provide transportation—Include cab chits for employees in your party budget, or hire a van or bus to shuttle employees to the venue and home—whichever is the more cost-effective option depending on your team’s specific logistical considerations. One of the greatest sources of liability for employers stems from team members who hop in their cars at the end of an event and drive home, often intoxicated, only to get into an accident. This outcome is entirely avoidable with some proactive planning.

Think like Scrooge—Not when it comes to spending on a great venue, an impressive menu or even staff gifts. But do be stingy when it comes to serving alcohol. Provide a couple of drink tickets to each staff member at the beginning of the night, and switch to a cash bar at some point in the evening. Or, maybe serve wine at dinner and then move to a cash bar afterwards. The point is that open bars can turn into a security nightmare because they encourage outright intoxication. Appoint a senior (and designated sober) staffer to manage drink tickets, if you take that approach, and be sure to offer plenty of food and at least a few non-alcoholic beverage options throughout the event. Want to really limit the booze consumption? Make it a mid-day family affair and invite your employees and their kids.

The objective is to still have fun, say ‘thanks’ for another year of hard work and spoil your employees with a great party. But remember that safety and security should be a top priority. Maintaining that focus will help mitigate the kind of liability and risk that would otherwise drop a lump of coal in your stocking this holiday season.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a robot patrolling facilities such as factories or hospitals—providing help when needed, or protecting physical assets to ensure they remain protected and secure—was the stuff of pure science fiction.

Now, it’s a relatively accessible reality. Some would even say we’re nearing a point where robot security is becoming a mainstream, commoditized service. So, how did we reach this tipping point? Better yet, will we see a day when robots completely replace human guards?

Companies such as Hexagon, Gamma2 Robotics, and Knightscope are making huge strides in the development of robot security software and robots that can autonomously patrol a facility at any time, the extent of their labour limited only by the charge in their batteries. Organizations have been receptive to the new technology due to a number of real-world factors ranging from the potential risk of injury to human guards, to the basic monotony of patrolling a facility dozens of times during the course of a shift.

Robots also provide cost stability and certainty. Their wages never increase because they don’t require a salary. They will never ask for overtime pay, nor do they require severance payments upon termination (or in this case, decommissioning). If you no longer require the robot’s services, unplug it, sell it or send it back to the company from which you’ve leased it.

With that in mind, robots may seem to be the ideal solution for any organization looking to secure their facilities. Or maybe not.

Consult with us to determine if integrating robot security into your strategy is right for you.

Robotic limitations abound

While robotic adoption and deployment will become easier, and the rollout will continue across the integrated security solutions industry as costs continue to fall, these roaming, futuristic devices will likely never replace human guards. Instead, we should consider them a utilitarian complement to the work of trained security personnel. Why?

First, humans provide operational continuity. They see and hear things that even the most sophisticated software and cameras can’t. A human’s ability to recognize potential danger or abnormal situations is still well ahead of the capabilities of current onboard robotic software. Robots can detect variations such as temperature differences or when a door, that should otherwise be locked, isn’t. But they still need to be programmed to detect such abnormalities. They also can’t apprehend intruders (yet!) or assist in the event of a situation such as a medical emergency. At best, they can only serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for someone watching a space through the robot’s onboard cameras, then relay a call for help to first responders.

They’re also not foolproof.

Last year a Knightscope robot patrolling the Stanford Shopping Center outside of San Jose, Ca., caused a stir when it ran over and bruised a toddler’s foot. The boy was OK, but the incident underscored the challenges that even the most complex algorithm and sensor systems can face when attempting to predict and react to unusual or erratic variables, such as the movements of a young child.

There’s also the issue of human and cultural acceptance, particularly with employees. Not everyone will love the sight of a robot roaming around their workplace, potentially monitoring their every move in cases where a facility is operational day and night.

That could all change in the future with advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Robotics capabilities will also continue to make exponential leaps forward with the specific goal of avoiding incidents such as having a 300-pound robot run over a toddler’s toes.

camera for retail loss prevention services
If yours is a high-tech industrial facility that requires high levels of security, or contains chemicals or other hazardous materials, then a robot might make sense.

A fit for some businesses—but not all

Still, the technology holds the promise of greater flexibility and affordability for organizations of all sizes, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.

If you’re not sure whether robot security guards might be the right fit for your organization, you’re not alone. In the months and years ahead, many business leaders will be asking the same question and calculating the potential cost savings of relying on R2-D2-like patrol guards over their human counterparts.

My recommendation is to analyze your security needs as an organization. Do the costs of adopting high-tech tools such as a robot outweigh the benefits of tapping the services of a traditional security firm? In many cases, they won’t. Even robots need maintenance, not to mention the costs of managing their initial programming, which can be steep.

Any new technology should be suited to the environment you hope to protect. If yours is a high-tech industrial facility that requires high levels of security, or potentially even contains volatile chemicals or other hazardous materials, then a robot might make sense. If it’s a shopping mall where customer interactions are frequent and delivering a high-touch level of service is important, then sticking with professional guards is probably the best option.

What’s most important is to work with a security firm that conducts a holistic analysis of your operations and security requirements, provides a package of integrated security services that are customized to your specific needs, and has high-tech tools such as drones, robotics, facial recognition, advanced surveillance systems and the like in their toolkit.

Robot security guards may or may not make sense when looking for options to secure your property, but as manufacturers continue to expand and perfect their capabilities, these droid-like patrollers should at least be on your radar as an option.

What exactly are integrated security services?

Remember when delivering security services meant assigning a guard to patrol a building to make sure that doors were locked, monitor CCTV cameras, and generally ensure that nothing untoward was happening across a property?

That was basically the situation when we founded Wincon Security back in 1992. Given the current leap forward in technological advancements, that year may as well have been 1882!

Systems integration as a business model

Nowadays, progressive security companies leverage the latest and greatest technologies to help protect client properties and assets. We’re no different, except for the fact that several years ago, we took the notion of advancing security processes and procedures to the next level. We embraced the concept of systems integration. Put simply, it’s the process of ensuring your organization leverages the most effective technology possible to satisfy all relevant security needs, but in a holistic way that looks at every aspect of your business model.

The entire process starts with a security risk analysis to highlight vulnerabilities around a property or key asset. Rudimentary questions such as access point vulnerability, external threat levels, and the very nature of the assets under protection—are they volatile or highly sought-after materials, for example—all factor into the equation to determine how best to protect your property and people. From there, it’s about looking at the available technology on the market and choosing the right solutions for your organization’s needs.

Anyone can sell you a monitoring system or drone, but it’s a comprehensive company like ours that will integrate it into an effective strategy for your business.

Work with a security firm that understands the latest technology

This is where it gets tricky, and where the more reputable security firms are differentiated from those with less-than-stellar track records. Progressive security firms will have a strong handle on those technological tools—such as high-definition cameras, advanced biometrics, card access systems, drones, and cutting-edge security software—including how they might best integrate with your existing security infrastructure to deliver the desired protective results. In many cases, a full security infrastructure overhaul is a non-starter given the overwhelming costs. That’s why you need to work with a budget-conscious provider who understands that security funds are nearly always finite.

Bear in mind that sometimes the process of finding the right technology can involve a cross-continent search. In rare cases, we might need to source products from providers around the world to satisfy a client’s security needs. But that’s simply the nature of the task at hand—finding the right product often means looking further afield. That’s why it’s more important than ever for security firms to maintain strong partnerships with suppliers across North America and beyond.

The importance of value-added service

Security firms such as ours, which take pride in being full-service, integrated security services providers, will then leverage that technology to deliver enhanced value to our customers. Let’s face it: anybody can sell you a great monitoring system or even a drone to help protect your property. But it’s the unique ones that can bring it all together with an effective strategy that integrates human and technological assets to produce a holistic solution to meet your needs—and keep the bad guys at bay for the foreseeable future. Couple that technology with a robust 24-hour support and facility monitoring service such as ours, and that end result becomes achievable.

Wincon security guards watching virtual surveillance monitors for systems integration
Security integration is a company-wide process and a system of procurement and operational deployment.

Any comprehensive systems integration plan should also be focused on improving efficiency, reducing overhead costs, and mitigating risk—all key value propositions for owners and managers of retail, commercial, condominium, office and industrial properties. But it doesn’t end there.

A culture built on innovation

We’ve incorporated a strong emphasis on innovation as one of our firm’s key value propositions. While innovation was always a key part of our corporate culture, it’s now a central pillar. We expect employees to come forward with process improvement and technology ideas based on their interactions with clients, ongoing industry research, and on-the-job observations. Our management team then assesses their input and uses it to provide a never-ending stream of feedback and ideas to our clients.

In that sense, systems integration is as much a company-wide process as it is a system of procurement and operational deployment. It’s a principle that drives cutting-edge security providers (or should) and ensures that clients get the solutions they need. More importantly, it’s a way of doing business that delivers a competitive advantage to security firms that incorporate it.

For Wincon Security, embracing systems integration has been a game-changer—and it has the potential to deliver similar results to your organization, too.

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The Wincon Security Team

Ontario business owners who spent the last week celebrating the tabling of Bill 47, legislation that promises to repeal most of the controversial Bill 148 (with the implementation of the equally unpopular Pay Transparency Act also due to be delayed and revised, as well), could be forgiven for missing the enactment of another important new law. Only this one comes with significant cyber and physical security implications for organizations across industries.

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is new federal legislation that “applies to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information in the course of a commercial activity.” Put simply, if yours is an organization that has clients to whom it sells products or services, it falls under the Act’s jurisdiction. Exemptions exist in provinces that have privacy legislation in line with PIPEDA, but in those cases provincial laws need to be almost identical to the federal counterpart, or else the latter applies. What does this all mean? According to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada:

“Organizations covered by PIPEDA must obtain an individual’s consent when they collect, use or disclose that individual’s personal information. People have the right to access their personal information held by an organization. They also have the right to challenge its accuracy. Personal information can only be used for the purposes for which it was collected. If an organization is going to use it for another purpose, they must obtain consent again. Individuals should also be assured that their information will be protected by appropriate safeguards.”

Organizations are required to have ‘appropriate’ digital safeguards in place

New disclosure requirements

Perhaps most importantly, the legislation requires Canadian firms to brief customers in the event of a data breach that involves the hacking of personal information. At the same time, organizations must inform the Privacy Commission if they believe the breach carries with it “a real risk of significant harm to an individual.” The language in the new law is notably vague and unspecific. Organizations are required to have “appropriate” digital safeguards in place, even when sharing data between third-party vendors.

Penalties for non-compliance can top $100,000 per violation, so organizations are wise to be proactive and fall in line with the new rules.

PIPEDA a challenge for SMEs

Smaller businesses will likely have more difficulty complying with the law, particularly because they lack full-time IT teams or personnel to help track and protect data. Only now the financial stakes of ensuring adequate cybersecurity are significantly higher. As if the potential brand and bottom-line hit from an incident of data theft wasn’t bad enough, to add insult to injury cash-strapped companies also have to worry about Ottawa levying a steep fine when they’re at their most vulnerable.

While the new PIPEDA rules are obviously focused on the protection of data while promoting cybersecurity vigilance and protection for consumers, this is also about physical security. Why? It’s not uncommon for thieves to steal laptops or servers from an office or retail outlet, for example, then search those devices for everything from sellable business data to credit card information. Whether they actually find anything to peddle is beside the point. Because so many organizations still lack the necessary cloud- or hardware-based back up systems to protect data in case of a physical theft, losing that information to physical burglaries can be just as bad as being hacked by an online malfeasant.

An opportunity to think holistically about security

Here’s the good news: PIPEDA represents an important opportunity for organizations of all sizes and across industries to improve their security infrastructure. Without this legislative impetus, many companies would be happy to keep on carrying on, ignoring potential threats and crossing their fingers that a hacker or burglar won’t one day target their precious customer data.

It’s best to look at PIPEDA as a chance to develop a comprehensive security strategy that looks at both physical and digital security in a holistic way, analyzing potential vulnerabilities and outlining effective tools to help mitigate risk. This would also be the ideal time to consider upgrading security hardware such as monitoring and alarm systems, not to mention the crucial software that protects everything from your property’s entry points to devices such as laptops. These security components should all work in harmony and when one is insufficient, crafty criminals will be sure to take advantage to exploit weaknesses.

Is PIPEDA compliance potentially costly? Yes, but taking a proactive approach is always less expensive than trying to recover from a massive data breach. For that reason, the legislation could be just the nudge that your organization needed to stay safe and secure.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

If all goes according to the federal government’s plan, by October 17, marijuana will be legal in Canada.

It’s a hugely significant legislative change that will have an impact across our society. Well, sort of. As many experts have already noted, the likelihood of reefer madness gripping the Great White North and making pot heads of us all is highly unlikely. Those who want to toke (legally) will finally have the opportunity, while those who prefer to crack a cold one on their off hours (or not indulge at all) will consider it business as usual.

That raises an important point for owners and managers of commercial properties and the businesses they occupy: having an HR or facility policy to manage the use of marijuana in the workplace is crucial for ensuring building security. More on this in a moment, but first, the legalities of managing pot use in the workplace and why it matters.

As Toronto-based labour and employment lawyer Peter Straszynski wrote in a 2016 article for Canadian Lawyer magazine:

“Employers will have the right to prohibit the use of marijuana during work hours, and to further prohibit attendance at work while impaired. Violation of these prohibitions can be made the subject of progressive discipline. In appropriate cases, such violations could result in termination of employment for just cause. Where an employee’s use of marijuana amounts to a physical or psychological dependency, however, such addiction will likely constitute a “disability” under provincial and federal human rights legislation, triggering the employer’s duty to accommodate the employee’s disability.”

marijuana legalization and security in toronto

I won’t delve deep into the complexities of accommodating a pot addiction—although as a business owner, it’s very much on my HR radar—but I can’t do enough to emphasize the importance of training security personnel on ways to identify and manage the behaviour of inebriated individuals that may be under their watch. Why?

Put simply, pot use is already quite common in Canada. According to the 2017 Canadian Cannabis Survey, 23 percent of employees say they partake in the odd joint, while 39 percent admit they’ve driven while high. There is a chance that once legalized, usage will increase, if only slightly.

Now, you may argue that, as an employer or property owner, an individual’s drug-use habits are their own business and none of yours, right? Not so fast.

Anyone who’s been around pot users or partaken themselves knows that people who are high, as with individuals intoxicated as a result of consuming alcohol, tend to make poor decisions. Their senses are dulled. They are clumsier and less alert. They simply aren’t as rational as when sober. While a person who is high isn’t likely to become violent, of course, they can act in ways that are highly problematic from an HR standpoint, potentially placing others at risk—particularly if your commercial property is one that stores or produces hazardous materials, or houses heavy machinery.

It’s important for employers and security personnel to bear this in mind when dealing with individuals who may enjoy consuming cannabis, or who is prone to sneaking the odd joint during work hours.

On the other hand, it’s just as important to set clear policies that govern drug use for security personnel while on the job. Wincon Security already has policies in place to ensure that our staff never partake in any form of drug use at a client site or while engaged in the delivery of services on behalf of our organization. We enforce this policy rigorously and won’t compromise even as pot possession and usage is legalized in the months ahead.

Why? To be fully engaged in their roles and ensure that the commercial property, apartment or condominium residence they’re guarding remains fully secure, our staff must be at their very best. In the same way that we wouldn’t permit our people to stop for a pint mid-shift, we will never permit them to take five to share a joint. Luckily, we work with some of the best in the business and have never had to take action to enforce this policy. Other security firms may not be as stringent in the drafting or enforcement of similar policies.

While it’s highly unlikely that marijuana legalization will cast a significant negative pall on Canadian businesses, slowing productivity and delivering a collective case of the munchies, we do need to prepare for its inevitable arrival. Take the time to adjust your HR and security policies to ensure that yours is a pot-free workplace, and make it clear that employees—and especially security staff—understand that drug use is not an option in your workplace.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security