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Millions of Canadians took to the streets this past week in a ‘strike’ to protest and raise awareness around climate change. Some retailers—in particular those espousing environmentally-conscious values and business models—even closed their stores for a day in support. It’s reasonable to assume that at least a handful of those placard-carrying, green-minded citizens are concerned about the spillover security implications of warming temperatures and rising waters, such as the mass migration of people due to extreme weather events. What they probably don’t realize is just how close to home those impacts could be. It’s a cautionary note that commercial property owners and managers would be wise to heed, as well.

Because climate change is a concern for everyone, even those in the business community whose organizations are unlikely to be directly impacted by the planet’s fast-changing weather patterns.

Consider the torrential downpour last year  that inundated much of Toronto’s downtown core. The deluge was so swift that two men became trapped in a basement elevator at their workplace.

Water flooded into the basement after they boarded the lift (which, unbeknownst to them, was out of service) and quickly rose to more than six feet. The men had only minutes to spare before the water level in the elevator cleared their heads. They were soon rescued by police who swam to the basement and used a crowbar to pry open a passage large enough for them to escape. No one was seriously injured in the incident.

Extreme weather events are the new norm

While this was an unusually dire situation—it’s not every day that someone almost drowns in an elevator—Canadians should be prepared to manage the side-effects of increasingly severe weather. In fact, political leaders are already beginning to prepare us for the potential challenges that lie ahead. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted in a speech earlier this year after major flooding ravaged parts of Quebec:

“ … with climate change, we’re going to see more and more of these extreme weather events more regularly. It means we have to think about adaptation, mitigation and how we’re going to move forward together.”

That means we can expect more intense rain, snow, wind and ice than ever before. In his comments, the PM was merely echoing findings of Canada’s Changing Climate Report released earlier this year. It issued several dire warnings, including that:

“A warmer climate will intensify some weather extremes in the future. Extreme hot temperatures will become more frequent and more intense. This will increase the severity of heatwaves, and contribute to increased drought and wildfire risks. While inland flooding results from multiple factors, more intense rainfalls will increase urban flood risks. It is uncertain how warmer temperatures and smaller snow packs will combine to affect the frequency and magnitude of snowmelt-related flooding.” 

Climate change-related risks and security challenges

Unpredictable weather creates a variety of risks, legal liabilities and security exposures for organizations. While not all will be life-threatening, many will apply pressure to already strained balance sheets. Indeed, some of those risks will be more benign, yet no less costly or disruptive to manage.

We’re aware of companies that have watched helplessly as large amounts of inventory or critical IT infrastructure such as computer servers, became submerged under water in a matter of minutes as a result of historically heavy rainfalls. The ensuing business interruption cost them time, money and, in some cases, even goodwill with customers as they scrambled to recover data or deliver goods and services as promised. Others have seen their offices or manufacturing facilities damaged by high winds.

While not a realistic concern in the Greater Toronto Area, extreme heat can spark infernos that can impair regular commerce—think of the fires that raged across the Prairies in recent summers, prompting widespread evacuations in cities such as Fort McMurray.

Security’s role in addressing climate-related incidents

At some point during any climate-related incident, your security team will likely be called upon to help manage the situation. That could be to protect a damaged facility as it awaits repair and to ensure that no one enters the premises if conditions are unsafe; or to help muster employees if the issue happens to be particularly dangerous and relocation to a secure site becomes necessary. This is precisely why organizations need to be equipped with effective emergency preparedness disaster response plans.

Perhaps most importantly, they need to work with their internal security teams or third-party security providers to conduct a comprehensive assessment that analyzes absolutely every potential weather-related risk exposure. Doing so will not only help protect your bottom line and mitigate the threat of lawsuits or brand damage for a botched incident response, but could also save lives.

Employees must be trained to respond to an emergency, particularly if your business happens to be situated in an area prone to major weather events. And if not, you still need to be ready to adapt as climate patterns continue to shift. Even a seemingly pleasant heat wave—while great for patio and beach season—can put a damper on everything from morale to productivity if it’s particularly intense or sustained. Skyrocketing temperatures can quickly produce health-related challenges (think sun stroke or heat exhaustion) to which your security team might be the first to respond.

In doing so, they need to be ready to act. In fact, we all do, because climate change is an unfortunate fact of life that we’ll need to manage in the years ahead. It’s only by adapting—and taking a security-first approach—that we can proactively mitigate its many risks.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

You know a situation is bad when even local governments are calling in the IT cavalry for help. But that’s the reality for municipalities struggling to combat increasingly frequent ransomware attacks that are targeting towns and cities across North America.

The problem is so severe that the Association of Municipalities of Ontario—a body that represents 444 of the province’s towns and cities—is encouraging greater information collecting and sharing between members, and calling on senior levels of government to provide funding to help protect their data and fend off this growing threat.

“AMO has also been urging the provincial and federal governments to work closely with municipal governments to help protect governments from cyberattacks, and to help public services weather attacks with less disruption,” AMO president Jamie McGarvey, the mayor of Parry Sound, Ont., told the Toronto Star, as published in a recent article.

Ransomware—a type of cybercrime where a hacker seizes or encrypts data and demands some form of payment, often untrackable Bitcoin, for its release—isn’t just plaguing big cities such as Toronto. Smaller communities with less robust digital infrastructure are also prime targets. So far the victims include Wasaga Beach, Stratford and Midland, to name only a few. More are sure to follow.

A North America-wide problem 

If it offers any comfort to municipalities and business owners in Ontario, a recent New York Times piece reminds us that hackers using ransomware to hijack public or private data do not discriminate when it comes to nationality. This is far from a Canadian phenomenon:

“More than 40 municipalities have been the victims of cyberattacks this year, from major cities such as Baltimore, Albany and Laredo, Tex., to smaller towns including Lake City, Fla. Lake City is one of the few cities to have paid a ransom demand — about $460,000 in Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency — because it thought reconstructing its systems would be even more costly

In most ransomware cases, the identities and whereabouts of culprits are cloaked by clever digital diversions. Intelligence officials, using data collected by the National Security Agency and others in an effort to identify the sources of the hacking, say many have come from Eastern Europe, Iran and, in some cases, the United States. The majority have targeted small-town America, figuring that sleepy, cash-strapped local governments are the least likely to have updated their cyberdefenses or backed up their data.”

And therein lies the challenge. Many municipal governments have cut their IT budgets to such a degree (or never funded them properly in the first place) that their systems are virtually open to cyber criminals. In some cases, data is being held hostage for millions of dollars. While in many instances these crimes are being orchestrated by sophisticated organized crime syndicates, a skilled teenager with a laptop can manage the same feat with minimal effort.

It’s one thing to lock up the data of an SME, but what happens when entire hospitals or health care systems are shut down by a clever hacker with a grudge, or a desire to cash in? These attacks are becoming so sophisticated that civic agencies and businesses of all sizes and across industries are at risk.

A very human problem 

As I’ve noted in previous blogs, most cybersecurity vulnerabilities stem from human error or negligence. Case in point: the town of Allentown, Pa., was targeted in a malware attack last year that shut down some municipal computers for weeks. The hacker exploited a vulnerability in a single employee’s laptop while that worker was on the road. Not surprisingly, the laptop hadn’t been updated to the latest software and was an easy target for the malware-toting hacker. That attack cost about $1 million to fix.

Now imagine that same unexpected cost taking a nasty bite out of your balance sheet and annual financial projections. When figures such as those are bandied about, it brings home the scope and seriousness of the problem—and underscores the need to take action.

That requires policies that ensure regular software updates of all machines, especially if your employees work off-site. It requires sufficient spending on IT, security and employee training. If we all agree that this is a ‘people’ challenge, we can start taking steps to fix the problem.

Employees should be trained to recognize phishing emails. They need to be equipped with VPNs for off-site work, and an understanding that websites that look fake often are—and are potentially run by a hacker residing in the cyber netherworld, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting victim. They must also never share passwords and should change theirs on a regular basis.

These are all seemingly rudimentary best practices—and this is by no means an exhaustive list of essential cybersecurity tactics—but when combined, they form the foundation of an effective cybersecurity net that can protect an organization from digital worst-case scenarios.

Because once you get a $1 million ransom note from a hacker to release your data, the costs of being proactive seem quite reasonable by comparison.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

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.

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 licence 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.

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

Wincon Security

When you haven’t thrown a civic party quite as huge as the NBA Championship parade that crowded downtown Toronto on Monday, you can be forgiven for overlooking a few details. If the Raptors players arrived on stage a few minutes late, for example, it would be excusable. If local streets were a little over-clogged, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

But maintaining public safety and security is one area where we simply can’t drop the ball. At times on Monday, the city missed worse than Shaq at the free throw line.

The good news overall is that despite a shooting that sent four people to hospital, a minor stabbing incident and a few scuffles, the day to celebrate our basketball champions went relatively smoothly. There were no deaths, no rioting and no reported looting—a low bar for a public gathering to be sure, but one that’s unfortunately come to set the mark for the success of any successful North American sports rally.

For someone who was in the heart of the action and had a bird’s eye view as it all played out— stage left at Nathan Phillips Square to be exact—there were still many security lessons to take away from these historic festivities. The unfortunate reality is that the city fell asleep at the wheel when it came to making proactive preparations for our new favourite sports team’s proudest moment.

So, without casting blame, let’s simply make sure to do better next time. Here’s how:

Event planning is key

What became obvious as I stood in the jam-packed square awaiting the team’s arrival was how the city could have benefited from maintaining a standing special events strategy to manage such an occasion. Perhaps it’s because we haven’t had to plan a parade since the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, and not since 1967 for the Maple Leafs, but it’s clear that Toronto lacks a contingency plan for mass celebrations that need to be planned on the fly.

Think of it like having an Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response Plan, but with a celebratory spin. The strategy should take into account not only crowd control considerations from parade route planning to timing, but also the potential for a seismic crush of people as spectator numbers inevitably exceed expectations. With more than one million Greater Toronto Area residents estimated to have poured in to downtown on Monday, it’s extremely difficult to account for every potential security and crowd-management scenario with only a few days to prepare. A standing plan would help alleviate that stress and risk.

Praise the police—now add even more of them, including security personnel

So packed was Nathan Phillips Square that when shots rang out during the player and dignitary speeches, I wasn’t able to see a portion of the crowd fleeing in fear. There were simply too many people and it was impossible to see more than just a dozen metres away, let alone across the sprawling, modernist piazza.

The police did an extraordinary job responding, apprehending the alleged assailants and keeping the crowd calm and under control. In fact, their presence was felt on the surrounding streets and, for the most part, they used common sense in letting fans party, intervening in the festivities only when necessary. But there could have been even more officers in the square, along with hired security guards, to help keep the crowds from pushing and shoving. I arrived in the space at 9 am and it was already jammed to capacity. People were still pushing their way in six hours later as the speeches began, creating a dangerous situation with the crowd literally swaying in unison as they tried to preserve their collective footing. Having officers stationed in greater numbers in the middle of the crowd might have helped mitigate the risk of a potential crowd control catastrophe.

In one instance, for example, I watched paramedics struggle to make space to remove an individual who took ill in the middle of that swaying pack, eventually hopping a fence in the VIP area to gain access to the person. Emergency access was almost non-existent, creating a dangerous situation.

Improve access control 

Next time around I would love to see access control for Nathan Phillips Square similar to the system used in Jurassic Park, where party-goers have their bags checked and numbers are limited. There is ample food, water and washrooms to accommodate the throngs of people that pack that space, helping to alleviate the crowd rage that can emerge on a hot, sunny day when people are exhausted, thirsty and hungry.

Doing so would also help avoid people entering Nathan Phillips Square with liquor and drugs—there were ample amounts of both on display—which takes away from the family-friendly atmosphere and sets the stage for trouble. At one point I saw parents with two young girls struggling to get one of their children, who was in tears, out of the crowd. She was trapped and the tired crowd was beginning to become more aggressive as it waited for the Raptors’ arrival. The good news: they eventually managed to pull her out. At that point I thought about a potential escape route myself, should the crowd become even more unruly.

What we are reminded is that you can’t allow hundreds of thousands of people to flood into a relatively confined space with no access control and have more people entering than exiting right up until the very end of the celebration.

Speed it up

By all accounts, much of the parade route lacked any kind of roadside barriers to hold back crowds. This meant that excited onlookers could slow the buses and floats—especially the ones carrying team members—to a slow crawl. Players who were supposed to arrive in Nathan Phillips Square at noon didn’t make it there until 3 o’clock. By that point the crowd was in no mood for further delays.

The takeaway here is that parade planning and security needs to be a city-wide initiative. If managing logistics along a lengthy route is too difficult, it may be best to shorten the length of the parade to avoid potential issues. Nearby access roads were so clogged that emergency services vehicles and buses couldn’t move. The TTC suspended service to several subway stations around the square in an attempt to avoid further overcrowding.

I sincerely hope that we can apply these lessons and better manage crowds at future parades, even if the Raptors’ ongoing success may be largely up to Kawhi Leonard to decide. If he signs for another five years, the party could keep going. His contract status notwithstanding, we should be proud of the team’s accomplishments and hold our heads high.

For the most part, Toronto showed its team spirit with dignity, discipline and still managed to throw an unforgettable party. Now, let’s work to do an even better job after our next championship!

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

Odds are that when most of us look for space in a commercial office tower or a unit in a condominium, little thought goes to the functionality of the building’s elevators. In fact, there’s a good chance that we don’t even think about these fast-moving pieces of infrastructure, unless we have a specific, pre-existing interest in lift operations.

It may be time to start paying attention.

As more high-rise buildings are constructed across the Greater Toronto Area—some soaring to dizzying heights of 80 stories or more—as well as in major urban centres across the country, operational challenges are becoming a more pressing concern for owners and managers of commercial and residential properties. Specifically, a flurry of recent media headlines has focused on residents left stranded when an apartment or condominium building’s entire elevator bank goes out of operation at once. Others have pointed to elevator issues in office towers where, in some cases, tenants have been unable to access their offices despite the significant bottom-line business consequences.

A challenge for mobility-impaired tenants

Other, more damaging, headlines highlight the plight of vulnerable groups of residents such as the disabled and seniors, who wind up stranded in their apartments when lifts are taken out of operation. Not only is this a massive inconvenience, it puts lives at risk when individuals with mobility or cognitive issues are unable to exit buildings in the event of a major emergency such as a fire. In other cases, such as a medical emergency, accessing those same individuals can cost precious minutes and quickly become a matter of life and death. For property owners and managers, this kind of news is not only bad for a property’s brand—negatively impacting tenant attraction and retention, and potentially even rental prices—but also represents a major liability threat.

The obvious solution is to work with a reputable elevator supplier and install only the best possible equipment, then be sure to maintain it on a regular schedule; maintenance must also be coordinated to ensure that all of a building’s elevators aren’t out of service at the same time. But far less obvious is the need to look at elevator operation as a security issue, thereby underscoring its importance.

As we see in so many residential and commercial engagements, few infrastructure-related issues generate more angst, arguments and animosity than those related to elevator functionality. We’ve literally seen fist fights break out over access to lifts when one or more are down, particularly when an elevator is put on service for moving purposes. These problems tend to be exacerbated in older buildings that have only two elevators—newer builds tend to have at least three elevators, two for passengers and one for both passenger and service use.

Looking at elevator performance through a security lens

Our recommendation is to work with your security team—whether outsourced or in-house—to develop a strategy to proactively manage elevator challenges before they arise. For example, if you know that an elevator is due for maintenance, work with your elevator service provider to schedule that servicing well before it turns into a crisis need. Collaborate with both building maintenance and security to determine times that are best suited to conducting maintenance, such as when traffic levels aren’t at their peak and when tenants aren’t attempting to move items into or out of the building. Then be prepared to revise that plan to address ongoing changes to everything from the building’s tenant composition to operational circumstances.

Next, train your guards to understand those procedures and how to implement them at a moment’s notice. That should include arming them with effective communications tools—everything from lobby signage and tenant email addresses, to talking points—designed to keep key stakeholders informed and up-to-date on the status of elevator issues and, most importantly, a timeline explaining when they’ll likely be resolved. One of the most important aspects of that training is enhancing guards’ focus on customer service. Security staff will need to understand how to defuse tenant tensions by showing empathy, while also clearly explaining the plan to address the issue at hand.

Security training is essential

Last, but definitely not least, guards should be trained in the basic operation of necessary control panels and have direct access to your elevator maintenance service provider. All too often, repairs are delayed because managers or guards simply don’t know who to call. That’s an inexcusable oversight that’s easily remedied by preparing an emergency contact list (stored digitally and in hard copy format at a concierge desk or security office) with email addresses and phone numbers for mission-critical service providers.

At a time when sustainable urban planning guidelines are calling for our cities to be built up rather than out, and with more lifts being installed now than at any time in Toronto’s history, treating this key piece of infrastructure as an afterthought is no longer an option. For commercial and residential property owners and managers, the smooth elevator operation stakes are just too high to ignore.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

How, exactly, do you sum up all of the many characteristics that make a company unique? That’s the exact question we asked ourselves when we set about defining Wincon Security’s mission, vision and values. Needless to say, it’s a complex task.

We spoke with our team—everyone from our supervisors to our security guards—and customers for their feedback.  Our team told us that to them, Wincon is a company built on a strong culture, that focuses on innovation at every turn and never, ever lets a challenge get in the way of making great things happen. Our customers—some of whom have been with us since our founding in 1992—told us that in a very crowded security industry, our dedication to customer service excellence and our passion for delivering value in the services we provide, makes us stand out. They told us that those factors, among many, have solidified our long-standing relationships with their companies.

When we began exploring some of the same questions ourselves, we not only took time to determine what we are, but what we want to be. As a security integration solutions provider, we’re on the leading edge when it comes to introducing new technology to our clients and weaving it into their security infrastructure and our service offering. Doing so helps us protect them from the bad actors who might threaten their property or assets. In turn, it also allows our team to provide the most comprehensive and effective service packages in the business.

Developing a coherent message about our mission, vision and values took time, but we’re very proud of the results:

 

Our mission

To protect the investments and assets of our commercial clients and residential communities as if they were our own. That means delivering outstanding, responsive service, and integrating cutting-edge technology into everything we do to help minimize security risk. 

Our vision

To make security a worry-free experience, one that enables our clients to focus on what matters most: their organization’s growth and success. We do it by providing proactive solutions and nurturing a workplace culture driven by our employees’ insights and ideas, where engagement and long-term client partnerships set us apart from the competition.    

Our values

At Wincon Security, nothing is impossible. With integrity, mutual respect, responsiveness and a focus on treating our employees and clients like family—and supporting each other’s success along the way—we can add game-changing value to the security services we deliver. 

We believe that professionalism, honesty and transparency is what makes us a trusted partner to our clients. If it’s not easy for them to do business with us, we’re doing something wrong—which explains why we always work to unlock creative solutions to any challenge. 

Clearing those hurdles takes the right people doing great things in an amazing workplace. We’re committed to providing our team with fair compensation and the very best training our industry has to offer, not to mention giving them meaningful work and the chance to use advanced technology to ‘wow’ our clients. We recognize team excellence and reward it with the opportunity for career advancement. We empower our team to embrace change, collaborate on new ideas and hold each other accountable. Being a valued partner to our clients means delivering outstanding service every time. 

Because we live and breathe these values, anything is possible.

That last part is perhaps the most important. These aren’t merely words that will sit on a proverbial desktop gathering dust. These statements embody everything that we are and that we aspire to be. If we didn’t believe we could live them, we wouldn’t be able to stand by them. As we’ve demonstrated for more than 25 years, we operate with integrity and place the utmost importance on doing what’s best for our customers, every time.

That would explain how we developed our new company tagline:

Built on service. Driven by culture.  

 

We believe this is a succinct and accurate encapsulation of who we are and what makes us a unique company. Our brand is delivering the same level of outstanding service to every customer—because we’ve all done business with companies that offer differing service tiers or simply pay more attention to one client than another, and none of us liked it. That’s something that’s just not done at Wincon.

Because we’re powered by the outstanding work of our staff, we wanted to make sure that the world knows that culture is a key part of our company foundation. Without the right people in the right places doing great work, Wincon Security simply wouldn’t be where it is today—meaning at the forefront of our industry with significant annual growth and a rapidly-increasing employee base. And, of course, absolutely none of this would be possible without the ongoing support of our loyal clientele. We’re forever grateful for your business, which is the cornerstone of our success.

At this point it’s about looking ahead to the future, enjoying more growth and working with our team and our customers to make a difference in the Greater Toronto Area. After more than a quarter century in business, it feels like we’re only getting started.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

Retail theft is not only pervasive, but can be extremely difficult to control. Just ask the LCBO, Ontario’s liquor retailer, which is in the midst of a crime spree-related crisis plaguing key outlets across the Greater Toronto Area—a problem that could, at least in part, be of its own making.

When the Toronto Star first reported on the phenomenon of brazen daylight thefts at LCBO locations, many of us in the security industry shrugged. The incidents were no surprise given the lack of in-store security at most of the organization’s stores. According to statistics unearthed by the Star, LCBO outlets have been targeted more than 9,000 times since 2014. That’s a staggeringly high number, but the data are even more harrowing, according to the Star’s reporting:

“In 2014, police data shows, LCBO outlets accounted for just over a tenth of the shoplifting incidents at the top 100 most frequently targeted addresses of shoplifting incidents in Toronto. By 2017, it was a third. And halfway through 2018, the most recent data in the Star’s possession shows LCBOs accounted for nearly half of shoplifting incidents, with liquor heists happening more than three times as often as they did in 2014.”

The problem has become so bad that school principals have reportedly complained to police that, in some cases, their minor students are shoplifting liquor ‘with impunity.’ What’s to blame for this dramatic increase in theft?

First, the LCBO has a strict no-intervention policy in place regarding in-store pilfering. Staff members are forbidden from intervening when a robbery occurs. This has resulted in bizarre (and in the case of some stores, almost daily) examples of LCBO workers literally being forced to stand by and watch as thieves walk into their stores with duffel bags or backpacks, which they promptly fill with merchandise, before making an exit. Some are so bold as to take their time and leave the targeted store at their leisure.

Aside from the cost to the provincial treasury of losing millions of dollars in merchandise each year to preventable theft, the costs are much greater. LCBO employees report regularly being threatened by thieves—in some cases with needles or knives—and being forced to deal with smashed bottles left in the wake of these brazen robberies. Demoralized and frightened, these staffers have taken to whistleblowing through the media to make their voices heard. How long, they wonder, before a customer or employee gets seriously hurt?

The bigger challenge is a certain apathy at the C-suite level across the LCBO, not to mention on the part of the Toronto Police Service, whose experimentation with no-response retail theft policies sends a clear message to criminals: LCBO stores are open for illicit business. With some products such as rare scotches priced at several hundred (or thousands) of dollars, liquor stores are prime, easy targets. LCBO leadership has only recently announced its intention to add a stronger security presence at some GTA stores. Hopefully the move has the desired operational impact.

To be clear, ‘No touch/No chase’ policies are not exclusive to the LCBO. They have been embraced by risk- and liability-weary organizations for years, and for good reason. Staff are not trained police or security professionals. They risk personal injury—or worse—in making ill-advised, if admirable, attempts to stop a theft in progress. These policies, in other words, exist for a reason.

But it’s incumbent upon upper management at retail organizations such as the LCBO to take action and ensure their stores are protected at all times. That often means taking a holistic, integrated approach, introducing everything from the latest in high-definition digital cameras with facial-recognition software to spot known malfeasants before they can pilfer goods, to having a security presence on-site at all times in higher-risk areas—and those aren’t limited to economically-disadvantaged communities. The LCBO data shows that shoplifting is rampant even in more prosperous neighbourhoods.

Having experienced, professional guards on site sends a message to would-be shoplifters that their activities won’t be tolerated. And yes, deterrence does work. Will it necessarily stop attempted robberies altogether? Obviously not, but criminals will think twice before trying to lift a rare bottle of Glenlivet. More so if they know that police will arrive on scene if a theft is in progress or has just occurred.

Ignoring brick-and-mortar security needs is common in the digital era when an increasing percentage of retailers’ budgets are being directed to preventing fast-growing challenges such as cyber theft and fraud. But as long as business is being conducted in the offline world, organizations need to be prepared to protect their property and their people.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

No one ever expects emergencies to happen, but when they do, it’s crucial to have a plan in place and be prepared. From tragic incidents such as the vehicular rampage through a north Toronto neighbourhood in April that killed 10 and injured 16, to weather-related incidents that can disable a commercial property, building owners, managers and their security personnel need to be strategic in finding ways to prepare for worst-case scenarios before they occur.

Hopefully these plans never require implementation, of course. But being prepared is important, if only to provide peace of mind. Part of that planning means also taking the time to train staff on the key points of your organization’s emergency preparedness and disaster response plan, or EPDRP (read our recent blog for an overview of how to develop your own comprehensive, customized plan) and then deploying effective emergency preparedness drills to be ready if, or when, disaster strikes.

Wincon Security is deeply committed to educating our clients as to how critical these plans are, so much so that we build EPDRP development into our client onboarding process.

As part of that commitment, we participated in Emergency Preparedness (EP) Week event in May coordinated and facilitated by York Region Corporate Business Continuity Program Specialist Sophia Craig-Massey and Markham Fire public educator Alex Freeman. The Remington Group hosted the event.

Various speakers underscored the importance of having an EPDRP, particularly for condominium and apartment complexes. They cited the fact that on May 4th, thousands of Toronto residents were without power when a rain and wind storm disrupted electrical service across the Greater Toronto Area. Not surprisingly, EP Week attendees were eager to engage and learn about the importance of having 72-hour kits in their residences—a handy item to include in the tool boxes of any commercial properties, as well. The kits typically feature items such as flash lights, blankets, non-perishable food and other essentials that might be important to have when power is non-existent and accessing additional supplies is all but impossible in an emergency situation.

An Emergency Preparedness Guide was also provided by York Region. Appropriately titled ‘Is your family ready?’ (hint: most are not), the guide contains information on what to do before, during and after an emergency, a rundown of the types of emergencies most likely to occur in York Region, and emergency preparedness tips for people with disabilities and/or special needs. The guide also provides handy tips on preparing a home kit, car kit (another essential consideration), as well as a guide to preparing emergency food and water supplies and how to shelter your animals and prepare a pet emergency kit to be fully prepared in case you’re stuck without pet supplies for a period of time.

While the topic may have been serious, the format was fun and engaging for everyone from kids to seniors. Children and adults had the chance to spin the big wheel and answer questions pertaining to the emergency preparedness skills they’d learned at the event. Those who correctly answered questions around key concerns such as the items you should have on hand at home in case of a power outage, won prizes to add to their own emergency kits.

In addition, the dedicated first responders at Markham Fire handed out fire hats to all those in attendance, and educated their audience on important topics such as fire safety in the home, how to develop a home evacuation plan and ways to check and update smoke detectors.

It was an evening of fun and learning all rolled into one.

From our perspective as a security provider, we need more events such as this one—and not just for home owners and occupants. Even though we educate our commercial property clients on the benefits of having an EPDRP, those who don’t already work with Wincon may not have a plan in place. From our experience, the majority of commercial property owners fall into that latter category, while those that do have a plan might find that it’s outdated or inadequate.

It’s crucial to remember that commercial properties are just as susceptible to disaster-related issues as residences—sometimes more so. And as any business owner or manager will attest, most organizations simply can’t sustain the cost and disruptions associated with unforeseen product or service downtime. In the case of small and medium-sized businesses, especially, even a short disruption in service can potentially cripple their operations and result in devastating bottom-line consequences.

All in all, this was a great event and we’d like to see more like it. Next time, let’s encourage more commercial property owners to attend, and continue educating them to ways to develop effective EPDRP strategies to help protect and secure their business assets.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

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