A Front Line Security Professional’s New “Must Have” by Neil Shanks

For every problem and challenge that the COVID19 crises throws up, there are always smart thinking people coming up with clever solutions. TPSO magazine asked CORPS Security, National Account Manager and Security Consultant, Neil Shanks, to tell us a bit about a great idea, gaining traction with all front line roles…..

A Frontline Security Professionals New ‘Must Have’!

– Speech to Text/Translate App


            The Covid-19 crisis has brought more than a few new challenges to business and individuals, with the full extent yet to be realised. There are a number of financial and logistical issues that take most of the headlines and therefore have the most widely disseminated solutions. There are also a number of ingenious solutions being found for problems big and small across all sectors. We must ensure that we take a multi-sector view, to not only identify and use these, but more importantly, record the lessons learned and evolve the solutions further.

                One fantastic solution I saw recently came from NHS England and a paramedic named Danny from the South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust. Danny gave a video demonstration of speaking with a face mask on and highlighted the additional issues this causes for individuals with a hearing impairment. The original video can be found here:


                Not only is this a fantastic idea during the current climate, with face coverings becoming mandatory in many settings, but let’s also look at the wider application of this solution.

                Text to Speech apps have been available for some time now, as have digital translation services. I am sure we have all either experienced or heard about the issues with people inputting lengthy documents into Google Translate and producing documents that are almost illegible due to incorrect syntax, grammar or the horrors of homonyms in the English language. The majority of people have experienced Google Translate via the web browser and far fewer via the Google Translate App (other Text to Speech and Translation services are available).

                Security Professionals, now more than ever, have their customer facing/customer service skills in the spotlight. There are a number of sites that cater for multi-nationals, from Shopping Centres to Distribution Centres and everything in between. Many of these sites use flash cards with predetermined text to assist when there is an identified language barrier. Whilst this tried and tested technique offers clear advantages when the staff are not bi/multilingual, they are limited to the number of pre-prepared statements. This is why it is important to embrace the progress of technology and adopt intuitive tools to improve the service provided.

                The Google Translate App is significantly less unwieldy than its browser counterpart and is, possibly most importantly when looking at possible wide-scale application, free to the user. The App offers three features that I believe should make it, or a comparable system, a “must have” for every Front Line Security Professional from now onwards. The features I believe could prove invaluable are:

                Transcribe – The Security Professional is able to speak within hearing range of their phone and see their words represented as text. The text size can also be controlled to accommodate visual impairments or maintaining social distancing.

                USE – Can visually represent one half of a conversation to assist someone that is struggling to understand the speaker.

                FOR WHO – Individuals that are unable to hear the Security Professional due to PPE OR with hearing impairments that normally rely on lip reading OR in the absence of a hearing loop in the area OR where the Security Professional is unable to communicate to the person using sign language (either sign language is not known or the person uses a different form of sign language).

                Conversation – The Security Professional is able to select two separate languages and conduct a conversation with participants each speaking their own language via selecting the language being spoken at any point. The system will then give a live transcription of the comment in both languages allowing the person speaking to check it is accurate. The really valuable extra function here is that the App will also “speak” the translated version which will allow the Security Professional to interact with people that may not be able to read.

                USE – Can also be used to conduct a two-way conversation to between two or more people that are speaking a different language (maximum of two languages). The service offers both a visual and audible representation of the conversation.

                FOR WHO – Is also useful for people that are not fluent in multiple languages AND people that are not able to read written text on a phone e.g. visually impaired individuals, children etc.

                Free Text & Camera – Allows the phone to be used to translate written text, be it holding the camera over a whole document for live translate, “scanning” for a greater level of detail or an input of free text statement e.g. Spanish “Perd a mi hija” to English “I lost my daughter”

                USE – Can further be used to translate written text after the Security Professional identifies what language it is. It is not advised that this be used for anything particularly intricate, lengthy or would rely on subtle nuances as errors do occur.

                FOR WHO – Is helpful when a Security Professional is required to understand something written in another language OR to help someone understand something written in a language they are not fluent in by translating it to a language they are fluent in. 

                Google Translate is able to operate “off line” with the languages that have already been downloaded to the phone. This means that the service is still available in areas with bad or no reception and the user can download all the languages they believe will be necessary (limited by the storage available on their device). In the event that an individual speaks a language that is not on the device the Security Professional would either need to move the conversation to an area with signal or the Security Professional could leave to download the language and return to the initial area.

                Corps Security have supported with this initiative and are currently conducting a pilot into the real world application of Speech to Text/Translation Apps. The sector selected for the trial was Retail due to their unique demands, however other areas identified with the potential to benefit from this immediately included Distribution Centres and Leisure Facilities that see a large influx of international clients. These may be included as the trial progresses to the next phase.

                Corps Security, working with Cushman & Wakefield, will be trialling this feature across some of their retail facilities in the UK. The sites running the trial may vary in the demographic of their regular clientele but all share a drive for constant improvement and innovation. There is a geographical spread for the sites in the trail and examples include:

                Birmingham – The Square Shopping Centre catering to a hugely diverse local Client Group in one of the busiest and most diverse cities in the UK

                Cheltenham – Regent Arcade Shopping Centre catering to an area that attracts huge crowds from all over the world to the iconic race course and visits to the Centre to see the famous Wishing Fish Clock

                Exeter – The Guildhall Shopping and Dining Centre providing a mixed shopping and dining experience to local customers and tourists alike in the iconic city – 2019 winners of the UK Heart Safe Award for Retail due to their responses, not only within the Centre, but also to the surrounding areas

                Shopping Centres emphasise the importance and epitomise the complexity of providing high levels of customer service to a hugely diverse, transient client group. The greater the diversity of the local area, or the more transient the population (e.g. tourism in the area), the more important the ability to adapt and respond to unique customer needs is. As the Customer requirements and questions vary so much, as do their nationalities, it would not be possible to produce an all-encompassing reference folder meaning a more adaptive solution is required.

                The biggest barrier to a Translation App is when one of the languages is unknown. For the purposes of this example the language spoken by the Security Professional is will be English. Therefore, there is always one known language (English) but the Security Professional must identify the second language before this tool can be used. This could be achieved in a number of ways, including but not limited to:

                Asking the individual where they are from in English “Where are you from?” “What language do you Speak? – They may have sufficient English to state their nationality

                Checking any identifying factors e.g. Passport, Other ID, Number plate if in a vehicle

                Showing them a pre-prepared list of “Do you speak [insert language here]” written in a selection of languages, to allow them to select the one that they speak, with the English name of that language written next in English to allow the Security Professional to find it on the Translation App.

                Showing them a pre-prepared list of flags, with the nation and relevant languages written underneath in English, to allow them to select the one for their native country. If possible also include the question “Please show me which is your national flag” in the native language(s) of that country

                Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution and by no means is this a fool proof system as there will inevitably be issues experienced from time to time. In 2018 the Google Translate data set was identified as working well for simple questions and instructions but meeting difficulties with more complex language or accents. The more information the system is taking in at any time, the higher the likelihood of a mistranslation. This is because the system is vulnerable to mistranslation of words were subtle nuances are required making it good for conversational translation but less reliable with complex documentation or contract translation. The system will require people to speak clearly and at a steady pace which may not always be possible, especially if they are experiencing heightened stress related to being involved in a recent incident. In this situation the Security Professional should use their interpersonal skills, either de-escalate and/or reassure them whilst reiterating the necessity to speak clearly/slower if this is an issue.

                There are also further questions regarding the security of using an application like this and how that data will be secured/used. Before installing any new app which has the potential to gather data onto a company phone it should always be agreed with the businesses IT Security Team. The FAQ’s state that Google Translate does not use the data for any purposes other than to provide the service, however it would be unwise to rely on this service for anything that was classified in nature.

                Where will this go in the future? There are already a number of wireless headphones, or ear buds, that offer a live translate function. Whilst they allow the wearer to understand the person they are speaking to, they still require the use of a phone or tablet to allow the other person to understand them. It is unlikely that there will be mass availability of these devices in the near future, especially to those on lower incomes, so it will be a long time before Security Professionals will realistically be able to conduct such conversations without providing equipment for both sides of the conversation. To this end, it makes sense that both use the same device (a phone or tablet) rather than one using the phone and the other ear buds.

                In conclusion, there is no perfect solution to the barriers language can create other than hiring exclusively multi-lingual Security Professionals and this is, of course, not possible. It is worth identifying that the Security Profession does have a large representation of bi/multilingual individuals, and this is fantastic to see/experience, but there will always be interactions with people Security Professionals are not able to converse with in their native language. For the instances where there is a language gap and/or for instances of communicating with hearing impaired people in the form that this article began, these Speech to Text/Text to Speech/Translation Apps are a vital tool that all Security Professionals (and everyone in customer facing roles) should have at their disposal.

Neil Shanks ASMS BA MSc MSyI

Neil is a law graduate and passionate proponent for the recognition of professionalism within the Security Industry. Having started as a frontline officer, he progressed and spent a considerable amount of his career in strategic security roles within custodial environments and secure healthcare. During that time he completed further study and gained an Accredited Security Management Specialist qualification from the University of Portsmouth and a MSc in Security Management from Loughborough University.

He currently works as a National Account Manager and Security Consultant for Corps Security. Neil has previously supported the National Association for Healthcare Security as a Non-Executive Director, assisted in establishing the Security Institutes Young Members Group and provided support and guidance to the Royal College of Psychiatrists Quality Network for Medium and Low Secure Hospitals