Real time Security Technologies and the fight against COVID 19 by James Willison

“As one of the U.K.’s most highly respected and influential security industry leaders, TPSO magazine asked James Willison for the definitive overview of how the security industry is adapting too and fighting, the COVID-19 crisis……”

In this internet age security technologies have developed significantly so that security teams can quickly and safely identify threats. This is now highly important in the fight against COVID 19. Our officers and medical staff are on the front line and the more that technology can be used to isolate and lockdown areas the better. The key questions are: How are these technologies being deployed, where and are they making a difference? Many news stories seem to indicate that such advanced monitoring technologies are not widely in operation. Automation has of course impacted the security industry such that large guarding companies can monitor staff, patrols and building systems. That said it will often be the large global organisations which can invest in the high-end technologies and probably only some hospital environments.

The UK has already invested in some advanced systems which can aid us in the current crisis but the news in the field must be that this is not common. We also need to ask ourselves what these technologies are and whether they can be integrated to provide a single view of the overall risk in regional/local operations centres. We have seen some robotic technologies being used in the lockdown to manage social behaviour but again these are rare. Of course some security professionals in the past have expressed concerns that technology will replace the human and so resisted it. But many have concluded we need to work with good technologies to improve our response. Hence fire systems can now be integrated with CCTV so that fire officers can see the fire before visiting the scene. This is a benefit of Converged Security and Information Management (CSIM) software as it can bring all security and fire systems together into one platform in your control room on one screen. Not only so but the camera automatically zooms in on the incident whether that is a burning cable or an unauthenticated visitor trying to access the building, the network or quarantined areas. This can save lives.

Converged Security Solutions in a Crisis

“Amid a large-scale public incident or crisis, having the information needed to take swift, decisive action is crucial to protecting people and other critical assets from harm. Organizations that can quickly access high quality, real-time data from multiple sources across their security network have a significant advantage in navigating a crisis and recovering from it. Converged Security & Information Management or “CSIM” platforms, help organizations use technology to support and enhance traditional crisis management methods, both during and after an emergency.

There are a number of ways an organization can use CSIM to support operational security in an emergency situation: 1. Providing Situational Awareness and Visualization Capabilities CSIM solutions provide a real-time view of macro-level data, allowing operators to monitor multiple, critical information sources such as news media feeds, outbreaks of violence or illness and severe weather alerts across an area of interest. When coupled with information from connected physical security inputs, such as cameras and other sensors, operators gain a complete picture of the evolving security environment” (Vidsys).

It is probably South Korea which provides the best example of what can now be done using security technologies to manage COVID 19. Unlike the UK and most other countries excluding the UAE, South Korea has developed technologies for decades which now run on super fast  networks and enable the Govt to understand where COVID 19 cases are and where they have been in the past. Not only so but the sophistication of the Smart City Data Hub which links CCTV, many systems and buildings is foundational to this. The speed and accuracy is only possible because of this long-term investment from leading Korean companies, Samsung, Hyundai, LG and many others which have developed devices and systems using AI and machine to machine learning. These are widely deployed across the country so that many buildings can be identified, and the virus more quickly contained.

The success so far is evident given that there was an outbreak in the city of Daegu before the UK witnessed many cases and the number of deaths is significantly lower. Whilst we may not know all the details of particular systems being used, we do know that as a result every citizen is updated about where the latest cases are and so can avoid the affected areas. If testing is not certain then this method of quaranting is effective through a self selection process.

How does this affect our frontline security staff? The South Korean Govt has offered to share its COVID-19 Smart Management System based on so-called smart city data hub.

“It’s crucial that we stop additional infections but relying on patient interviews can lead to errors and omissions. This system ensures that there is no missing information about a patient’s recent activities.”

This system enables the health authorities to get information on patients’ credit card transactions through 27 agencies and companies along with relevant CCTV footage in just ten minutes. Before, investigators had to request such data from the police, which in some cases took up to 24 hours. On top of its speed and accuracy, the system’s advanced technology eliminates misleading data. “The system applies big data analysis and AI technology. When investigating infection routes, we use advanced technologies to filter unusual data, given that confirmed patients can have different walking speeds.”  (

Here in the UK we are starting to see some leading security providers including Mitie Security and G4S using thermal cameras for fever detection. This is a clear demonstration of how technology and security professionals on the front line can make a real difference in the fight against COVID 19. Barrie Millett, Director of Assurance, Business Services, Mitie, writes,

“Mitie Security have been helping keep the country going during the Covid-19 pandemic, providing support to the Government as well as supporting retail clients experiencing unprecedented demand. With additional security personnel and resources needed, Mitie have been working hard to support the surge in demand, as well as implement safe practices that adhere to Government guidance on social distancing, such as zone demarcation and staggered customer entry.

Mitie were also instrumental in the creation of the temporary Dragon’s Heart hospital in Cardiff, setting up the site in an incredible five days, providing key services such as security, cleaning, housekeeping, catering for patients and staff, portering services, waste management and stewarding. Over 200 Mitie employees are already based at the Hospital, with more available depending on clinical need.

Mitie Security are also partnering with some of the world’s leading technology companies to offer a range of solutions to protect employees and visitors for clients with a variety of thermal imaging equipment available. The portable or fixed cameras detect human body temperature, enabling businesses to identify anyone feverous and therefore prevent them entering the premises.

I am immensely proud that Mitie continues to provide support and solutions in these challenging times, protecting key workers and critical infrastructure.”

Simon Martindill, Head of Marketing G4S Secure Solutions (UK & Ireland) Ltd, writes,

“COVID-19 has seen security impacted in a number of ways. The changing dynamics of the working environment have led to an evolved set of risks which are largely being addressed by technologies rather than manpower. The current situation has led to:-

  • The need to provide preventative measures to secure colleagues and customers
  • Sites left vacant at short notice
  • Resource restrictions leaving security unable to operate
  • An increase in manpower operating remotely or alone

Technologies that have emerged to address these challenges include:-

Temperature screening

As organisation’s plan for a return to work, temperature screening is likely to become the new norm. Raised temperature is one possible virus symptom and with most businesses keen to take all preventative measures possible to reduce the risk of infection, thermal screening cameras are likely to be introduced in all busy reception or building entrances.

Whilst the technology itself provides a high level of detection accuracy, process design and manpower are critical to ensure the delivery of an effective screening process that flags exceptions without causing congestion or delay.

Temporary CCTV Towers

In addition, as many campuses and construction sites have been left vacant at short notice, we have seen an increase in demand for temporary CCTV towers which use solar power and provide near-360º coverage.

These have proved ideal for the most inaccessible locations or those sites left vacant at short notice yet give 24/7 visual security with little maintenance.

Remote Monitoring

Given the volume of vacant properties and scarcity of resource, we have seen an increased demand for remote monitoring which uses an internet connection to take imagery generated by on premise CCTV cameras and deliver to an externally manned remote monitoring station.

Remote and Lone Worker Technology

As the volumes of remote and lone workers have increased, the need to provide adequate security to this profile of the workforce has developed. The latest lone worker technologies make use of  mobile devices and provide an application which allows for the delivery of an SOS signal, alert to a potentially dangerous situation or set a pre defined timer which will flag an alert should the employee not flag their status to ‘safe’. “

Converged Security Strategies and Converged Security Centres.

In recent years there has been a growing interest in converged security and more organisations seeing the value of bringing cyber and physical security teams together to protect the people and the systems from harm. This is particularly true for IoT systems and Smart Environments. In the past the physical security team has been able to manage incidents and threats without the need to report issues to cyber security. However as malware increasingly causes problems to IP based Building Management Systems and Security systems and the need to manage physical logical access to prevent insider attacks is recognised then the two areas begin to collaborate.

Sometimes it is easier for a hacker to access the network through the physical perimeter than remotely and so physical security needs to be strong. If they can get into a building and a desktop due to a weak presence at the front entrance hackers can access the network and potentially control the corporate email system. Once done senior leader’s authority for systems’ access, funding requests and fake invoices can be easily created. Typically the aim of the attacker is to gain control of such systems and reap the financial reward. Hence a converged response means that one or more people can alert the correct person to delay and limit the attack.

Converged systems notify the operator and or responsible persons when there is any unusual activity, sometimes called an anomaly. This can be a person badging into a building who is already logged in somewhere else. To determine the authenticity the individual’s pass is checked against a live camera feed. If the two are different then access can be denied appropriately. As these kinds of attacks become more easily identifiable the value of building Converged Security Centres as a response is increasingly recognised. Some organisations are beginning to build these. The cost savings for energy consumption, rent, occupancy, shared technologies and fewer meetings for reporting incidents together with a common view of the risks are obvious. The speed of response also means more efficiencies and higher recognition from the business. Cyber security and Physical security together can create a better value proposition for the business and greater respect for the team.

The software company Tracktik has adapted to innovate and support its customers. Mark Folmer CPP, FSyI, Vice President, Security Industry, comments,

“Where does TrackTik Contribute to Converge Security Operations.

An important part of a security plan is the integration between technology and the human resources that may need to respond to a situation in the field. 

Extending convergence to include frontline security requires digitally transforming how these teams are managed. In order to properly defend (5th D of physical security), the process starts with properly and efficiently assigning the right security officer to a site. This is done by matching security officer criteria, deliverables, persona to the site requirements and site schedule (right guard, site & time). 

Now that the right security officer has been identified there should be a seamless integration between the back office and the officer in the field. The information should be accessible from multiple locations via the cloud. 

Assets are identified and security measures are put in place, an example of these measures would be patrol tours of critical locations. Relevant information has to be easily collected while performing those duties. Any incident that is detected via technology and responded to must be easy to document. 

The SOC does not just prevent and gather. They coordinate live situations. As such tools that support officer locations and deployment are critical for real time incidents – in short, a live view of what is going on in the field. 

Those involved must work off of the same set of site instructions or post orders. These can change therefore it is important that the team in the field have the most up to date instructions at their fingertips.

Finally, the insight gathered needs to be accessible via incident analytics so that the security management team can properly put in place mitigating measures. Connecting the frontline and converged security centre supports security’s goal of providing added value.”

In times when the crisis we face can be exploited by hackers and opportunists causing physical damage sometimes using social media to create confusion in the targeted business, the monitoring of converged systems can show these different attacks and indicate the source. When Artificial Intelligence is added into the mix the centre is able to sift through many kinds of data from voice, text, email, social media, cameras, access systems, fire panels and BMS amidst all the noise and work out the best response. This is precisely why technology can make such a difference for our security professionals in the future and why we need to start investing in them across the globe and not just in select businesses. Sadly many Govts and leading companies still don’t see the value of collaboration or a holistic security approach with only about 24% operating in this way globally according to the ASIS International Foundation. It is hardly surprising then that our current pandemic is causing such havoc when there is such a reluctance to invest in these systems. Returning back to the success so far seen in South Korea with only hundreds of deaths compared to many thousands elsewhere, we have to seriously consider if the deployment of their advanced technologies has something to do with it?

James Willison


James worked as a porter and a security officer in central London Hospitals from 1980 to 1995 before moving to the private sector. He formed relationships with senior physical and cyber security leaders and gained his MA in Converged Security from Loughborough University where he also tutored. In 2009 he established Unified Security Ltd and now works as a consultant with IFSEC International, AXIS Communications and Vidsys. He is Co Vice Chair of the Smart Buildings Working Group, IoTSF, a member of ASIS International ESRM steering committee, the SyI and ISACA. He was listed #13 in the IFSEC Global Influencers, Thought leadership category 2019.

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