Keeping your workplace secure during COVID-19 closures

by Jared Shelly

Buildings are desolate. Streets are deserted. Gathering places once brimming with life are empty. 

As of this writing, one fifth of Americans have been ordered to stay home unless they’re traveling to essential places like the grocery store, pharmacy, or gas station. The new normal in American life has led to scaled-back security staffs or the removal of them entirely. In Philadelphia, for example, police are reportedly delaying arrests for nonviolent offenses like theft, drugs, or prostitution. In San Francisco, a couple was videoed brazenly stealing from a Walgreens store in front of employees and customers.

“In any crisis, from 9/11 to other crises we’ve seen historically, the crime element tries to take advantage. So it’s good to think about security and be vigilant,” said Timothy Williams, Vice Chairman at Pinkerton. “With the stunning speed of this pandemic, you might be thinking in the short term of how to keep business running, but you also need to have an eye on securing your people and assets at all times.”

Keeping your workplace secure during the COVID-19 pandemic takes a combination of ongoing threat assessment, deploying the right technology, and consistently addressing security and contingency plans. 

Assessing the Risks

Less physical security increases the risk of trespassing or theft. Along with the potential loss of property, those physical break-ins could also lead to cyber and technical vulnerabilities. 

“If somebody breaks through physical walls and gets into your building, they have direct access into your networks and computer systems,” said Colin Wright, National Sales Manager of Smarter Security, which makes entrance control solutions. “If they insert code into those systems, they could be funneling off intellectual property and corporate funds for a long period of time and never get detected.” 

Making a Plan

Companies may have security plans in place for an active shooter, natural catastrophe, or terrorism. But few practice for a pandemic.

“There’s not a plan in a binder on a shelf that you can dust off to rescue you in a situation like this. It’s too unique,” said Paul Grattan, a policing fellow with the National Police Foundation and an active officer with a large metropolitan police force

As you develop a plan, focus on the obvious first. Lock computer equipment and server rooms. Make sure important documents aren’t sitting out. If your software developers have been writing code on the whiteboards, erase it so you don’t potentially lose any intellectual property. If you are still open for business, be strict with who is allowed to access your building or facility. Beware of anyone accessing the building at strange hours. 

Plan for staff getting sick. If your security personnel falls ill, have backups in place or partner with a security service. Be sure that multiple people know how to service any security systems or technology like cameras, or intrusion detection systems. 

“If your technology systems are not functioning properly or being tested regularly, you might have an additional vulnerability when you may have less security staff,” said Grattan. 

Deploying the Tech

With security forces running at skeleton-crew levels, companies can rely on technology to help fill the gaps. Video cameras, remote door locks, and intrusion detection systems can all be beneficial in helping to curb any potential intruders. (The biggest hurdle might be finding a company to deploy them amid quarantine rules and stay-home mandates.)

Smarter Security has developed turnstiles with locking brakes and tall barriers that can stop and deter would-be intruders. They also have intelligent connections that make sure someone with a valid security badge — but who isn’t allowed in the building during the pandemic — is turned away. The barriers are equipped with pressure sensors that alert security personnel if someone tries to climb over the top. The company also offers door locking systems that control access and can catch people propping emergency exit doors open for others.

To prevent cyber theft resulting from a physical break-in, set up systems that notify company leaders if someone accesses their workplace wifi or landline networks. (In many cases, cell phones automatically connect to known wifi networks, making potential wrongdoing easy to spot.) If a building is closed and somebody logs into a server, that could be a sign of foul play.

Learn Lessons

This won’t be the last pandemic or major emergency. So create a pandemic response plan if you don’t have one already. Use this experience to update other emergency and contingency plans. Learning lessons now will pay big dividends later.

“Companies should be making a list of lessons learned,” said Williams. “Based on that they’ll know particular holes and issues in their enterprise operationally, culturally, and otherwise and can build a solid foundational plan.”


Jared Shelly is a freelance writer who writes on issues of emerging technology and business. The information and opinions reflected in this post do not reflect those of Patriot One Technologies. Likewise, representation of any person, technology, company or political view or opinion in this post should not be interpreted as an endorsement by Patriot One Technologies.

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