Intelligent Communication Gives Security Executives an Edge

For years, we have heard manufacturers and pundits talk about access control, video surveillance, video management and managed services. However, they have been missing the fundamental need of a business and a risk, resilience and security program. In any given process, in any given company, people perform roles and processes using technology. Great companies or programs have created performance measures on the actions that take place within those processes. They can be time measures, quality measures or even, in technology terms, return on investment measures.

The security executive is increasingly being asked to provide these measures of performance. It supports and anchors their strategic value to the business.

Because of this, the ability to hear, be heard and understood, a fundamental business principle to support the goals of the business, must be an integral part of their program.

It should support the core mission of the security promise: to protect the lives and assets that support the organization. This is often characterized as all-hazards risk preparation, near real time situational awareness and disciplined actionable response to any incident.

Mark Reid, Director of Security at Seattle Pacific University (SPU), provided insights into his approach to the mission of security during a keynote presentation at The Great Conversation in Security.

“How many of you have been suddenly thrust into an emergency and found yourself grappling with the sudden change in your reality,” Reid said. “In a moment of such an event, you will find yourself asking for confirming information?”

SPU faced this very issue on Saturday, November 10, 2018. Reid received a phone call indicating that there was a four-alarm fire happening on the north edge of the Seattle Pacific University campus. Despite the evidence, he still found himself asking if this was really happening.

According to Reid, sociologist Dennis Meleti refers to these moments of indecision as “milling,” or a time when human beings are trying to make sense of a sudden change in their state of safety. Milling causes people to delay action after receiving an emergency message.

The problem? In an emergency every second counts but some seconds count more than others.

To overcome the inherent delays, you must create a frictionless and effective response mechanism. The classic “easy button” is not a bad analogy to a near real time customer experience in an emergency.

Reid suggests the following be implemented as part of any emergency response program:

Reduce complexity in your device activation. Make it user friendly and then make it even friendlier through persistent training

The goal is real time. The speed of your people and technology is to deliver meaningful messaging and actionable response in seconds.

Empower through training. You must be able to empower your people with the authority to alert the stakeholders under threat. You must think global and local, that is, as close to the detection point as possible. Example: A dispatcher using predefined thresholds decides to activate the system as opposed to seeking permission from the director of security or higher.

With empowerment comes the corollary of warning reversals. They also should be pre-scripted and as close to the activation point as possible.

The content of your messaging is critical as well. People want to know it is coming from a trusted source like your security department. Communication must also be directional. Tell people what actions to take based on the incident. Example: “Lockdown behind a secure door, close the windows or blinds, turn out the lights and stay quiet as possible” or “evacuate immediately to your designated muster site.”

One the messaging is designed you need to focus on diffusion. This is the process of propagating to your intended audience through various means. This may involve multiple technologies that you have integrated in such a way to avoid complexity and increase the effective speed of the message. The goal is to reach people at the time, and the place and the context of need. It also allows for hearing and vision impairments, cell phones that are not on or accessible, and noisy indoor or outdoor environments.

It is important to note diffusion can take place person to person as well. There is no one tool or channel that will reach enough people. According to Reid, we need to rely on the sum of the parts.

SPU has designed its security operations center around multiple modes of communication that includes social media, texting, voice, email, desktop computer alerts, and reader boards (digital signage).

As a result of their business process assessment, strategy, planning and design, the SPU team can activate all these modes through one push of a button.

However, fundamental to communication is the ability to hear, be heard and be understood. A message is not “one-and-done,” but a persistent learning tool throughout an incident.

“Repetition decreases response time and increases compliance to counteract milling,” Reid said. “Initial alert messages are followed by updates that inform individuals affected by the emergency. Your community is reassured through these updates creating a layer of trust for the future.”

Leading innovation and change require a knowledge of how trusted campus communities are developed. To Reid, preparing your campus involves creating relationships. Training sessions and drills create a muscle memory. Campuses should be constantly tweaking the processes based on community feedback.

At the end of the day, creating an intelligent campus relies on the application of advanced communication between a security organization and a campus community. Emergencies may surprise a campus, but the response should be based on a well-disciplined and highly leveraged security program that relies on people across the campus, performing roles in a process using a highly integrated technology architecture.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.