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Q&A: How Security Teams are Adapting to Closures

With 1.9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the globe as of 15 April, roughly one-fifth of the world’s population is under some form of lock down or stay-home order. These measures are creating new challenges—and opportunities—for security teams responsible for protecting essential services and site security for businesses that are no longer open.

Security Management spoke to two experts—Alan Greggo, CPP, responsible for asset protection management at Microsoft, and Darrell Clifton, CPP, an independent consultant with more than 30 years of experience in casino security—most recently for Eldorado Resorts, which owns the Eldorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus in Las Vegas—about the impact lockdowns are having on the ground.

SM: When you’re training your security staff, is pandemic preparedness something that’s typically included?

Clifton: Back when H1N1 happened, we did some training and preparedness. In fact, we worked with the Nevada health department to provide vaccinations and flu training to the masses. We thought we were the perfect guinea pigs for that, because we had large space available and a lot of employees. We participated in that and went through the hand washing procedures and sanitizing of the property.

We have a plan for norovirus (a contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea). It’s managed by the food department but the whole property becomes involved in extra cleaning.

But as far as a pandemic like this, I don’t think anyone was prepared. But it’s not too hard to come up with the procedures as you go.

SM: How have demands for security personnel changed as the coronavirus has spread?

Greggo: Retailers have various responses to this pandemic emergency based on the progress of their mitigation plans and how well they’ve identified the risks. Approaching the onset of the coronavirus in the United States in mid to late February, retail news cited that sanitizer, toilet paper, and protective masks were flying off the shelves.

In Ohio, after government mandated shutdowns of schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, and nonessential retail around 15 March, only grocery stores and big box retailers like Walmart and Target could be found open for business. Costco, a warehouse club, is also open for business and is limiting the flow of people into the store, offering sanitizing wipes to clean carts and reminding people to maintain distances of 6 feet. Costco’s entrance configuration allows for easy transition because even in normal times there is a greeter checking identification cards and delivering handbills or discount books at the door.

SM: How are security plans shifting for businesses that have moved to curbside service only, or closed entirely?

Greggo: Retail security planning, in my experience thus far with this pandemic, has to be fluid and resilient for quick changes as company senior leadership makes decisions about the risk to customers and employees measured against the changing state and federal direction.

As states where we are located began to report COVID-19 positive patients, decisions were made to limit access to the retail store sales floor so customers could not handle the merchandise—in an effort to protect both employees and customers from the virus. The stores were reconfigured to meet customers at the front doors to help them with their technology needs, solve problems, and, if essential, complete a sale for a new device. By that time, traffic in shopping centers was significantly reduced.

By 16 March, the decision was made to close all stores for the protection of all employees and customers. Stores’ management had to determine who would work from home on business accounts and educational assistance with remote learning. Devices would be signed out as appropriate for those employees who would need them.

Once stores were locked and alarmed, security has responsibility to ensure monitoring by our Virtual Security Operations Center (VSOC) and spread awareness that no one was permitted to go back into stores without prior authorization. This is especially important where states mandated nonessential businesses close and required shopping centers to close. Retail security was tasked with ensuring alarm problems were repaired, in some cases supervising alarm repair technicians to enter a store to make a repair by remotely unlocking and turning off the alarm system.

In any retail business, decisions have to be made based on risk levels we perceive in an environment that there’s not a lot of experience in. Retail businesses run relatively uninterrupted, where closing stores occurs on one or two holidays per year. Other than overnight, business is consistent.

Security has to consider threats like fire, burglary, looting, and vandalism when making decisions on the need and feasibility of having security officers on duty in stores that have street front entrances. Generally, if stores are enclosed in a shopping center, they don’t need a security officer to be on duty 24/7—but it’s really up to the retail business to make decisions about what’s best for the business.

Clifton: Although this is unprecedented, we’ve actually had a lot of experience. The October 1 incident, 9/11, they do some special things on New Year’s Eve as far as sheltering in place to some extent.

It was difficult to do it. It is an undertaking. It’s funny that many of the doors in casinos don’t even lock. They’re open; they don’t even have locks on them. So, either you have to make some kind of contraption to lock it, or you have to post somebody there to keep it closed. Casinos are doing a little bit of both.

Most of the properties I talked to have a full security staff working while they’re closed. Because of that, they have the wardrobe staff working and part of the food staff working to feed them, and then the maintenance crew in there.

They’re taking advantage of the time to get the place cleaned up. They’re doing a deep clean, and then while they’re doing that, they’re saying ‘let’s change some light bulbs and get the place fixed up,’ so there are some other things we can do here.

I think most of them are going to come out with a nice shiny new property when they’re ready to reopen, and hopefully people will come back.

SM: For locations that have closed, casinos especially, are there any specific pain-points that have been identified?

Clifton: With a complex that large, you rely on people to be the eyes and ears for you, like reporting the smell of smoke somewhere. Security, no matter how big the force is, is not going to detect everything so there are a lot of places that are not going to be seen by a human that were being seen all the time.

Security staff has to worry now about being in every square inch of that building—to make sure it’s safe, that no one is there, and that the lights are working.

I know these guys are stressed out. For one thing they have never been through this before. In one case, the casino said it’s not going to have hourly employees here—so salaried staff must cover everything. It’s just the director and his managers, with no force at all. They have to do everything. The director is not sleeping at night. It’s stressful for them.

There’s some stress about what the future brings. Plus, you have got to work while you’re doing all that. I think they’re working probably harder than they’ve ever worked before.

What about for states or cities on lockdown?

Greggo: Access to shopping centers, even for security, becomes problematic if the state does not include security guarding companies as essential. At some point, decisions have to be made on how to maintain security—whether in-person security officers, relying on shopping center security, or remote video surveillance of closed sites.

Clifton: A lot of casinos have business interruption insurance. We used it a couple of times when there was a fire that closed part of the hotel, or a gas leak where the gas came in and we had to close the casino for a day or two.

The insurance covers all those costs of payroll and the lost revenue and things like that. This is not covered by the business interruption insurance because the insurance is for an unforeseeable, unplanned closure. The insurance says because you chose to close your doors—even though the governor said you had to—it was a decision, not because of a fire or something like that.

Most of these places are taking the cost of closing on the chin, which is pretty expensive, besides the loss of revenue—which can be millions per day for some of these places—and then the payroll. Most of them are paying at least the first couple of weeks, they’re paying their employees.