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Intermediate Report: Key Takeaways from Pandemic Response

Approximately six months into the global pandemic emergency, the ASIS Foundation’s Resilience and Recovery After COVID-19 research effort examined overall trends. Combining the ongoing, in-depth examinations of the nine organizations in the study with interviews of security executives in similar industries as well as news reports and other sources, the Foundation presents this look at trends and takeaways at the six-month mark.

The New Is Not Normal

When it comes to urban, white collar workers, very few companies have fully reopened offices. By and large this reflects a combination of a newfound comfort level with the productivity and profitability of remote work and ongoing concerns about the social distancing required to inhibit the spread of COVID-19. Solutions being deployed include reopening offices with an option to continue remote work; enforcing social distancing by staggering shifts, limiting in-person meetings, or limiting elevator capacity; screening those entering a building; restricting visitor access; increasing airflow by propping open doors or windows, and providing sanitary enhancements to employees, including hand-sanitizing stations and antimicrobial, key-like devices to use as door pulls or elevator punches.

For companies relying largely on continued remote work, the primary security concern remains the potential for fraud attempts to use the different, and in some cases less restrictive, network protocols and access to compromise business systems. The fears include both hacking attempts and scams, which have exploded since the pandemic started, as well as deliberate insider fraud and theft.

For companies in which remote work is not an option, reopening (or remaining open) has meant improvised or new processes. Temperature screening remains an ongoing area of exploration for these companies. Many large companies have begun using thermal detection methods as a primary screening method. There are many drawbacks. Expense is one, as their long-term value is questionable to some companies. Privacy issues, including GDPR in Europe and HIPAA in the United States, are also a concern with tracking temperature. And finally, even if temperature screening methods are successful, their effectiveness at controlling or mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is questionable given the studies that show the dangers of asymptomatic spread.

Overall, business travel remains nearly nonexistent except for a slight rebound in regional travel in some areas of Asia. The initial scarcity of cleaning products and personal protective equipment, such as gloves and face masks, is largely subsided. And other than an isolated few areas, infections and hospitalizations are not overwhelming medical surge capacity.

If there is a silver lining, it is that companies have a renewed, or in some cases a newfound, appreciation for and emphasis on emergency planning. Many security professionals report that being in what is essentially a months-long emergency posture has led to an increase organizational stature of the security function, which is instrumental in both emergency planning and emergency plan implementation.

Here’s a look at some sector-by-sector trends:

Higher Education

  • As colleges and universities reopen, some are virtual only, while others are hybrid in-person and virtual.
  • In a harbinger of things to come, outbreaks occurred at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Notre Dame barely a week or two into classes, reinforcing how difficult it is to isolate a population of students. Many campuses across the United States have become hotspots.
  • Incidents of COVID-19 at universities around the country show a weakness in screening off-campus students who remained near the school over the summer and failed to self-quarantine.
  • Among common measures for prevention and response:
    • COVID-19 tests before matriculation, and periodic retests
    • Allowing professors to opt out of live classes
    • Requiring mask use when inside any space except one’s own dorm room (and providing free masks with university logos)
    • Frequent sanitization of common spaces
    • Newly built outdoor classrooms (in warm-weather schools) and spaced seating in indoor classrooms
    • Installation of Plexiglas barriers in classrooms and other facilities
    • More frequent cleaning of bathrooms
    • Replacement of air dryers with paper towel dispensers in classrooms
    • Restrictions on student gatherings
    • Suspension of sports programs
    • Abundant hand sanitizer stations
    • Rigorous contract tracing protocols
    • Dorms/housing set aside for students who test positive


  • Expanded social distancing
    • Standards differ depending on country, region, etc.
    • Unidirectional flow when possible
  • Staggered shifts
  • No penalties for sick days
  • Face masks—plus face shields when workers must talk to one another
  • Abundant hand sanitizer stations
  • Temperature screening at entrances
  • Frequent plant sanitization
  • Inspection of air filters and reengineering of HVAC systems
  • Rigorous contact tracing protocols
  • Outbreaks in communities, where many people work at a single plant, have shut down plants for weeks at a time

Banks and Financial Institutions

  • Limited branch hours
  • Face-to-face meetings replaced by virtual meetings
  • Occupancy limits in branches
  • Additional security guards to enforce social distancing
  • Back offices have been under tremendous strain from applications to the U.S. Paycheck Protection Program, requests for new loans, and requests for renegotiated terms, extensions, etc.
  • Social distancing signage
  • Directional arrows
  • Mandatory mask use
  • Focus on empathy for customers as a key element of good business practice, corporate social responsibility, and corporate reputation


  • Removal of large displays to create social distancing space
  • One-way aisles or specific directional routes
  • Plastic barriers at cashier stations
  • No touch payment systems
  • Greeter at door handing out masks and regulating entry for compliance with occupancy limits
  • Masks are amounting to a large, unexpected expense for retailers
  • Mask policies are also causing friction with customers who oppose masks:
    • Creating tense or violent situations with staff who have to enforce those policies
    • Some stores have increased use of security personnel to enforce mask policies
    • Other retailers have decided not to enforce mask policies for staff safety
  • Increase in shoplifting at some retail stores
    • Thieves emboldened by lack of police presence
    • Police policies shifted during pandemic so as not to crowd jails with nonviolent offenders
    • Reluctance of store security to physically encounter someone who might be sick
    • Captured shoplifters have claimed to have virus, coughed or spit at security/police
  • Massive increase in online operations; some store branches converted to online fulfillment centers
  • Issues with returned or handled goods, leading to:
    • All-sales-final policy in brick-and-mortar stores
    • Sanitization protocols such as sprays for hard objects and steamers for fabrics
    • “Quarantining” returned or handled items for at least 24 hours before putting them back on sale
  • Shuttered fitting rooms
  • Use of software that allows customers to virtually try on clothes
  • Constant store cleaning

NGOs, Nonprofits, and Houses of Worship

  • Shutdown having keen effects on areas where NGOs operate (e.g. parts of Africa, Central America)
  • NGO face-to-face assistance shut down; remote virtual assistance limited due to low bandwidth or limited Internet infrastructure in-country
  • NGOs grappling with local populace who think pandemic is a hoax
  • Cultural differences among regions re-use of masks, temperature screening, social distancing, etc.
  • NGO travel almost completely shut down
  • NGOs trying to do the right thing: social responsibility is crucial (how will we be viewed when the crisis is over?)
  • Nonprofits that rely on in-person events for income are hurting; most insurance policies not covering canceled events due to pandemic
  • Nonprofits switching to remote delivery models
  • Nonprofits finding intense competition in the remote delivery space (e.g. an abundance of free webinars, white papers, resources, etc.)
  • Three-quarters of nonprofits have had to dip into reserves
  • Many houses of worship (HOWs) shut down or have reopened with services for small, socially distanced groups (small weddings, confirmations, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, etc.)
  • HOWs using greeters at door to welcome, take temperature, explain rules
  • HOWs are broadcasting services online
  • HOWs contending with congregants who are upset that their prayer routines have been disrupted
  • Where possible, HOWs moving events/services outside to parking lots, grassy areas, beaches, etc.
  • In communities where most congregants are elderly, HOWs are struggling with how to discourage the old or immunocompromised to attend services, while not denying them the opportunity for spiritual enrichment
  • HOWs using signage to reinforce hygiene, social distancing, mask use, and the risk of being in close quarters for extended periods
  • Shared collection plates becoming stationary collection boxes


Michael Gips, JD, CPP, CSyP, CAE, is the principal of Global Insights in Professional Security, LLC, a firm that helps security providers and executives develop cutting-edge content, assert thought leadership, and heighten brand awareness. Gips was previously Chief Global Knowledge Officer at ASIS International, with responsibility for Editorial Services, Learning, Certification, Standards & Guidelines, and the CSO Center for Leadership & Development. Before that, as an editor for ASIS’s Security Management magazine, he wrote close to 1,000 articles and columns on virtually every topic in security. In his early career he was an attorney who worked on death-penalty cases.

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