Leveraging the GSOC During COVID-19
As the world navigates COVID-19 and its variants and prepares to—hopefully—exit through the difficult challenges associated with the novel coronavirus, industrial gas company Air Products continues to take measures to ensure the safety of its people and customers while maintaining business continuity around the world.
Air Products production operations are designated as critical infrastructure by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its facilities have remained open and operational throughout the pandemic, while following strict and evolving COVID-19 and variant protective measures. Air Products has employees working at its regional and corporate headquarters locations and at production facilities, delivering product to customers, and working remotely.
At the center of all this activity is the company's Global Asset Protection (GAP) organization and the Global Security Operations Center (GSOC), which is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. The GSOC serves as the company’s critical incident communication hub and is based at corporate headquarters in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In March 2020, when many employees shifted to remote work, the GSOC staff remained at headquarters.
“All team members continue to experience personal and professional challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ve learned to adapt and adjust our existing work processes to meet our business commitments,” says Larry Piotti, global asset protection director at Air Products. “Working as a team, we have been able to support each other without the benefits of the traditional levels of face-to-face interaction. The primary mission of our GSOC is to provide preeminent operational security, emergency response, and crisis management support to all Air Products’ operations and stakeholders around the world.”
Protective Measures to Maintain Operations
The GSOC has a well-established and functional disaster recovery plan. One element of the plan involves moving staff and security system monitoring to a preidentified location in a separate building on Air Products’ headquarters campus. Each year, an exercise is conducted to test the response of the GSOC staff, as well as assuring that all of the tools and resources available are in working order. In the case of COVID-19, social distancing became a critical safety protocol that required the team to operate in both the current GSOC room and a preestablished back-up location. The backup location was outfitted with the necessary power, phone, and Internet connectivity to ensure a smooth operation.
“We’ve learned to adapt and adjust our existing work processes to meet our business commitments.”
The physical direct linkage between SOC staff and onsite guard service personnel is vital in supporting all emergency response efforts. The security operations center serves as the primary dispatch for all emergencies on the headquarters campus, including lab alarms, medical concerns, and overall life safety.
The regular issuance of new personal protective equipment, strict social distancing, and workstation disinfection remain part of daily safety protocols. In addition, the facility services team coordinates regular deep cleaning of the GSOC and alternative work areas. The GSOC staff remains resilient to the challenges associated with the pandemic and are fully committed to supporting Air Products’ global business activities on its usual 24/7 basis. Personnel remain positive in the elevated stress environment and continue to adapt to the personal and professional challenges associated with the pandemic.
Operational Security Support
The GSOC is an integral part of Air Products’ well-established journey management and travel security program. This program, though curtailed during the waves of COVID surges in various countries and regions, encompasses internal protocols and resources that are available to GSOC personnel who can take immediate action to help employees when circumstances arise or assistance is needed.
GSOC staff can respond to significant events by determining the whereabouts of company travelers through a Web-based travel tracking tool. Travel advisories are sent via email and text messages to employees who may be impacted. Additionally, GAP management worked with Air Products’ procurement organization to source an approved travel management company. This firm assists travelers with all bookings and communicates pre-trip planning procedures established by Air Products, as well as staying current with any COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Due to COVID-19, travel was limited. As travel restrictions changed around the globe, the number of inquiries from Air Products’ commercial and project management teams grew. The GSOC staff had to adjust to the increased call volume and various business requests to effectively support all business units globally. These calls often included questions about the accessibility of a particular facility, the COVID-19 international travel protocols, and the medical support needed in the event of an exposure.
Essential security services provided by the GSOC also include the monitoring and response of standardized security systems (video surveillance, access control, and burglar alarm) and issuance of photo IDs globally. In response to COVID-19, the GSOC created new access templates for business-critical sites that remained operational throughout the pandemic. These templates limited access to business essential staff who had to continue reporting to work in-person. The staff would also monitor closed-circuit television (CCTV) and access control to assist with business continuity and safe operations. Additionally, the GSOC staff ran badge access reports at multiple plant locations, including headquarters, to assist in complying with local state and federal regulations associated with return-to-work efforts.
“The GSOC is capable of remotely monitoring electronic security systems at our 170+ facilities around the world,” says Ryan Daumer, physical security manager at Air Products. “The initial capital investment of advanced electronic security systems was a result of enhancing site security preparedness after the 9/11 attacks. Post-9/11, GAP continues to review and update electronic security systems to ensure the deployment of industry-leading, compliance-driven, and proven solutions.”
The number of facilities worldwide that can be remotely monitored by the Air Products GSOC.
Emergency Response and Crisis Management
The Air Products crisis management (CM) process and emergency notification system are key components in support of critical incident management activity and remained essential throughout COVID-19. Through predetermined CM core teams, the GSOC coordinates regional efforts by notifying functional team members trained in emergency and crisis response.
Routinely and without hesitation, the GSOC works as a unified team to notify internal key stakeholders and local first responders when a critical incident occurs. Overall, the actions of the GSOC team are instrumental in safeguarding Air Products and allow the business units to function knowing support is one phone call away.
Additionally, the emergency mass notification system allows the GSOC to send messages to a specific group, site location, or region through targeted communication. Air Products’ emergency mass notification tool has been used more frequently during COVID-19. The crisis management team arranged weekly meetings to help kick off the company response to the pandemic. Each week, there was at least one crisis management meeting held with regional teams, including those in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. The GSOC communication tool was used to help streamline the response efforts through weekly meeting notifications administered by the GSOC staff.
All facilities are required to have a site-specific emergency plan, which includes developing partnerships and response protocols with local law enforcement and first responders. If a crisis arises, the CM process is immediately activated through the GSOC. This process incorporates employees at all levels of the company and marshals the resources and management skills necessary to effectively lead and respond in a crisis.
Regulatory and Industry Compliance Programs
With the inception of DHS Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) legislation, GAP identified the need to implement a global security vulnerability assessment (SVA) process. The goal was to create a single process where GAP could consistently identify and analyze threats to facilities, personnel, products, and communities. To complement the global SVA deployment, GAP created global security standards, aligned regional team members with local business groups, identified common security gaps, and standardized physical and electronic security solutions.
The GSOC utilizes SVA data, company security standards, and deployed electronic security systems to identify, evaluate, and respond to potential real-time threats at facilities. This capability became even more important during COVID-19 when staffing at locations was more stressed and the GSOC video monitoring of facilities was essential.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) program was validated at Air Products in 2003. As an active participant in this voluntary program, GAP continues to work closely with CBP officials and maintain a firm commitment to enhance the security of goods moving through an international supply chain. The GSOC staff regularly communicates the minimum-security criteria required for CTPAT to supply chain suppliers and shares CBP identified best practices with peers and business partners.
The GSOC continues to perform its many tasks on a daily basis by utilizing advanced technologies, strategic resources, and leveraging industry partnerships to quickly address issues and respond to critical business needs. The center has remained resilient during the COVID-19 and evolving variant crisis. It continues to support Air Products’ business operations by providing key services to the company’s global workforce on a 24/7/365 basis.
Stephen Meier, CPP, is security operations manager at Air Products. He has worked in the security industry for more than 10 years and has extensive experience in executive protection, crisis management and emergency response, global supply chain security, and global operational security. He has a master’s degree in administration of justice and homeland security and is the Air Products point of contact to identify and address security related challenges within global security operations.
©2021 Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. All rights reserved.