Security on the Job

In today's workplace, security directors must be vigilant in keeping their emergency communication systems up to date

EMERGENCY communication at work has traditionally been limited to informing employees of emergencies such as a fire. Fire detection devices linked to fire bells and public address systems will detect a fire and instruct occupants as to the correct action to take.

Specialized solutions are available to meet the needs of at-risk workers, such as engineers working in hazardous areas, lone workers, security guards and prison officers. Workers can wear radio communication devices that send a signal when triggered, for example, by a pulled rip cord, a tilted device or a device that has not been moved for a period of time.

Since the events of Sept 11, 2001, employers have more seriously taken the need to protect their staff against a variety of threats. Security directors need to have systems in place to quickly evacuate entire buildings. Tall buildings in cities like New York and London are seen to be at particular risk.

Enter the Security Director
The security director's role is an unenviable one. For an emergency plan to work effectively, it needs to be continuously rehearsed. Rick Rescorla, former director of security at Morgan Stanley in New York, who died in the 9/11 attacks, recognised this and made himself a nuisance by continually running rehearsals. For a bank, time off the trading floor hits the bottom line, so it takes a strong-minded security director to push for adequate rehearsals and training.

Having established a plan and regular rehearsals, the security director needs to have ways of modifying the plan "on the fly." This is where communication is vital and where many pre-conceived notions about communication have been questioned.

First, the evacuation controller needs to be able to receive information concerning problems in the evacuation process?maybe a staircase is blocked or an elevator is out of order. It sounds simple: A fire marshal needs to grab a radio and call in. But when there are hundreds of marshals all with radios, the chance of interference is very high.

Using an emergency PABX extension sounds like a good alternative, but the controller can only talk to one person at a time. Forget using a mobile cell phone; the network will be congested by people calling their loved ones or continuing to make business calls while they are on the move.

Helping the Disabled
The controller also needs to have a way of coordinating the evacuation of disabled personnel. Again, it sounds simple, but imagine a 60-floor building with 10,000 occupants. If only 1 percent are in wheelchairs, that's 100 people who need to be contacted, found and evacuated.

One solution is to use a structured data system to communicate with fire marshals. When the controller wants to communicate with a group of fire marshals, he or she sends the message from a PC. Each short message is sent complete with several possible tagged replies. When the marshal selects the appropriate reply, it is indicated on a PC control screen by a color-coded box. In this way, the controller can see at a glance the status of hundreds of fire marshals, enabling him or her to focus on problem areas.

To contact a marshal, the controller can use the same system to send text messages instantaneously or can use a conventional two-way radio, knowing that the channels will be clear. This system is used effectively in a 44-floor building in London's Docklands.

Disabled personnel can use wall-mounted calling devices to inform the controller of their arrival in a refuge, allowing the controller to contact them using the fire telephone system and organize their evacuation.

For more everyday situations, radio-based emergency systems are widely used. Security guards can carry radios to summon assistance. A radio is ideal for reporting incidents or suspicious activity. However, attackers are often not obliging enough to allow the guard to radio in, so a staff protection device is often used as an alternative or for additional security. Typically, this is a radio device that will transmit an alarm when triggered. A typical staff protection device will have an emergency button, a rip cord, a tilt alarm and a non-movement detector.

Having triggered the alarm, the next task of the system is to get help to the victim. Sending paging calls to the victim's colleagues is easy, but it's vital to tell the colleagues where the attack has taken place. In high-security prisons, an officer needs help to arrive within seconds, and colleagues can't afford to waste time searching every room.

A common approach is to install a grid of location beacons, which continually transmit a code either by radio or by infrared over a short distance. When the guard passes a beacon, his or her staff protection device will detect the beacon and store the code. Error-checking algorithms in the device check for valid codes. When the alarm is triggered, the location information is sent to the controller and automatically out to colleagues. Staff protection systems can route the alarm to near-by colleagues first, escalating the call to other colleagues if required.

Security Inside and Out
For use outdoors, a GPS location system is used in some products. This has the benefit of enabling accurate location over vast outdoor areas. GPS holds great promise for protecting lone workers away from their offices.

For example, health visitors and Social Security personnel are occasionally subjected to the threat of violence when visiting patients and clients. GPS location, coupled with GSM cell phone transmitters carried by the worker, offer an enhanced level of protection. A system is being tested in the UK, whereby health visitors carry a GSM phone disguised as an ID cardholder. If the visitor feels threatened, he or she can activate the card, which silently calls a programmed number.

A one-way conversation is set up, allowing the visitor to give information about the situation and allowing the controller to listen in. Again, the technology is part of the overall safety system consisting of accurate diary entries, regular progress checks and training in defusing confrontational situations. Realtors showing clients around properties can benefit from such a system, as well.

Incorporating CCTV

Both indoor and outdoor security are enhanced by CCTV cameras. These serve to deter, identify and record incidents. CCTV is heavily used in the UK, and its effectiveness in identifying wrongdoers was demonstrated recently when four suicide bombers in London were identified, located and captured following their unsuccessful attempts at placing bombs.

Digital CCTV allows intelligent cameras to start recording only when certain activity is taking place within the field of view. Linking cameras together allows nearby ones to pan around to record the action from an alternate viewpoint. In the UK, portable camera systems are being used to record and deter the comparatively minor crime of so-called fly-tipping -- dumping of trash on road sides and picnic sites.

Sometimes alerts need to be broadcast worldwide. If an organization is subjected to a terrorist attack in one location, it will want to communicate this information quickly to its other locations. Some systems allow a single message to be composed and sent worldwide to pre-designated fixed or mobile telephones, SMS receivers and e-mail addresses within seconds. The text message can be sent by SMS text or e-mail, and automatically converted to voice for transmission over a telephone. Some systems allow recipients to automatically join an audio conference bridge. In this way, colleagues can quickly be alerted to increased threat levels.

The demand for staff protection systems continues to grow, driven by the falling cost of technology and the increased awareness of threats to buildings and personnel. Organizations, which five years ago would not have considered a staff protection system, are now installing them. Developments in radio communication, location technology and camera technology are further enabling a huge portfolio of solutions that can be customized to the needs of individual customers.


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