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Roundtable recap: COVID-19 and security


April 9, 2020
By Neil Sutton

Security professionals spoke to SP&T News editor Neil Sutton via video conference on March 27 about the initial impact of COVID-19 on the Canadian security business. View the original conversation here.

The security industry is probably more prepared than many others to cope with the rigors of a global health crisis like COVID-19, but like almost everybody, security service providers have had to make some changes in order to carry on.

“We’ve obviously, like everyone, had to adjust,” said Richard McMullen, partner, security solutions, FCi Security Solutions, in Ottawa. “The security integration world has changed.”

McMullen was one of four participants in a recent video conference, hosted by SP&T News. The other three were: Colin Bodbyl, chief technology officer, Stealth Monitoring in Toronto; Patrick Straw, executive director of the Canadian Security Association (CANASA); and Roger Miller, president of Halifax-based Northeastern Protection Service.

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For the most part, integration projects have been able to proceed as originally planned, said McMullen. In many cases, commercial and institutional buildings are largely vacant during business hours due to physical distancing policies and the vast majority of building tenants are working from home as they are able.

“[Sites] are very, very quiet right now,” he said. “I can tell you that we do a lot of work in the government space here in Ottawa and some of these large office towers or complexes that would have literally thousands of employees sometimes have very, very few. That’s the new reality. That allows us to get work done efficiently and effectively without necessarily coming into contact with people as well.”

Like McMullen, Miller said his firm has largely been able to continue with integration work and in some cases actually begin new projects. “It’s somewhat easier, because there aren’t a lot of folks around. We can get in, get our work done and maintain a safe distance.”

Working from home

The monitoring industry has had to make some major adjustments, noted Bodbyl, in order to maintain service. His company runs three monitoring centres in three different countries, which has afforded them some flexibility, but the nature of a central station is just that: “central.”

“The majority of staff who can, work from home — that’s option number one,” said Bodbyl. “What is challenging is a lot of technology and a lot of products that are used for monitoring purposes and platforms are not necessarily designed for people to work from home.”

(ULC recently provided some guidelines on how stations should adapt to work-from-home policies — refer to the April issue of SP&T News for more details.)

One of the key lessons the industry will be able to take away from the coronavirus is how to adapt more quickly to future crisis situations, noted Bodbyl.

“A lot of things that we have in our industry are set up for centralized operations, so I think we’ll see a lot of innovation stemming from this as far as how we get those roles into a position to where they can be completed from home. Obviously install and integration needs to be done on site, but monitoring operations are traditionally done in a monitoring centre. There’s a lot of controls that we’re able to put in place by having a monitoring centre, but that will have to change eventually,” he said. “Even if there’s not a pandemic, there’s other issues that can cause your business to need to be dispersed and work from home.”

McMullen’s company runs a security operations centre, which is now being run virtually with staff at home.

“They are still able to do all the things that they were doing before, just from a different location. Putting those mitigating steps in early is going to be beneficial as we try to plank this curve and get some sense of normalcy back,” he said.

Straw said that all the security businesses he’s spoken to since this situation developed have been extremely co-operative, sharing best practices. CANASA operates a monitoring committee, which has been meeting on a weekly basis. “One thing that’s been really refreshing to see is the co-operation between the Canadian monitoring station community. They’ve been offering each other assistance,” he said. The organization also started a Facebook group, which has “exploded” with activity, he said, as security professionals rush to share information and collaborate.

Likewise, security associations across North America have also been in contact with one another in order to serve as a guide to their member companies and across the security industry, said Straw.

Supply chain resiliency

In general, obtaining security products and parts hasn’t become an issue — distributors have been able to fulfill orders with minimal disruption. “We haven’t seen any real decrease in the supply chain, especially here in the city (Ottawa),” said McMullen.

“We’re seeing some empty shelves,” added Miller. “The distributors and manufacturers are doing a great job and trying their best to keep the shelves stocked and keep material handy. We’ve got some great distributors in Canada who are able to reach out across the country and into their U.S. counterparts, but there are some delays with some products, which is understandable… For the most part, it’s been great. There are a few items that are not readily available but nothing we can’t overcome.”

Bodbyl agreed that, to date, there haven’t been any major issues with the security supply chain, but a shortage in some products may occur if the earlier impact of the disease on China creates a ripple effect. “Our belief is that there will probably still be delays, but it might only come in a few months’ time once we see the effects of what hit China originally shortening the supply chain there, and that will ultimately roll through to other manufacturers in other parts of the world.”

Plans and takeaways

Miller said his company developed a pandemic plan in the early 2000s in the wake of the SARS crisis and the COVID-19 situation has now moved that into action. “So this is a test… to see how it works,” he said. “For us, it’s been communicating with our clients and with our staff effectively and efficiently and giving them accurate information.”

“I think that we can all look back and learn some lessons,” added McMullen. “It’s sort of business as ‘unusual’ right now… Moving forward, these are lessons that are going to have to form part of our normal routine.”