How can facility managers secure their buildings over the holiday period?

by Sophie Berrill
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Christmas is a time for employees to let their hair down, but it’s not a time for facility managers to let their guards down.

Depending on the type of facility you manage, your security risk may increase or decrease over the Christmas holiday period. Or it may just look different, which is why it is important to remain vigilant and identify areas of risk.

Luke Percy-Dove is the director of Matryx, a consulting company that advises on security and risk for the built environment, from shopping centres to office buildings and the local government sector. For your security to remain consistently effective, he says, it may need to adapt this season.

What are the security responsibilities of a facility manager?

First and foremost, FMs have to provide a safe work environment.

“Everything is now about people’s safety more than protecting the loss of property, because property can be replaced,” says Percy-Dove. 

“If a laptop gets stolen or something gets broken, it’s mostly not a big deal. And in big events, insurance will cover it if need be.” 

Security management plans can be quite complex and aren’t something FMs can cut and paste from one job to the next. They need to be specific to the property in question to keep tenants, employees and assets safe.

Less people, less risk?

Looking to the holidays, do businesses experience less risk when people aren’t at work? 

“On one hand you can say, with less people coming and going, there’s less risk of day-to-day issues like tailgating, where people politely hold a door open for somebody to let them in and they don’t know who the person is, and that that’s a big issue in the security industry,” says Percy-Dove.

“But often then, when less people are around, there’s less opportunity for people to be observed doing the wrong thing.

“So fewer people around means there’s potentially more opportunities for people to get in and out of places and not be seen. So it can work for and against the business.”

As some employees work alone or trickle back in over January, these smaller workforces can be more vulnerable to incidents. FMs need to make sure these people feel protected.

Protecting shopping centres from the silly season

While some facilities empty out over Christmas others, like shopping centres, hit their peak.

Terrorism is not such a worry at the moment, as the national threat level has just been lowered to ‘possible’.

“The bigger risk is probably more going to be the typical risks that we see during the year, but a higher level,” says Percy-Dove. 

Shopping centres have problems around shoplifting, youth and crowds. According to Percy-Dove, shoplifting increases at this time of year and larger crowds can lead to escalations in aggressive behaviours due to added stresses like limited parking.

Practical steps to secure your facility this Christmas

Different facilities call for different focal points in their security management plans.

“Security needs to be where the risk is, whatever that means for that business,” says Percy-Dove.

For a shopping centre, food courts are naturally busier this time of year, so Matryx suggests increasing security personnel and patrols there. A combination of tools is usually also required to monitor these risks.

“Many of our clients seem to have this CCTV-first philosophy, where they believe that cameras will solve everything. They actually don’t. They are an important part of most security strategies, but there’s a whole lot of operational processes that need to be associated with them to actually be effective.”

This includes making sure one operator is not managing too many screens. New CCTV technology can help to avoid human error in these situations, such as overlays that alert operators to things like unusually large congregations.

For eco-friendly and energy-saving purposes, not all lights should be left on in empty office buildings, but if they’re needed for safety, keep them on.

It’s also very important to stress test critical security systems like duress buttons when people are away.

“These systems should work equally well at any time of the day, at any time of the year. That’s something that often gets overlooked,” adds Percy-Dove. 

“There might be an assumption that because there are less people around, there’s less need to do the basics with respect to security, like regularly checking doors.”

Measure the effectiveness of your security plans this Christmas 

There is one more very important step at the end of the holiday period, and it’s one FMs can overlook: measure the effectiveness of your security.

“That’s probably the single biggest thing that I would encourage,” says Percy-Dove.

Capture and analyse all of your incident data to continuously look for opportunities to improve your security next holiday season.

“Hopefully most of the asset managers know exactly what was happening this time last year, and the year before, and the year before, and they’ve got data to rely on. And that should be the guide for how we deploy security this year as well.”

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