Smart Security In The Post-Pandemic Office

How we can optimize the environment to give employees the normalcy they are seeking, while implementing new policies and procedures?

July 2020

Words by Terri Govang

Covid-19 has been a global traumatic experience.

It has brought anxiety and apprehension about how we’ve previously operated and how we will learn to operate as we navigate our new normal. Today, many of us are in the unique position of having to quickly become subject matter experts in roles newly defined overnight. It is crucial we make informed decisions to not lead with fear-based haste. There are situations where turning an office on its head or deploying technologies we’ve never used does not support logistical or economic reason, or is potentially misaligned with business objectives.

I look at this in terms of how we can optimize the current environment to provide employees the normalcy they are seeking, while implementing new policies and procedures.

We know building technologies are dated to a large degree. Efficiencies can be gained with subtle improvements to achieve desired operational performance – this could include simple enhancements to systems such as access control. Considerations and risk assessments should include:

  • When was the last time a system was independently assessed or audited?
  • What is the age of technologies deployed?
  • Are devices secure by current standards?
  • Does the plan include provisions for small renovations to augment frictionless access or contact tracing?

Leaning into the often-overlooked intelligence of security, we gain insight from analytics. For example, should a known individual with an infectious disease access an area, we can identify subsequent users, then action accordingly. Ideally, leveraging the intelligence of systems can better protect the business and its people.

Many organisations are still using outdated paper logbooks, which does not serve auditing or safety purposes.

When we automate visitor and contractor management, we gain a record of who is entering the building and can privatize any information they may have been asked to provide about where they have been or how they are feeling. This contributes to protection of personal identifying information (PII), which should not reside in any paper book. Integrating visitor management with an access control system also informs us of where the individual has been within the property. Capturing who they have come to meet, the purpose of their visit, if they’ve been onsite more times than previously believed, or if they are rotating employees, provides vital insight for the business. This knowledge benefits not only from a health-and-safety perspective, but also overall business continuity, security and risk because we then hold an auditable record of individuals accessing the organisation.

Temperature screening is a sensitive topic, one which is not simple as swapping a traditional camera for an infrared.

This is showing not to be as effective as initially assumed, offering little more than a comforting placebo effect. There are several variables: someone may trigger an alarm because they operate at a higher body temperature or have been exercising, or skin may be colder because of a winter climate. Viruses such as Covid-19 have a lengthy incubation period, where an infectious asymptomatic person could have no fever at all. Temperature screens can cause additional risk, whereby if individuals feel everyone on premise is checked and healthy, they are more likely to lower their guard and flout social distancing protocol. Information obtained by automated and manual temperature checking generates a medical health record. An organization must be equipped for the handling and storage of PII, upholding privacy applicable to local and federal regulations in whichever region of the world it resides.

Simple improvements that impactfully enhance the post-Covid environment embrace mobility.

We know access cards and plastic fobs are insecure and susceptible to hacking. Once breach has occurred, an organization no longer has control or knowledge of who has accessed the property or where, and loses the ability to protect most critical assets. A better option is encrypted credentials via smart-card or mobile device. Enabling Bluetooth long-range triggering of a card reader further benefits if the door is powered by an automatic operator. Programming the door to open on valid credential-read, so that we no longer physically touch either device or door, facilitates secure seamless entry. Discontinuing use of plastic cards introduces other improvements such as enhanced user experience, reduction of waste, and authentication of remote workers.

Encrypted credentials converge physical security with information security.

It is no secret that passwords can become easily compromised, especially if short or common. The industry has been attempting to digitize while retaining cumbersome legacy processes. Deploying secure mobile credentials for physical access control integrates digital identities, logical access and multifactor authentication of computers and other network devices. Enhancing end-to-end integrity means the organization knows who is entering the building and where, but more importantly who is accessing specific equipment.

Technologies with multiple use cases produce a single solution benefiting multiple departments.

A fantastic example is a real-time location system (RTLS) using Bluetooth beacons. These are flexible and scalable, with many use cases such as application-based wayfinding, optionally enhanced via embedded software development kit (SDK) into your organization’s own mobile app. Post-pandemic office environments with occupancy limitations or hoteling desks are improved by displaying allowance and available seats when the RTLS interfaces with access control and audio-visual systems. Beyond data about who and how people muster in an emergency or evacuation, RTLS empowers first responders with the location of an individual who may be in harm. Alternatively, RTLS could double as a secondary alarm protecting restricted areas, or for asset tracking of critical equipment. A cohesive mindset within an organization streamlines collaboration over siloed ad hoc attempts.

The key message is to optimize technologies we already have and make informed decisions that support business strategy.

Navigating the new normal by modernizing offices and digitizing workflows brings forth a great deal of change. Bear in mind, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Before overhauling the enterprise, take time to assess solutions and the ripple effects such changes will have on people and technology. If we grant ourselves time to make informed decisions, implementing small changes first with the end result in focus, we will be best able to support the organization and its people towards achieving the normalcy they seek.

Terri Govang is a security specialist and director of technology for Western Canada at WSP

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