Corporate security heads and executives should be playing a crucial role during the COVID-19 pandemic because of their experience with identifying, assessing and mitigating risk. This has been a wakeup call for most of us, realizing we weren’t completely prepared to address an issue with such an immediate and extreme global impact on our employees, operations and clients.
Security heads have likely spent their entire careers considering, analyzing and preparing for emergency situations and it is critical they guide organizations through the pandemic in order to maximize safety.
Corporate Security Heads Should Have a Seat at the Table
Security work is often invisible to other company stakeholders because nothing happening is the best possible outcome. But this is an opportunity to assert how essential emergency preparedness planning and processes are, regardless of how well or quickly an organization responded to the situation at hand. In some cases, if an entity has never invested in a business continuity or preparedness program and may be struggling, this is the time to listen to a security expert to mitigate risks to your organization now and optimize operations in any future emergency. The need for after action reporting that examines your ongoing response to the pandemic means that, as a best practice, corporate security leadership should maintain a seat at the executive table in the future.
Corporate Security Should Play a Role in Communication
One of the issues many employers experience early in a crisis response is mixed messaging. For the COVID-19 crisis, you may have seen messages from Human Resources because of the direct impact on employees. You may also have seen messages from the CEO or President to demonstrate their leadership. Individual managers and other functions have likely sent out messaging as well. If these people share conflicting information, confusion and disruption occurs. If they share an overwhelming volume of communication, the original messaging gets diluted and employees start to ignore correspondence that may contain critical updates.
It is crucial that messaging be coordinated and consistent during a crisis because, if it is not, employees can suffer low morale and, at worst, become endangered. The security head and team are often on the frontlines of the situation and may receive messages from employees looking for answers, especially if the communication has been staggered or ambiguous. Though they should not craft communications without other stakeholder input, security leaders can play a crucial role in ensuring employees receive accurate information and calming employee fears.
These same rules apply internally. Security leaders should distribute key information to their team members to ensure consistent messaging and understanding. They should also regularly schedule meetings to convey intelligence, answer questions and demonstrate clear leadership.
Security Leaders Need to Practice Diligence in Monitoring Their Team’s Status
As this crisis continues, security leaders should develop a method to monitor, assess and document their team’s ongoing status. Understanding current capabilities is essential for quick adjustments while maintaining order and control. For example, security heads should be aware of any staffing issues and policy changes, as well as how employees are currently operating in and outside the office. Determining a baseline for the current state is an effective way to plan for the positive and negative changes that will undoubtedly come along. As the situation continues, leaders may have to adjust their baseline several times.
For example, during the COVID-19 crisis personnel is your most important and vulnerable asset. Regular check-ins should address these key staffing questions:
- What will you do if a significant number of your staff fall ill?
- Can you sustain the required staffing to fulfill your team’s responsibilities?
- Do you have redundancy in skillsets and capabilities, such as for your technology systems?
- Do you have a backup plan with a contractor?
Make Mental Health a Security Priority
An area often overlooked in crises, or at least recognized too late, is mental health. Each member of your team will have different stressors and strengths contributing to how well they adapt day-to-day, especially given that COVID-19 alone is expected to endure for a while. The stress factors can be varied, but typically revolve around fear and anxiety about their health or that of a family member, fear of the unknown and uncertainty about financial issues. Each team members’ specific circumstances and past experiences determine how well they cope.
Security leaders should monitor their own team and swiftly respond to any signs that indicate someone is experiencing extraordinary emotional distress which can be a precursor to hurting themselves or someone else. But this cannot be done alone – leaders will need to work with Human Resources, an Employee Assistant Program (EAP) and, if necessary, threat and violence prevention functions. External resources can also be helpful, such as the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidance on coping with the pandemic.
Plan to Return to Normal – Eventually
At some point, we will begin to return to normal. Even if it seems a long way off, security heads need to consider what “normal” will look like. We will all have an abundance of “lessons learned” to review when COVID-19 subsides, and it’s the security function’s responsibility to determine how we can do better the next time.
The only way to improve your preparedness and subsequent response to the next crisis is to take a frank look at the adequacy of your existing policies, procedures and programs; the resources you either had or didn’t have; and your team’s performance during the crisis.
Most Importantly, Stay Safe
Together, we will make it through this crisis, and then we will improve and become more effective at protecting what matters in the future.