How physical security technology can better protect the public realm

Steven Kenny

In early 2021 we learned about a new piece of proposed legislation known as the Protect Duty, which looks set to change the way in which publicly accessible locations are secured. Following the consultation, which closed in July 21, the Government is reviewing the feedback. To my mind, this allows the security industry a period of time in which to get to grips with what it entails, and to carefully consider what should be done to better protect publicly accessible spaces while helping managers and owners to effectively comply with the forthcoming legislation.

Many may know the Protect Duty as ‘Martyn’s Law’, named after one of the victims of the Manchester Arena attack, Martyn Hett. It’s actually quite shocking to learn that, at present, the owners of spaces used for public gatherings, such as a music event, are not under any legal obligation to prove that they have taken measures necessary to protect their sites, or demonstrate how they might reduce the risk of a terror attack. A shift in the culture around such spaces appears to be wholly necessary and will be welcomed by many.

Using technology to protect and secure

We don’t expect physical security systems to be a central requirement of the Protect Duty. Video cameras, and other physical security devices and sensors, make up just one part of the many elements required. Following a risk assessment, it is the combination of physical and behavioural interventions that are certainly best practice. This starts with ensuring that all staff have a thorough understating of their roles and responsibilities when it comes to security, backed by appropriate training. This gives a firm foundation which can then be supported using an array of physical security technologies.

Cloud connectivity, the IoT and advancements in network camera technology have transformed physical security into a smart, interconnected system of cameras and sensors. These systems are now capable of collecting and processing data to produce powerful insights that can help security and operational decision making. Analytics can be used to identify random or seemingly unconnected behaviours that might point to a terrorist attack in the planning and identifying an incident before it occurs. Such behaviours might include someone loitering near a stadium in the days before a sporting event, or a car with a succession of different number plates spotted in the area.

Responding to an incident in progress

Physical security technology can help security operatives by essentially providing early warning of an evolving incident. Network video cameras with on-board analytics can identify suspicious packages and even detect breaking glass, while edge-based processing allows video data to be packaged and sent to an alarm receiving centre (ARC), security and incident response teams (SIRTs) or the emergency services for immediate review.

Helping security teams think and act fast can save many lives, which is why technology is such a powerful force multiplier. As an example, triggering an automated sequence of security responses that are delivered through a building’s management system would help to safely evacuate visitors from a location to designated safe zones using green-light pathways. At the same time, access is automatically restricted to other areas of the site, with strobe lighting and smoke systems used to disorientate an attacker.

Forensic analysis

Following any attack video from fixed and body-worn cameras, access control data and incident response documentation will help build up a picture of the type of attack and its characteristics. This will help the police identify and prosecute criminals more quickly. Reviewing data to identify points of failure and staff responses will help to better understand the threat, provide effective and ongoing training for all personnel, and develop a strong security-focused culture.

We all know that acts of terrorism have a devastating impact. While we await the results of the Protect Duty consultation, I would urge all of my peers in the security industry to take this opportunity to think about how we can offer peace of mind to the owners and managers of publicly accessible spaces by helping them prepare for full compliance with the forthcoming legislation.

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