As a result of the pandemic, we are now tasked with redefining what physical security is, and the efforts that any type of organization and industry must make to ensure employees and consumers can avoid potential health threats and community spread.

Just four short months ago, our idea of physical security was walking through the metal detectors at the airport or at large concert or sporting events. Physical security companies were tasked with looking for weapons or standing guard at a night club to make sure crowds didn’t get too rowdy. Physical security had a very specific meaning when 2020 began; it was all about protecting people from harm in crowded venues.

Now, just a few short months later, physical security is defined by social distancing and wearing masks. In this Covid-19 world, we’re not worried about managing large crowds to keep them safe from potential harm, but rather, the focus is on maintaining smaller crowd sizes and keeping people healthy.

Sporting and entertainment venues, schools, colleges and enterprise campuses won’t be able to just open their doors and welcome back staff, attendees, students, academic and administrative staff, as well as former remote workers to pre-pandemic norms. And just as a security team has traditionally been tasked to ensure there are unblocked emergency exits or to track everyone who enters the building, it is now responsible for thinking how we can get operate safely with people and surfaces on a larger scale.

Sporting and Entertainment Venue Dilemmas

As of this writing, professional basketball, hockey and baseball are planning to start or restart their seasons, but without fans. The Belmont horse race was run with no one in attendance. NASCAR has strictly limited the numbers allowed to watch a race, from 100,000 down to 5000. These are all short-term steps to prepare for a long-term future. The primary physical security problem to solve will be the appropriate crowd density.

Take college football as an example. Right now, major programs not only plan on having a season, but they expect to play in front of fans. But how many fans will be safe to let into the stadium? Is it 50 percent capacity? 25 percent? How do you determine the number of a group; should it be consistent across the stadium or based on season tickets held? Once the fans are inside, who will be responsible for making sure they are sitting in their assigned seats rather than bunching up in groups. Then there are issues of waiting in line – how do you safely social distance in a queue to enter the gate or for the restroom, or the matter of concessions and in-stand sales? Deciding how these scenarios are managed will largely be the responsibility of the security teams.

It’s not just how many people are allowed in, but also determining who gets access into the facility. How do season tickets get redistributed? Who is responsible inside the stadium to make sure crowds don’t gather on the concourse? Will there be assigned times for fans to move to the bathroom or concessions in some orderly fashion? And if getting into the building will be slow, how will the process for exiting an event look?

Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Football Club is thinking of all these problems for its reopening. The team is working with Armored Things to create a stadium flow that meets CDC requirements and respects issues like social distancing.

“When fans return to Banc of California Stadium, the ability to measure crowd size and movement will be critical as we prepare to safely manage concourse traffic, operate concessions, and utilize club spaces,” said Christian Lau, Chief Technology Officer at LAFC. The team will also rely on Armored Things software to leverage existing video cameras and Wi-Fi with other data sources to provide a real-time understanding of the flow of fans.

Ensuring Safety Regulations for all Venues

Cleaning staff now moves to the front row of physical security in this reopening environment. In the past, cleaning staffs had their regular routines and patterns. Maybe they performed different chores on different days. But now sanitized facilities are of the utmost importance for health safety. Organizations are dependent on this essential staff to ensure they are cleaning appropriately and in compliance with new regulations tied to reopening.  Physical security teams may be tasked with deploying new technologies to track the actions of the cleaning staff to ensure compliance.

Even when the cleaning staff is regularly adhering to new rules, there are obstacles to ensuring high levels of sanitization of rooms and surfaces. Impromptu meetings at offices or on campuses, by “squatters” who take over empty meeting rooms and classrooms will cause issues for disinfection compliance. Facilities management teams will need to develop standards that either restrict unscheduled use of rooms or determine that every room get equal cleaning every day. There are other issues that may come under the physical security team’s purview in terms of frequency of cleaning – how many times a day should a crew be scrubbing down desks, equipment and doorknobs in a building? These are things that we still have to figure out – what level of safety is necessary?

The Logistics of Balancing Health Security with Everyday Security Operations

Coronavirus has already changed our lives, but as enterprises, campuses and stadiums reopen, we’re going to have to rethink employee, student and venue attendee flow. What once was the daily work routine of taking a quick ride on an elevator to your 20th-floor office, may be a longer wait on a socially distanced line while only two or three people get on or perhaps you’ll be given a certain time slot when you can ride the elevator. There is going to be a whole new look to queuing.

On college campuses, don’t be surprised if students can’t enter a building without temperature scans, cleaning hands and being given assigned seats in classrooms. Professors will be protected by plexiglass shields.

The physical security world is morphing to now include ensuring compliance in a post-pandemic world. For CSOs, CIOs and CISOs, your job is being transformed to a new way of keeping employees safe. There are going to be all sorts of new guidelines designed to ensure everyone is complying with safety measures. Expect there to be the same kind of compliance regulations developed for physical security as exists today for cybersecurity and data privacy. It’s a whole new world to get used to, especially for those designated to provide for our physical security.