Corporate Security and Lessons from Nature

Nature often provides us with the best exemplars on how truly effective systems can and should work in the human world. Take the important matter of corporate security. In today’s fast paced world where information can go viral in minutes, a bad news story concerning a serious untoward incident involving business assets or worse still personnel, can quickly do irreparable harm to hard won business reputations in the eyes of internal and external stakeholders.

Effective Security is a Science

Survival of the fittest in nature is not just a function of chance, it’s a sweet science developed over many millennia. The continuous distilling of learning and re-learning of what works and what doesn’t, being progressively hard-coded into DNA. 

Corporate Security Practitioners can learn a thing or two from studying the animal kingdom’s premier security experts. Take meerkats for example; cute small, furry mongoose looking creatures that live in the desert and grassland areas of Africa. At night, they live in large family groups in the relative safety of extensive underground tunnel and burrow systems. 

In the cool of the early morning shade, they emerge from their subterranean homes to forage for food. The equivalent of humans clocking in for work. And for a few hours they are completely exposed; knowing all too well that if they are not on top of their game and fail to work together as a collective, any one of them could feature on the day’s lunch menu special. 

Shared Responsibility

In meerkat society, corporate security is a shared responsibility. So even while the majority are busy foraging, feeding or frolicking, the entire group still maintains a high degree of vigilance. Individuals will intermittently stop what they are doing, stand bolt upright, their inquisitive heads scouring the African expanse for reassurance. 

Additionally a select few are always on sentry duty, purposefully scouting out danger. They intently scan the environment for attacks which could come from any direction, air, ground and even from beneath the ground. If a threat is spotted, these meerkat security guards issue a distinctive bark, immediately raising the alarm which also serves to identify the type of threat faced. For example, that the danger posed is aerial from an eagle, or a ground attack from a jackal or snake, thereby maximising their chances to survive and thrive. 

On the rare occasion that a predator does succeed in getting through their defences, meerkats learn from these mistakes with the group iteratively modifying its security posture in response, ensuring that fatal mistakes as much as possible are never again repeated.

A lot has been said and written about the need to hold security officers more accountable in the discharge of their duties. Whilst this is important, the reality is security officer failings are only a small part of a much wider malaise. With the difference between success and disaster turning literally on the spin of a single decision, the buck ultimately should rightly stop at the door of the decision makers.

For whatever reason, contract security services are oftentimes regarded by some businesses as a bit of a grudge purchase. Unsurprisingly, clients with this type of mindset may not be as invested as they should be, in their own security. The veracity of this observation is readily borne out by simply calculating the amount of management time actually devoted to daily oversight of the security services contract. 

In our view, this is akin to the meerkats forgetting to occasionally stop what they are doing, pop their heads up and take a good look around them; preferring rather to throw caution to the wind and entrust their lives entirely on the alertness of a few security guards; knowing all too well that even the most well-fed meerkat sentry can occasionally get distracted, make mistakes or otherwise have a bad day at the office, potentially resulting in the needless loss of many meerkat lives.

Individual Accountability

Probably the most important lesson that can be gleaned from nature, is that ‘we are all security officers’. Every individual linked to the organisation is personally accountable. Just because you don’t have “Security” written in bold letters on your back, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be 100% invested in your own safety and the security of what, after all is your livelihood.

Risk Awareness Culture

The second lesson lies in the importance of developing a strong corporate risk awareness culture which recognises threats as both physical and virtual, internal and external. Cascading levels of devolved responsibility emanating from the ‘Corporate Threat Mitigation Plan’ and led by the example of the C-Suite should flow down the management tiers ending with front-line staff and on-duty Security Officers. 

Double Loop Learning

Finally, organisations need mechanisms in place which prevent bad news stories from being swept under the carpet and forgotten. Corporate errors, mistakes and near misses must be routinely unearthed, recorded and encoded within organisational memory, if the important security lessons hidden within them are to be learned. 

This is known as double-loop learning and AI is instrumental in providing these mechanisms. Good software should provide the following learning related features:

  • ‘Terror Threat Level’ matrix which highlights the current national threat level, the degree of vigilance required from everyone and details of the appropriate threat mitigation response needed to counter the threat.
  • All on-site activity should be time stamped and geo-tagged, with messaging and reportage underwritten with read-receipts. 
  • Assignment Instructions and Safety Risk Assessments should be ‘living documents’, meaning they are able to evolve over time to reflect new risks, safety issues or near misses. 
  • Threat identification, assessment and mitigation passes through a triage-like process, with all risk observations tracked, categorised and escalated up the chain of command as risk alerts. Alerts trigger a mitigation response which is based on the immediacy, nature and severity of the risk posed to the business.
  • 360° performance appraisal of service quality against a basket of service level KPI’s, providing security company, security officer and client with a set of robust metrics that inform a timely, shared understanding of where improvements and adjustments in service delivery are required.

Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman famously said, “Nature has a great simplicity and therefore a great beauty.” What nature proves beyond any doubt, is that good security doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s simply about getting the basics right!

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