The “Human Sensor” Continuum
How people can counteract suspicious activity
and crime in the workplace
As a security professional for over 20 years and counting, specializing in physical security for most of it, I would like to discuss one of my greatest struggles that I have encountered through those years. I served in the US Military for 22 years, most of it as both a U.S. Army Military Police Officer and U.S. Air Force Security Police Officer. Through those many years, I have protected high profile personnel and property; from POTUS to Nuclear Weapons. However, no matter what I was protecting, a common flaw appeared to present itself on all too many responses. What is this flaw I speak of? It is the disposition of the complainant when they notify law enforcement or security of a situation.
Initially a complaint is called into the Control Center as something “suspicious” in someone’s business work space. So naturally we mentally prepared for the worst. We would respond with sirens and lights flashing, set up a 360 perimeter, enter the building to challenge the individual. Undoubtedly, this put the individual in quite a startling situation. Now, in retrospect, all responses don’t require all of that, but I would like to look back and examine why we would have responded that way. It had to do with the complainant that put in the call to the Control Center. Was the complainant scared? Did the complainant have all the proper information before they called in the complaint? Many things put that caller into their state of mind when calling the Control Center. From that call, the Control Center dispatched patrols based off of the attitude of the complainant. Most of the time, clearer heads prevail, and it ends up being someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that is not the issue, the issue is the man hours that were spent by the police in the response, the work hours affected by the shutdown of the building, and so on. All because the complainant did not simply take a moment to observe the situation and portray the situation properly to the Control Center.
All off this leads to my topic the “Human Sensor” Continuum. This Human Sensor is simply every person within a workspace. They are, without a doubt, the best security money can buy. All they need to do is realise it, and receive the proper instructions and training to implement it. Camera systems, alarm systems, security guards, and police can never be more effective at identifying suspicious individuals or criminals within a work space than the people that work there everyday. Some countermeasures may be having badges and/or a greeter, but that is not fail safe. Only people working within that building have the best idea of who works there, the building layout, and what does or does not belong. This also brings the point of Social Engineering; a smart and well trained workforce can virtually eliminate most of its effects.
So what goes into building a “Human Sensor?”
- All people within a workspace should know the regulations, policies and procedures associated with their workspace
- User awareness training provides the fundamentals and common practices associated with problems that can happen in your work area and instructs a business on ways to fix and further prevent these issues. They could include computer awareness, information disclosure, and many more. They can be taught to personnel through classes or by computer based training.
- Drills and exercises, this can be as simple as a fire drill and inclement weather or as complicated as a bomb threat or active shooter. The point is, through effective practice, everyone can be better equipped to handle dangerous situations.
- Criminals are always adapting to how they handle situations. Staying informed is the best way to counteract these threats, by watching the news, reading papers and even taking in the occasional blog can help educate yourself.
So what do you need to know to become a “Human Sensor”?
I like to look at it as “what are you able to do as an individual”. Obviously a large statured person will handle a situation differently than a small statured person. You may be too intimidated to approach a suspicious person by yourself. The important thing is to do something.
First, observe the individual just for a short time to see if he/she is acting nervously or just lost. Maybe they forgot their badge, or perhaps they are carrying something that is out of place or trying to hide something. During this time take a note of what they look like. Gender, ethnicity, hair color and type, height and build, what they are wearing, etc. Anything that visually “sticks out” can help further identify them. This observation will make it easier to answer questions if you choose to call the police, or can be relayed to them if the individual leaves the area or flees before police arrive. Sometimes just taking an inconspicuous photo with your cell phone can help yourself and authorities with identifying the suspicious activity. This can also be put into practice for suspicious vehicles parked outside your building, or ones that are being loaded or unloaded.
Second, implement a course of action. Using the time of observation to determine this, it could be as simple as approaching the individual and asking them some questions and then asking them to leave if they don’t belong. You may also decide to ask a coworker or your supervisor for assistance. Just remember time is important, the longer you take, the longer the suspicious individual has to either commit a crime or flee the area before they can be reported. Just keep in mind the safest actions for you as an individual when making your decision.
I don’t expect anyone to put themselves into a difficult situation, but doing something is better than doing nothing, especially when it comes to the safety of all of the people you work with. Hopefully if you come across a suspicious situation this information can help prepare you or even just give your company ideas on how to handle the situation better. No matter how you choose to report the situation, by being prepared and thinking it through, you can become a “Human Sensor”.