Security in a Pandemic Takes More Than a Mask

Considerations for Organizations with Private Security

In almost every country, the fight against COVID-19 is being waged through physical distancing.

As a result, many security personnel have been thrust into the role of public health communicators and enforcers of a sometimes controversial limitation of personal freedom in the interest of public health.

While organizations are having to manage many unexpected challenges and competing priorities, security is an issue that cannot be overlooked. Here are some considerations to guide effective analysis and planning for socially responsible security in this challenging context. Doing that analysis and planning now is especially important if your organization is committed to upholding international good practice such as the Voluntary Principles on Security & Human Rights or conforming with practices required by organizations such as the World Bank, the EBRD, the IFC, and other IFIs.

As always, no matter whether you’re a clothing manufacturer, an agricultural or a natural resource company, thinking about socially responsible security must be informed by analyzing the specific – and changing – risks you face. Many organizations have already experienced viral or health -related issues and have learned from them and instituted practices designed during Ebola or SARS outbreaks.

That said, COVID-19 introduces new challenges and considerations. Navigating toward a security response that adapts to any context, from textile factories to financial institutions to national parks, may take different answers and directions, but the questions that inform them largely remain the same.

Many organizations already have a good-practice Security Risk Assessment (SRA) that includes clauses about updating the SRA in the case of a major change and are doing so. If your organization hasn’t started yet, keep in mind that some changes related to COVID-19 may seem to be “major” but will prove temporary. To address temporary changes like this, consider adding an addendum to the SRA instead of revising it. That way you can adapt to extraordinary circumstances while maintaining your baseline of regular, good practice.

Do I need to update my Security Risk Assessment?

If you don’t already have a security risk assessment, you should still consider your current risks. While you can outsource your private security, you cannot outsource your responsibility to understand the security risks associated with your operations and ensure they are responsibly managed.

Do I need to update my Security Management Plans?

Security Management Plans (SMPs) can also have interim procedures in an addendum. For example, your policy may require security to operate in teams of two or more on patrols. In accordance with physical distancing, this policy may need to be temporarily modified. How you do that will depend on your organization’s specific risk and resource profile.

The unfortunate reality is that, in some cases, mitigating the health risks associated with COVID-19 can bring increased risks to security and community relations.

Below are some of the COVID-related health and security risks and their attending mitigations to consider. This table is designed to get you, and your teams, started – it is not a complete checklist. As always, it is essential to get input from your security personnel or provider about the risks they see emerging and use them to inform mitigation measures that make for more-effective procedures.

Also, mitigation measures can create unintended consequences and additional risks that have to be considered. Well-trained guards know that using their personal “stance” or body language is one of the most effective methods to reduce the risk of an altercation. However, wearing a face mask can obscure that.


Another reason to use an addendum for your SRA and SMP is because any temporary workaround to balance health and security should not become the “new normal”. For example, organizations may have to use one-person patrols because they do not have the resources to have larger patrols that can maintain a safe physical distance among their members. But this does not change the fact that solo patrols put people at risk – and should be avoided as soon as it is feasible.

In addition, if organizations must reduce security and human rights training to maintain safe physical distancing, they should have a plan in place to modify their training or restart it as soon as it is safe to do so. Having a commitment to ongoing training is important — particularly for sites that need to do it on an ongoing, rotational basis. If you have to reduce training, consider putting a plan in place now to increase it as soon as possible. Now is the time to identify the indicators – and list them in the addendum to your SRA or SMP – you can use to measure when it’s necessary and safe to revise your training program.

COVID-19 isn’t an excuse to not have the most socially responsible security you can — particularly when it comes to protecting the human rights of employees and communities. Now is the time for managers, regardless of their organization’s size or industry, to check if they are asking the right questions and involving the right people in discussions or giving staff, contractors, and suppliers the time and space to do it.

On Demand
Advisory Services

We are a leading social assessor, bringing unparalleled knowledge from a wide range of operations and project types and settings around the globe.

Our advisory services leverage communication technology, our extensive experience and global presence to deliver on demand-consulting where and when you need it.

Grievance Mechanism:
A Primer

Get this introduction to current good practices for grievance management and redress systems.

Taken from the ground-level, we look at how to create a GMR system that will conform with international standards.