The Digital Transformation of Physical Security

In recent years, “Digital Transformation” initiatives have taken priority across industries. But an article last month in Industry Week cited the “deskless workforce” as the last holdout of digital transformation: and it’s not small. The article estimates that about 80% of the world’s workforce, or 2.7 billion workers, have been “left behind” by digital transformation: that is, the introduction of new technologies intended to enhance “safety, quality, and productivity” for companies.  

So how can physical security, arguably one of the most important “deskless” roles throughout our society, be positively impacted by a digital transformation of its own?  

The Reasons to Transform: What’s Missing? 

Thru the years we have certainly witnessed developments in technologies for physical security. The introduction of video management systems, communications devices, and physical access systems (ticketing, badging, biometrics) have all added advancements to the industry.  

But when it comes to detecting weapons, perhaps one of the most critical roles in ensuring physical security, many venues still rely on analog metal detectors. And we are all familiar with how that works: stop while you wait in a slow-moving line. Stop to empty your pockets. Stop to hand over your bag. Then, either get waved through or sent back because you’ve forgotten to put down some metal object you were carrying. Stop to get wanded; or, worse yet, submit to a pat-down.  

This process is more than an annoyance. It may amount to a threat itself. Crowds have proven to increasingly become “soft targets” for mass casualty events—as in tragic events at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, and the Boston Marathon bombing. What’s more, the health threats of close-contact crowds have been brought into sharp focus by Covid 19.  

Beyond crowded conditions, metal detectors can also overwhelm the guard resource, causing them to miss real threats in all the clutter they see on a daily basis. The reason lines are so slow-moving, of course, is that we all carry metal items with us every day.   

Metal detectors pass the work of distinguishing metal items from true threats off to guards. They simply alarm on everything, not just weapons, so guards are very used to so-called “nuisance alarms” and therefore, rightly so, don’t trust the system. That means they are left doing the brunt of the work—visually checking each person and bag that alarms. Most of the time, all they find is everyday items: laptops, tablets, smart phones, keys, etc. But this creates fatigue, because it’s easy to overlook what you don’t expect to see, and can result in security teams inadvertently letting weapons through.  

To combat fatigue or to move lines through more quickly, venues may turn off security systems when crowds get overwhelming; they may randomly sample visitors; or, they may opt for no security systems at all—each of which further raises the risk of weapons simply walking through undetected.  

The Way to Transform: What Can Technology Help Do? 

Prioritize the customer experience: The digital transformation of physical security must prioritize guest experience. If the high alarm rate is not indicative of the true number of threats entering a venue –– then a lower alarm rate reflecting the reality that most people are, in fact, not a threat will simultaneously elevate the guest experience and help security teams better pinpoint the true risks at a venue’s entryways. Allowing guests to enter at walking pace, with no interference whatsoever in the experience of visitors who don’t pose a potential threat, provides the best possible user experience both for guests and for guards.  

Let technology do what it does best… and, by extension, let people do what they do best. Technology that can detect weapons – not just metal –to by using AI and advanced sensors to distinguish true threats from everyday items relieves the burden on guards to check people that likely aren’t carrying weapons. And, it can pinpoint for guards where on a person the weapon is expected to be found. This expedites alarm resolution and improves guard efficiency by targeting only visitors who need to be checked and focusing guards only on the locations on their person or baggage to check.  

Ensure data drives decisions. Technology at the threshold of every visitor and/or employee entrance surpasses the ability of metal detectors by counting visitors, recording alarm rates and types, understanding the dates and times when rates are highest or lowest, and even allowing for the comparison of different security outcomes based on different event types. All this data provides venue security and operations teams with real-world evidence for better decision making, to meet the security and experience needs of their guests, better than guesses, gut feel, or manual counting can. Security planning and venue operations can all be data-driven to ensure the right staffing decisions are made at the right locations throughout the venue to both secure guests and elevate the guest – and guard – experience.  

Connect and communicate. With such a critical mission and so many possible security technologies also operating in the space, security technologies should never exist in a vacuum. Rather, they should integrate seamlessly together with other technologies that make up the extended security ecosystem. Options for integrated camera technologies and integrated communications provide an extension of existing security systems and staff to one of the most vital parts of the venue—its entryways. Neither should security technology require expertise that is outside the scope of existing venue resources. Technology should inherently scale—through built-in connectivity that doesn’t require an IT team to install, connect, or service—and through simple, app-like user experiences that guard staff and security leadership alike can quickly learn to operate, reducing the learning curve and training new staff members ASAP.  

Make life better. Why digitally transform if the technology doesn’t make life better for guests, guard staff, and venue leadership? When guests don’t notice security technology, they are less aggravated, with fewer frustrations to take out on guard staff, and they find the venue even more delightful. If guard staff are made more effective and efficient, they can experience higher job satisfaction and lower turnover rates. For venues, offering better customer experience plus enhanced security while reducing employee turnover are just a few of the potential benefits. Better resource use through data-driven decisions, better use of entryway space with fewer security lines and less equipment overall, and the chance to redeploy guard staff to different roles throughout the venue are all further benefits that venues can realize.  

The Imperative to Transform 

Of course, not least of all is the benefit of increased safety to the visitors of venues around the world that choose to embrace the digital transformation of their physical security. Simply put, shorter security lines through more reliable screening technology adds up to safer visitors—and lower false alarm rates mean guards can more easily pinpoint and stop bad actors—making more venues where people and their families love to gather with one another in our community safer.  

Jill Newberg
Senior Product Marketing Manager