ASIS Report Outlines Effects of Fatigue in 24/7 Operations

April 18, 2011
Tips and tricks for your sleepy officers

In Fatigue Effects and Countermeasures in 24/7 Security Operations, the latest in a series of CRISP Reports published by the ASIS Foundation, author James C. Miller Ph.D., CPE, explores the effects of fatigue and night work on human cognitive performance and offers countermeasures that may be used to combat these effects.

This report reminds anyone operating a physical security company to think about and start developing and implementing workable countermeasures that will alert us to any potential risk of fatigue and subsequent injuries or losses before the effects of fatigue allow loss to occur.

Causes of Fatigue

Shift work, night work, irregular work schedules and unpredictable work schedules challenge the human circadian system as discussed in Dr. Miller’s report. Incorporation of scientific knowledge into the world of 24/7 operations, such as schedule considerations, tailoring the schedule to fit your “larks” and your “owls,” and having enough bodies to cover shifts in order to obviate the need for working more than 12 hours in one shift, would greatly enhance the efficacy of security operations.

The research undertaken by Dr. Miller and others demonstrates there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all in terms of sleep. Some people are short sleepers and others are not. Some people have a tendency to wake early and others have delayed sleep phases.

In his book “Say Goodnight to Insomnia,” Gregg Jacobs, PhD, an assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Senior Research Scientist with the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Harvard Medical School explains: “We are more alert and active when body temperature is highest, which is late morning and early evening. We grow sleepier and less active as body temp declines at night, with the strongest desire for sleep occurring at 3:30 a.m. These daily changes in body temp and levels of alertness occur regardless of how well we slept the night before, so that, even after sleep loss, we will feel more alert as body temperature rises.”
That is good news for those who work night shifts and then a day shift.

His research also finds that performance does not suffer significantly as long as a person gets “core sleep.” Core sleep contains 100 percent of deep sleep — the most important stage of sleep in regard to functioning. Deep sleep renews and restores the brain and physical energy. When a person is deprived of sleep, the brain makes up for it the next day by going directly to the deep sleep stage first.

Combating Fatigue

What can we do about shift work, night work and long shifts? According to Dr. Laura Pagano, a behavioral analyst, the best thing we can do is choose people to do jobs that fit them best. Choose a night owl for the night shifts and an early bird for the morning shift. Keep schedules as consistent as possible. Consistency creates habits and positive sleep patterns.

In essence, we have an internal clock, emotional circumstances and external forces that affect our sleep and wake cycles and our interpretations around them. But our cycles are highly influenced by our personal beliefs and expectations.

If a person perceives that they are doing something important and what they do matters, and if they are told that their body and brain are capable of adjusting and excelling, they will find greater satisfaction and stamina in their work and those helpful beliefs and attitudes will carry them through the difficult times. Dr. Jacobs reminds us that the Apollo 13 astronauts guided their disabled spacecraft home despite having only three hours of interrupted sleep for four days. They were irritable and extremely tired but they functioned without any errors.

There are a myriad of countermeasures discussed in Dr. Miller’s report. One of the countermeasures that Dr. Miller cites and that I feel is also effective and the simplest to apply with your guard force is through educating the guard force in the importance of adequate rest. “The most effective countermeasure for fatigue is to do as much as possible to prevent it from occurring in the first place,” Miller says.

Since the primary culprit for feeling fatigued is sleep loss, ensuring that the guard force has enough time in between schedule changes to ensure adequate sleep opportunities is key. The implementation of this countermeasure can have a positive impact on your guard performance. Teach them to recognize warning signs of sleepiness so they can remove themselves from a potentially dangerous situation. Put a plan into effect for sleepiness. Allow people to take breaks. Keep lights on at night in the work area if possible.

About the CRISP Report Series

Connecting Research in Security to Practice (CRISP) reports provide practical, researched-based techniques to help security professionals tackle a wide range of security issues. Drawing on research and evidence from around the world, each report summarizes the prevailing knowledge about a specific aspect of security, then recommends proven approaches to counter the threat. Connecting scientific research with existing security actions helps form good practices.

This series invites experts in specialist aspects of security to present their views on how to understand and tackle a security problem, using the best research evidence available.

Download your free copy of Fatigue Effects and Countermeasures in 24/7 Security Operations at

Lisa Dolan, CPP, is Secretary of the Private Security Services Council (PSSC) of ASIS and is President of Securit, a Private Investigations and Security firm. She cites Dennis Blass, Mike Lehner, Tammy Block, Barrington Pinto and Dr. Laura Pagano as valued sources who helped with the writing of this article.