The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on the U.S. economy following many of the shelter-in-place orders enacted by states beginning in March to stem the spread of the disease. As of May 14th, 36 million American have filed for unemployment due to the coronavirus outbreak.
But while many sectors of the economy continue to bear the brunt of the lockdowns, other industries have seen a huge spike in demand. Among these include guard services, demand for which has been so substantial that, in many cases, firms are hiring thousands of new workers to fill the needed positions.
In fact, G4S recently announced that it plans to hire more than 15,000 employees across the nation over the next two months in response to the pandemic. Some of the priority hiring markets for the company include; Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Nashville, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, and West Palm Beach.
According to John Kenning, Regional CEO, G4S Americas, the company has seen a big upswing in demand for manned services in a number of different industries, such as retail banking (branches), healthcare, data centers, and retail.
“In retail banking, a lot of the large financial institutions have reduced the number of branches they have and because of that, they’ve seen an increase in demand at the branches that are still open,” Kenning says. “Early on, in some of our markets like Canada, Brazil and the U.S., as we saw more traffic at less branches, we saw a higher rate of robberies and attempted robberies at the branches. Now that we have added the extra personnel – both armed and unarmed – in a large number of organizations, we see that come back to a more normalized rate and we’ve even seen it lowered during these times.”
Last month, Allied Universal also announced that it was looking to hire more than 30,000 security professional to fill positions across the nation amid the pandemic. Steve Jones, the company’s Chairman and CEO, says that the most immediate impact of the virus was “administrative craziness” in that, during the early days of the outbreaks, their legal team was having to manage the various and often conflicting guidelines that were being handed down by local, state and federal authorities.
“Some state were still open in the early parts of it but certain cities or counties were shutting down, so we were having to manage the chaos which was, ‘ok, this area is shutting down, are we deemed an essential service or not?’ Fortunately, security has been deemed an essential service really in every city, county, and state, as well as the federal government, so that is a positive,” Jones says. “Having to manage all of that was craziness. And then having to manage what was clearly a new supply chain requirement for us, which was we have got all these employees out there working, what employees do we need to provide PPE gear for? And then that changed as states, cities and counties came out and said, ‘here’s our requirements for anyone working.’ Some said face coverings were optional, some said they were mandatory and that was ever-changing so we had to manage the supply chain for things that we really never prepared before, i.e. hand sanitizers, face coverings, face masks, and latex gloves.”
Balancing the requirements of various jurisdictions, both in the U.S. and abroad, has also been one of the challenges faced by G4S during the pandemic.
“In some markets in Latin America you have to wear a mask at all times. In other markets in Latin America you have to wear a mask and gloves at all times. We are working with our employees to make sure they are protected,” Kenning adds. “In the healthcare environment, we work very closely with our customers as partners to make sure we have the proper PPE and, in every environment, where they are working with people we’ve provided our officers with the proper PPE.”
Like G4S, Jones says that Allied Universal has seen the hours of its security officers increase in some verticals, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, biotech, and a handful of high-tech firms. Not surprisingly, Jones says hours have been reduced in other markets, such as retail and schools and universities.
Both Allied Universal and G4S have created return to work programs to help end-users plan for the safe return of workers to offices and other facilities as lockdown restrictions across the country begin to ease.
“This is here we’ve really taken an approach of how to help them from a consultative standpoint and the different ways that they can look at reopening and the different things they can do to help maintain the health safety of the workplace as customers, tenants and visitors are coming and going from their facilities,” Jones says.
“We’ve worked really hard with our consultative team that we started about five years ago inside of G4S in the Americas to really make sure our customers are prepared from a security standpoint for any type of major event, whether that’s COVID-19, a hurricane, riot or disaster, and the integrated solutions we’ve built really link that together,” Kenning explains. “As we looked at this and worked with our customers around business continuity planning, with the COVID situation… we’ve seen a big demand for our portfolio of services, particularly in the consultative situation around executive protection and executive services to mitigate our customers’ risk on the front end.”
Enforcing Social Distancing
Earlier this month, a guard at a Family Dollar store in Michigan was shot and killed after denying a woman entry to the store because she was not wearing a mask. Though incidents of this type may be rare, they demonstrate some of the challenges that security personnel face in trying to enforce social distancing measures and other health safeguards imposed by local governments or organizations themselves as they try to keep employees and customers safe from the coronavirus.
“Fortunately, most Americans have been supportive,” Jones says. “All security officers are doing is just enforcing what federal, state and local health officials are asking to keep everyone safe.”
Kenning says their officers have also been called upon to help organizations enforce social distancing mores, particularly in healthcare.
For example, Kenning says hospitals need guards at entrances and other locations to reinforce social distancing measures and to also perform temperature checks and things along those lines. In virus hotspots across the country, Kenning says there has also been an increased need for guards in 24/7 scenarios at healthcare facilities.
“We’ve seen significant increase at nighttime, we’ve seen a significant increase of officers brought on because of just the physical demands inside the environment whether that’s at the entrance, parking lots or anywhere in the environment,” Kenning adds. “We’ve seen a lot more tension and a lot more incidents and events and, with that, we’ve increased our population significantly in healthcare.”
Lasting Impacts from the Pandemic
Long-term, Jones believes the precautions that have been put in place thus far to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be here to stay for the foreseeable future.
“I think these extra precautions become a way of life at least for the next year until there is a vaccine or treatment that can control this,” he adds. “Obviously, there are 30-plus million people out of work right now, so that’s a significant number and security is like anything else in that businesses that aren’t doing well will have to find ways to cut back. We have always said the security industry is recession resistant. We are not recession-proof, we get hurt just like everybody else, but you still need security and I think this pandemic has shown that the security industry is also disaster or pandemic resistant.”
Kenning is hopeful that there will be lots of lessons learned for the security industry as well after the pandemic passes that will be applicable for future virus outbreaks or other disaster scenarios.
“As we were ramping up for the pandemic, there were a lot of things we were attempting to do to support our customers,” he says. “As we exit, we believe the work environment is going to be different, our customers are going to work differently and how do we support their employees as they work differently? It goes back to people, putting the right people with the right process with the right technology inside our customers’ security program to make them much more effective.”Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at [email protected].