Role of Private Security in Current Pandemic Situation

Rapid all-round advancement and growth over last few decades combined with grave security incidents such as 9/11 tragedy has called for better security of assets at workplace, in transit, as well as at places of residence. Yesteryears watchmen, transformed into professional security guards are now organised into private security services or private security industry. They outnumber the regular police force multi-times. In India, with strength of over 9 million, they are approximately five times the number of the police force. Worldwide the private security services are a multi billion dollar industry. Today the security personnel dovetailed with electronic and hardware resources are securing residential and commercial complexes, services, communications, transportation etc. They may be guarding an ATM kiosk, protecting important personalities or taking care of millions of currency in transit; they are ensuring a safe and secure environment. Although not meant to replace the regular police, they supplement them, take the load off an overburdened and over stretched police and fill gaps which the latter finds difficult to close because of paucity of manpower.

The devastating coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) is unprecedented in recent history. Last time the world faced similar devastation was in 1918 when it was hit by the Spanish Flu. Since generations have lived past that misfortune, the faded memories and forgotten lessons of 1918 pandemic have left us with scant precedence to follow resulting in slow reactions even by the most advanced nations in fighting Covid-19. Few nations have been spared by the virus owing to multiple reasons. However, amongst those affected India is one such country where hard decisions taken by the governments, strict enforcements and health compliances have saved lives and contained the spread to manageable levels.

While the political leadership in India has made bold decisions and the bureaucracy laid a clear roadmap, the medical services, maintenance staff, police and essential service providers are the true heroes in fighting Covid-19. Undeterred by personal safety threats, they are fighting battles as front line soldiers.

But of the many elements that are immensely contributing, the private security industry is yet unrecognised. They have been working tirelessly round the clock to ensure success of lockdowns in their respective areas of responsibility. In these challenging time it would not be out of turn to highlight their role, dovetail them with police, and employ them more proactively so that load on force is reduced thus freeing them for other important tasks. This would enable the police achieve better efficiency and address areas not yet covered. The recommendations are centred around Indian surroundings but their applicability is worldwide, and hence worth highlighting for common good of all nation states.

Despite the vast majority being clear as to how the virus infects and its prevention techniques, yet many believe that the disease will not strike them. The social media to which each one of us is exposed today is also somewhat adding to negativity, and confusing and misdirecting the general public by fake forwards. Here, the security guards can take on the role of spreading authentic and official government version. The security agencies can be earmarked as the authorized communicators and the security staff can make announcements on mobile public address systems about guidelines, restrictions in place and other posts the local administration want to communicate to general public in specific areas.

Handling rouge elements who have been violating government orders and threatening doctors and health care workers is another challenge being faced by the administration. Safety of these individuals while in hospitals, in transit or at their places of stay can be assigned to the private security personnel thus giving them confidence to move and work without fear.

Rural and semi-urban areas are cohesive entities and people staying there still follow traditional approach while dealing with natural or man made threats. For example, to fight the threat, majority of villages there have gone back to ‘pehra’ (community guarding) system to keep away outsiders coming in as well as prevent any person from leaving the village. The ‘pehra’ committees are ruthlessly guarding and patrolling villages which has kept the disease at bay at most places. But the most affected by Covid-19 have been the built up areas, housing societies, urban clusters, markets, lanes and by lanes. Although the lockdowns are being effectively imposed by police in identified Hot Spots, on main roads and highways but when it comes to individual localities, the lockdown is ineffective as people there are defying movement restrictions. The security guards responsible for keeping people in check here are hired by societies themselves and since these private guards are on the residents ‘payroll, the latter do not pay much attention to orders being enforced by these guards. Even during these difficult times people openly refuse to listen to private security guards and behave arrogantly when checked for lockdown violations. This demoralising and discouraging of security guards manifest in low social-distancing enforcements. Since the limited police persons cannot be deployed everywhere, an alternate is swapping of roles. While private security guards can be deployed in less pressure areas such as police stations, police personnel can be relieved from there to enforce lockdown in urban societies, clusters, lanes and by lanes. The heavy hand of law will keep people restricted to their homes and thus enforce social-distancing.

Like most professions security is a specialised field. Because of surplus availability of workforce these security personnel are valued less, and listened to even lesser. Every adult and every child that comes out of his/ her home has a suggestion to offer as to how the guard should sit/ stand/ work/ talk. Ideally, the minimum level to whom the security head in any organisation or locality should report to is their vice president. But invariably the security head is asked to report to the officer lower in hierarchy. The advice given by the security head is invariably brushed aside since the hierarchy considers him no better than them. This results in unprofessionalism which in turn sends confusing signals to the last man in chain resulting in poor enforcement of orders on ground. To overcome this all organisations should upgrade reporting levels of security heads which will enable direct advice to decision makers resulting in implementation of orders without dilution, more so in the present circumstances.

The security guards of today do not live in makeshift tents or garages. Easy availability of conveyance and low rentals of accommodation in urban areas allow affordability of single room sets where security guards pool in to stay. However, in the present circumstances movement of security guards from place of stay to work site may invite spread of virus. This needs to be curtailed. The organisations, plants or housing societies where these guards work should temporarily earmark accommodation and food etc. for the mat work place itself. This will help overcome fear of infection and also aid in improving overall productivity of the private security guards.

The pandemic has put brakes on the global economies and all industrial activities have come to a grinding halt. But once the situation stabilises the world is likely to see a massive shift in multinational collaborations and relocation of industrial set-ups. Many a nations are likely to shift production bases from China to more stable developing countries such as India. The restart of operations and handling new opportunities will be a challenge for these new industrial hubs after the lockdown. Private security industry leadership must prepare now to face new challenges and act as a force multiplier in economic growth and development.

Covid-19 has challenged, though temporarily, our way of living and lifestyle. The first rule to fight this virus asks people to stay away from each other. This contradicts the way we have been living our lives so far. The paradigm shift demanded by pandemic is resisted by many a people not out of defiance but because of our ingrained habits developed over ages. But since there is no defence nor a medicine yet developed to fight coronavirus, we have to re-adjust to new way of life till such time we defeat it. Private security is a resource which if used optimally will help in ensuring impositions of lockdown rules thus save lives. Issues such as compensation, legal powers, medical, insurance etc. should be considered when employing private security agencies in this broader role.


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