What is global health security, and why is it important?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), global health security is anything done to stop or manage potential health crises. These include diseases like AIDS, the flu, and COVID-19; widespread hunger and starvation; and even physical threats and harm.
These potential health crises exist everywhere, all the time. What makes global health security important to us?
- Rapid spread. When health crises spread quickly, they can overwhelm the security sector. Shopping center security guards deal with customers enraged over the lack of rubbing alcohol or toilet paper. They also deal with customers who want to enter without following health protocols. When a lot of people react to a crisis all at the same time, the security sector is the first to suffer.
- Population impact. Hunger, for example, usually happens in small pockets, and does not affect the majority of the population. If hunger was to suddenly strike a significant number of the population, and continue to spread, the main goal would be to feed oneself and one’s family. The security sector is caught in the crossfire, or also affected by hunger.
- Prolonged experience. A health crises that spreads quickly, affects quite a lot of people, and hangs around for a while will strain the security sector. Their health is at risk as much as anyone’s, but they are still depended upon for security. After the first weeks or months of coping or managing, the security sector will need to innovate.
How do pandemics affect global health security protocols?
As we have seen in the past, with the H1N1 influenza strain and SARS, and in the present with COVID-19, global pandemics affect security protocols in two ways.
First, pandemics increase the emphasis on health. Before, security personnel did not have to stop anyone with an obvious cold from entering a store, or at least for a temperature check. As long as customers were not causing trouble or breaking a law or store policy, no other attention was paid to them. Contact tracing was not important, and there was no limit to how many people could enter the store.
Now, as we have seen, those who are obviously sick in some way, even with just a sniffle, might be prevented from entering a store. In some stores and restaurants, customers are asked to provide their phone numbers or any other alternative way of being contacted, for contact tracing. Most stores and restaurants limit how many customers can enter at one time. And those representing and enforcing the policies are security personnel.
Second, pandemics increase the cost of health security failures. This is true for stores that enforce health security, and stores that have less health protocols in place. A store with less health protocols can be accused of endangering the community. Others might accuse a store with more health protocols of being too strict. Either way, if it is associated with a COVID-19 case, it will negatively impact the store. And on the frontlines are security personnel.
Where does the security sector come into global health security?
A pandemic is one of the few dangers that can slip past border security. It cannot be checked by a metal or x-ray scanner. Because disease outbreaks can spread so quickly the moment they enter the place, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been warning about the dangers of a pandemic for years.
The frontline security sector when it comes to preventing or managing a pandemic is border security. According to the Transportation Security Authority (TSA), there are around 50,000 transportation security officers in airports in the United States. The largest group of them are security screeners.
Security screeners, as the name implies, have the most contact with airplane passengers. They check the passengers and baggage for any harmful substances, and sometimes even double-check them. Screeners require both thoroughness and speed. Unfortunately, health security protocols challenge both thoroughness and speed.
Cargo ships carry much of the world’s trade. There are ship security officers, and security guards at cargo storage areas. There are security personnel overseeing the entrance and exit of the ships and cargo. This is a lesser-known part of international travel and transportation.
While security personnel used to worry more about smuggling and long dark nights among the crates, with COVID-19 and health security they now have to worry about the origin countries of the cargo. The origin nation needs to approve every piece for sanitation, and the destination nation checks the entire ship’s crew for health before unloading cargo.
Mass gathering security
A community uses the security sector differently, depending on the policies of a town, city, or state. The community uses the security sector in two ways:
- To manage entrance into allowed mass gatherings; and
- To prevent the holding of mass gatherings.
Managing entrance has now extended to temperature checks, requests to wear face masks, contact tracing, and limiting the number of people allowed. Security guards cannot enforce the prevention of mass gatherings, and law enforcement or national security usually take care of this aspect of public health security.
However, as the news clips on our Facebook page show, security personnel also get pulled into the fray. Security guards stand outside stores to keep the peace, or people mistake them for law enforcement.
Store or shopping center security
Store security personnel are and always have been at the frontlines of public health security as the present pandemic rolls on. Much of security guard news has to do with the very real challenges with being a part of everyday life as a store security guard. Industry security guards are more than half of the 1.1 million private security guards in the United States.
What can the security sector do for global health security?
The security sector has a seemingly impossible job in health security: to protect individuals to protect the collective, and protect the collective to protect individuals. How does it do that?
Break transmission chains
Disease outbreaks spread by chains of transmission, from one person to another, or one infected item to another. When security personnel ask people with temperatures to refrain from entering a store, or request a passenger to quarantine themselves at a border check, they are fighting to break infectious disease transmission chains. If one infected person does not cross from one space to another, it already breaks a transmission chain.
While this is ideal, it is not often the case. The next line of health security defense is contact tracing.
If we can’t break a transmission chain, the next best to thing is to find out where it leads. Unfortunately, every newly infected person is the beginning of another chain, and it tends to look a lot more like a tree-root system.
There is quite a lot of resistance to contact tracing, but it is still a part of what the security sector tends to be responsible for. At the very least, it is part of helping people know if they have been in contact with an infected person recently, and letting them choose what to do with that information.
Maintain good customer service
This is a difficult part of the job on a normal day. In a pandemic, it gets worse. According to the United Nations, discrimination is one of the challenges of the security sector and public health security. Security guards cannot always manage customers so that they offend them very little, without drawing as much attention to themselves.
However, it can impact a customer’s life negatively beyond that encounter. And, even more complex, it can lessen store patronage. This is just one of the many challenges the security sector faces.
Automate for more efficiency and less personal contact
Invest in tools for contactless security, such as security guard wands. With proper protective equipment, security guards can use wands to check for hazardous materials quickly and safely. If your company keeps different teams alternately in the workplace, you can also use guard tour systems to create data records of guard tours. Since it is an automated process, guards do not exchange equipment, and they quickly update data. You can see our recommendations in the links above!
- 1 What is global health security, and why is it important?
- 2 How do pandemics affect global health security protocols?
- 3 Where does the security sector come into global health security?
- 4 What can the security sector do for global health security?
- 5 Automate for more efficiency and less personal contact