Security and intelligence is a huge topic to cover, and one that really deserves a detailed chat. That’s why we’re thrilled to bring you part two of our interview with security and intelligence expert, Anthony McGinty.
Here, we’re talking about the nitty-gritty, nuanced issues you need to think about when analyzing your environment for security risks, including what’s changed in the industry over the past 20 years; how to avoid bias, discrimination and harassment; and what you need to know if you’re interested in getting into security as a career.
"Everybody has biases, from all kinds of sources - their experiences, education, the way they were raised - and that is often the source of a ‘gut feeling’. So that can create problems."
Don't worry if you missed part one - you can find it here.
Short on time? Jump to the info you’re looking for:
- How has security technology advanced in recent years?
- Does social media use make hospitality venues more vulnerable?
- What are the benefits of liaising with your local community?
- Why is a 'gut feeling' so problematic?
- Any advice for future security and intelligence professionals?
In our last chat, we talked about your extensive experience in security over the last 20 years. How have issues within security and intelligence evolved in that time?
The first thing that comes to mind, especially for the US and parts of Europe, is the proliferation of certain domestic extremist groups operating without foreign influence. To be general about it, we have seen a splintering of groups, and they’re becoming more provocative, violent, and they’re using social media as an organizational tool.
Also, the increase globally in mass demonstrations, for all kinds of social and political issues.
"The demonstrations aren’t necessarily violent in themselves, but they do present an opportunity for violent or destructive criminals and extremists groups to leverage that chaos."
So we’re seeing street violence clashing with law enforcement and symbols of power and wealth - like, for example, hotels. Hotels are often located downtown, near civic centers and government headquarters, so they become targeted with this peripheral violence.
That’s definitely a trend, and that’s what my course, Threats and security awareness for frontline hospitality staff, is designed to cover. To help frontline staff identify any potential threats, inside or outside of their venue.
And how about technological changes? Any interesting advances you can tell us about?
Well, a lot of it has to do with video analytics. And I’m not an expert in this so I’ll try to speak as intelligently as I can [laughs]. But this is where you’re using video technology with software that can identify nefarious or suspicious behavior.
For example, if you have video coverage within a hotel lobby, artificial intelligence software can determine if someone’s left a bag unattended, and then alerts security staff that something may be wrong.
There’s also perimeter intrusion detection systems, which can detect people that come within a fence line. There are a lot of incredibly sophisticated access control systems now – a variety of security levels within a building depending on the clearance required.
Card readers, or integrating AI with a card and PIN, or biometrics. So I’d say as far as tech goes, that’s gonna be the big next leap.
Thinking about risk assessment? Check out '4 common risks restaurant owners face'.
You also mentioned the increasing use of social media - does social media make hotels more vulnerable to threats?
No – I don’t believe so. I don’t think that hotel activity on social media attracts extremist groups to target hotels. It’s more that hotels are targets of opportunity. Maybe a certain event or a public speaker at a hotel spurs some kind of political response, or a hotel just has the misfortune of being situated near a mass demonstration. That’s when staff maybe need to pay more attention to what’s going on.
I mean, I don’t want to scare anybody. That’s not the point, and it’s not my goal. We might just be talking about minor vandalism, or something more destructive or potentially harmful to guests.
"The point is just to be aware of your surroundings."
Potentially the most dangerous time is actually the aftermath of a demonstration, when it’s dark and non-violent demonstrators have mostly gone home. Then you’re left with those opportunists, and that’s when hotels are often targeted for vandalism or violence.
So I’d say be aware of the political and social environment of your venue. Have staff monitor recent events that could be flashpoints for action. That’s where data-driven intelligence starts.
Let's say you realize there's going to be a protest near your venue. What's your first step in protecting the building, staff, and guests?
Conduct a vulnerability assessment. Essentially, you need to decide what kind of scenarios you might face, and then I’d advise you do a table-top exercise for these scenarios, where you can talk through how you’ll handle different risks and threats as a team.
For example, what should each individual staff member do if they encounter vandalism? How should they communicate with guests? How should they handle traffic coming in and out of the hotel? Be as thorough as you can for any contingencies that might occur.
Is it also useful to liaise with other venues in your community? Or does that create a security risk?
Community is essential! No hotel is an island - usually there are many other hotels in the near vicinity. And there should be some type of network developed where the security directors of these venues meet together periodically - probably at least once a month.
And these directors, and other stakeholders - and law enforcement! - should discuss what’s going on. What have you seen? What patterns of disorder or crime have you observed? So everyone can share this information, and develop a more informed security protocol.
It’s also really important to keep communication open with law enforcement. Know the people who patrol your community - have their phone numbers ready. You never know when you’re going to need to get them on the line in a hurry.
But that’s how you start to develop the data and intelligence you need to protect your guests and your venue. Share the data, set up a network. Work together to combine and leverage each other’s knowledge.
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Should all staff be debriefed with the results of these meetings?
Yes, definitely. As I mentioned in our last interview, every staff member is an expert in their own slice of the venue. Everyone can be instrumental in keeping safe.
So a debrief is great, yeah, but then also you need to talk about best practices. How do we prevent this from occurring, or what do we do next time. Be detailed. Figure out patterns that might foretell a negative incident - things that any staff member can watch out for and recognize.
Trying to recognize suspicious activity can be tricky though. We hear a lot about 'gut feeling', but can that lead to problems?
Mmhmm, yeah. Gut feeling is where we start drifting into this [problematic] ‘profiling’ area. Everybody has biases, from all kinds of sources - their experiences, education, the way they were raised - and that is often the source of a ‘gut feeling’. So that can create problems.
You have to be able to articulate that gut feeling. It has to be reasonable, and something that objectively warrants attention.
As an example - if you see someone wearing a hoodie and it sets off your internal alarm bells, stop and really ask yourself why. Is it just because you kind of loosely associate certain clothes with street crime? Or is the person in the hoodie also acting nervous or overly aggressive, or maybe trying to cover their face?
Use as many context cues as you can to determine whether your ‘gut feeling’ is justified.
Great advice for us all. It's clear you're really passionate about the industry - what motivates you most about the work?
I’ve been in security and law enforcement for 25 years now - 30 years! - and I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with crime, violence, conflict, and so on. What I've learned - and advocate for - is security performed in an intelligent, thoughtful way.
Sometimes security has a reputation for being a blunt instrument in situations that need nuance. And that’s why I push for intelligence-driven security programs. It can’t be about intimidation or accusation. It’s about thinking about a problem, and then mitigating it in a way that doesn’t alienate people or cause more harm.
That’s really important to me.
One last question: any advice for a reader who might be interested in a career in security?
There are a lot of organizations you can go to for advice and education - one example would be the American Society for Industrial Security. These are places that provide guidelines and industry best-practices for various specialties.
In practical terms, you might do a search for ‘security and intelligence organizations in my area’. You have to look for an organization and a community you can engage with, and seek out fellow professionals [from whom] you can get the most up to date industry information to apply to your work.
So really, it’s about being engaged with the industry. There’s always something new to learn.
Tony also brings his unique perspective to a new Typsy course, Threats and security awareness for front-line staff. Available now.
Want to contact Tony to find out more about security consulting services? Reach him here.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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