By Leon Harris
Published in INsite, April / May 2006
An operator of a large aged care facility made contact with our firm after there had been reports of theft and observation of intruders by staff and residents. Although staff had previously raised concerns about security issues, management were of the mind that there was no problem with their security. There was genuine surprise by some senior management that the state of their security was not what they thought. The range of consequences for criminal action (security failure) and fear of crime suddenly became a critical management issue for urgent discussion and resolution. Well, at least in the short-term. It wasn’t too long before the OHS manager raised a further issue concerning ‘duty of care’.
As consultants specialising in aged care we continually hear operators advise that they have security in hand and have no concerns. When asked how they provide after hours access they often respond with ‘there is a keypad at the main entry and we have procedures in place that all doors are locked at established times’.
The facility referred to earlier had been refurbished and in terms of resident comforts was well thought out. Unfortunately controlling access to mitigate the risk of intruders was not so well considered. A receptionist was on duty from 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday (although she had poor ‘natural’surveillance of the entry door) and typically and generally understandably, there was no human control after-hours.
In addition to poor surveillance of the main entry, a number of the issues identified during the subsequent security review showed numerous unsupervised doors including the main entry (after office hours and week ends) which further diminished control, observation and criminal deterrence. When morning and night staff arrived the door would be left unlocked (at around 5:00am and again around 10:00pm) to enable them to enter, as well bread and milk deliveries were made through the unlocked ‘AM’door and the goods left in the unattended foyer.
Our consultant was able to enter undetected during surveys which covered week-ends and night (after 11:00pm), walking past resident rooms and other vulnerable locations that contained very attractive prizes for criminals, such as a large Plasma television. Both evening and night staff advised the reason the door was unlocked was they may be attending to residents and did not want to be continually unlocking and locking the door.
Increasing the risk of intrusion was a side door off a car park which was also unlocked for staff. These doors were not re-locked until the handover was completed and the earlier shift had left. The reduced staff numbers during these shifts also created concern for some staff in that they would not be aware if an intruder had gained access prior to handover.
Criminals would be aware many facilities still operate this way. Although some operators may have installed a keypad at the entry door and management may feel that is all that is required, it is not only inadequate, it may create a sense of ‘false security’. Some keypads are operational only after office hours for the convenience of staff to enter. On the issue of keypads, experience has shown many of these systems are stand alone (i.e. not connected to a PC based system with various alarm functions) with a single code provided to all users and rarely if ever changed. Staff that have left the organisation would still have the code and there is the possibility of them passing it on to others even as some misguided honest act of faith. The code is often subject to identification by unauthorised persons observing its use by staff. In reality, management should accept the fact that more people know the code to their facility than the number of people who need to know.
These issues are not uncommon throughout the aged care sector. Unfortunately risk assessments are rarely if ever undertaken outside office hours therefore management may not be fully aware of the risks. It is a worse case scenario when staff have voiced their concerns and management has not acted upon those concerns to mitigate the potential risks. Staff can in turn begin to feel that as management is not serious about security it can generate a continual downward spiralling of security with some staff not wanting to accept individual responsibility resulting in further breaches.
The following are a few general recommendations to assist in the move towards a safe and secure working (and living) environment:
Ill-conceived and ad hoc security is usually not a deterrent to criminals, often incurs costs with little sustainable benefit and sometimes leads to an erosion of trust by staff in the decisions about life-safety and asset protection made by management.
The above examples are general information only and should not be used as a replacement for a comprehensive professional security review. A holistic approach is required for a sound and cost-effective security risk management.
Leon Harris CPP, is the principal consultant for Harris Crime Prevention Services.
Harris Crime Prevention Services provides on an occasional basis articles by other Industry experts, such as: How Airports apply designing out crime principles