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Get tough on crime

A security expert says many aged-care facilities aren’t as safe as they should be and offers some technology and techniques to improve. By Amie Larter

Aged-care facilities are easy pickings for criminals, compared with many other places of work and residence, an aged-care security and crime prevention consultant says.

Leon Harris, principal consultant of Harris Crime Prevention Services, says aged-care facilities have inherent risks associated with crimes against people and property.

“These crimes come in many forms and may occur anywhere within the property boundary,” Harris says.

At the top of the offense list is assault and theft. “Assault comes with personal devastation and theft erodes trust, amongst other consequences,” Harris says.

He spoke with Aged Care Insite about the biggest security concerns facilities are facing today, and offers his advice on ways to make them safer.

ACI: What is the current standard of security in aged-care facilities?

LH: The security design of facilities is improving but still has some way to go. The use of modern security technologies has not received enough consideration. Procurement and maintenance costs need to be realistic to gain the significant benefits and to provide sustainable protection. Proper maintenance regimes for security and surveillance systems are too often neglected.

Written procedures and staff training are getting better (well, in some places). However, indications are that the best results occur when [plans] are jointly developed by external experts. Many facilities’ emergency procedures and training still do not consider emergencies arising from criminal activities and too many have not properly considered Australian Standard 3745-2010: Planning for Emergencies in Facilities and its recent amendment.

What are the biggest areas of security risk for aged-care providers at the moment?

The sources of these risks need to be understood before they can be effectively mitigated, managed and monitored. Many of these risks have their genesis in the lack of attention to designing out crime way back on the architects’ drawing board, either during the original development or modernisation projects.

This lack of professional attention typically results in inadequate access control and poor natural surveillance by staff and residents of areas in which criminals may enter, move around and escape.

Operational management is left trying to deal with the crime prevention mistakes others caused. Remedies selected from a limited available list are often implemented after an incident. Staff often view responses as knee jerk, very expensive, short-term and cosmetic.

Not all criminals are strangers, as many readers will attest. Sadly, not all relatives treat the home of their family member in an aged-care facility as a place of safety and dignity. Occasionally, employees, contractors, drivers, etc., have proven not to have the integrity of the great majority of caring professionals, administrators and support staff who look after the residents.

Motives, opportunities and target selection for crime are various and should also be understood in order to develop more effective and sustainable crime prevention.

The facility runs 24/7 and it is business as usual on public holidays. Crime prevention and security needs to be effective, irrespective of the day of the week or time of day. Operational character, including staffing levels, [varies between] day and night, weekday and weekend day. These changes can affect security effectiveness. Related policies (including appropriate delegated authority), procedures, resources and training must deal with changes in operations, including staffing levels and the presence or absence of management. Changes are easily observed by criminals who seek opportunities.

What advice would you give aged-care providers in overcoming these types of issues?

Not to rely on the notion that installing cameras or having a keypad at the front door will remove security risks. Security technology is only one component in the mix. Technology options are best provided by independent experts, not the sellers of security products. Criminals look for and take advantage of poor security technology products and installations, [and items] just not suitable for the operations of the facility. Staff often have unrealistic and dangerous expectations from these security applications.

What are the potential problems if these risks aren’t addressed properly?

Violence and threats against residents, staff and visitors are the greatest concern. Theft of assets (e.g., drugs, mobile equipment and consumables), personal property theft and damage, property damage and even assault. Violence, threats and property crime are typically the [elements] police and insurers record [from] incidents. Organisational and professional reputations, post-incident trauma and business disruption are normally not properly assessed in risk assessments, risk management or incident reports. They should be addressed before and after every incident.

Objective evaluations of security, surveillance, emergency alarm and tracking systems as well as drug custody, food area security, after-hours staff parking, after-hours facility entry/exits, landscaping, lighting, policies, procedures, training and security contractor performance should be conducted yearly and after significant or reportable (e.g., relatives, police, insurer) incidents. Other specific areas to review will be influenced by each facility’s design, operations, crime history, and locality.

What emerging technologies or methods have you seen that could help?

Wireless-based technologies have matured in recent years and provide fantastic opportunities for electronic access control, video detection, people tracking [in high-care settings], asset tracking and emergency alarm management. Replacing traditional movement activity detection sensors with movement activity video surveillance provides a leap forward in effectiveness, especially for staff and police response. Active off-site management of video intrusion should be considered for some facilities. This definitely requires assistance from experts not aligned with the installation service or products to ensure the viable options are presented and benefits realised.

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