Keeping retail employees safe this holiday season

Security surveillance solutions for today and tomorrow

Keeping retail employees safe this holiday season
“COVID-19 conditions” make smart security surveillance more important than ever.
Rick Snook

It’s certainly an understatement to say that retail will never be same. In the months leading up to this year’s holiday season, the retail industry has had to rethink their entire operation and approach to meet the demands of today’s new normal. According to the Retail Council of Canada, health and safety is expected to remain the top concern for retail operators, employees and customers.1 Tactics like floor plans restructured to accommodate physical distancing, reducing store traffic congestion, elevated cleaning standards and sanitation, employee and customer screening and protective equipment will most likely linger as we gradually get back to normal.

“COVID-19 conditions” make smart security surveillance more important than ever

You’ve likely already heard that network surveillance cameras can provide high quality security footage to address incidents in real time, to use as evidence in investigations and for safety training. What you may not have heard is that today’s technology can provide solutions especially for these challenging times – ranging from touchless access, public address systems, remote communication, crowd and occupancy management, as well as remote services to manage sites from a distance.

Crowd control: building a better, safer and socially distanced experience

One of the biggest challenges retail stores currently face is managing their store’s occupancy level. A solution like an occupancy estimator (also sometimes called a “people counter”), is a cost-effective way to get real-time data on how many people are present in the store or in a certain area at a certain time. This can help retailers improve how a space is used, analyze overall occupancy for physical distancing measures, allocate staff or security guards more effectively to ensure everyone’s safety and optimize opening hours.

Occupancy estimator can also tell you when occupancy exceeds a set threshold, crucial in meeting government regulations limiting the number of customers in a store. For example, occupancy estimating can trigger doors to lock when the maximum number of people are inside and, if your store is equipped with a network audio system (more on that later), can play an audio message to people outside, so they know to wait until it’s safe to go in.

Keeping customers calm is one of the best ways to prevent incidents in the first place, a big part of protecting employees. Since nobody likes to wait in line, queue monitoring analytics can provide real time data for how many people are “lined up,” giving an alert and notifying staff when a threshold is hit, helping to speed up purchases and disperse crowded check-out lines. It also provides statistics about queue fluctuations over the course of the day, which can help ensure resources match future visitor traffic and needs.

The underrated protection powerhouse – audio solutions

Audio not only creates the right atmosphere with background music, it enables communication with shoppers and employees – you can have a complete public address system that quickly, clearly, even automatically – can be utilized depending on a retailer’s specific needs. Besides live and pre-recorded announcements, audio solutions can also help you to:

  • Reduce loitering and deter potential offenders – a triggered audio message can help to prevent unwanted activity in and around the store. Music playing outside can also deter loitering as well.
  • Enforce rules – when used with cross line detection analytics, an audio message can be triggered whenever someone crosses a user-defined virtual line. For example, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, a pre-recorded audio clip can remind customers and employees to use sanitizer as they enter the store or washroom and as they’re leaving the building.
  • Ensure social distancing – when used with queue monitoring, when an event triggers a network camera, it will prompt a speaker to play a pre-defined clip such as: “Please remember to stay six feet apart until the customer in front of you has completed his or her transaction.”

Keeping a safe distance with access control

A system for touchless access control makes it easier to comply with physical distancing and increased hygiene requirements, while also increasing security overall. Network door stations combine video surveillance, two-way communication and remote entry control in a single device. Contactless remote entry based on a QR code, wave sensors (where you wave your hand to get buzzed in), or facial recognition will also minimize high-touch door handles. Facial recognition can also help with mask or no mask detection, automatically locking doors whenever someone tries to enter a mask mandatory area with no mask.

License plate recognition (LPR), which requires a network camera and partner software, captures license plates in real-time, compares them to a pre-defined list, and generates alerts – such as when a customer arrives in front of the store for pickup. If you have an IP audio system, customer arrival could also trigger a pre-defined message like “Thank you for shopping with us. Your order will be out in a minute. Please open your trunk.” LPR can also help prevent criminal activity, such as generating alerts for license plates associated with organized crime rings or missing persons. Today’s pan/tilt/zoom cameras with instant laser focus can catch the license plate of vehicles even when they are moving.

Newer technology to even better protect retail staff

Unfortunately, aggressive behaviours can escalate as customers try to accept the new normal in their retail experience. Body worn cameras are one of the newest technologies available, which enable staff to record any activity at the touch of a button or continuously. The video recording is uploaded at the end of the shift by placing the device in the charging cradle – providing necessary evidence in the event of an incident.

A camera with partner software for advanced audio analytics is another excellent layer of defense. Essentially it “listens” for predefined noises such as gunshots, glass breaking or aggressive voices, and, when it hears one, alerts staff or security, who can then evaluate the situation by watching live video feeds and taking necessary measures.

And don’t forget about cybersecurity

Your network is only as secure as your weakest link. Many retailers store PII (Personal Identifiable Information) for employees and customers on the network and a breach may lead to data leaks like emails, names, addresses, phone number and sometimes credit card data. Because every network device is now a potential breach point (yes, this includes cameras), your IT department (who manages the flow of digital information), and OT department (who manages the operation of physical processes, machinery and physical assets), must become a tighter team to create a better defence. Device management software solutions can help by assembling a full real-time inventory of all your network surveillance devices, spelling out exactly where you stand on the cybersecurity front and what steps need to be taken to protect your technology – saving on both time and stress.

Protect now, but also plan for later – shop smart for long-term solutions

Perhaps one of the best things we can say about the current pandemic is that is has motivated the retail industry to take a holistic approach when examining solutions. Technology that protects employees and helps prevent the virus spread today also adds layers of security and optimizes operational efficiency tomorrow. When “shopping” for solutions, be sure to seek out trusted surveillance integrators and suppliers who know the business. Going straight to the manufacturers is wise as well, as they know the technology better than anyone. With smart solutions we can help each other stick to the new routines and have a safe and even profitable holiday season.