Vet Practice Security - Securing Vet Workplaces

October 31, 2014

As a security professional I have lost count of the number of times a business owner has told me they didn't need a security system or monitoring because they "have nothing to steal". In each case they were viewing crime and security as a single threat - theft.

The reality is that very few businesses leave bundles of cash lying around. Certainly not vet clinics. However every organisation has significant assets, including their people, intellectual property and revenue. Businesses can be badly hurt by failing to identify and properly manage risk ahead of time.

Consider the tangible and intangible cost of these four scenarios: Losing a day's trade, losing two key staff, being sued for negligence or breaching workplace safety obligations, or being splashed across the local newspaper. There is virtually no business that cannot consider an incident where one of these might be the outcome. The cost of each far outweighs the initial expense of security systems, procedures and practices. The key for smart businesses is not to learn 'the hard way' and try to resolve problems for next time, but instead to plan ahead.

While people can often easily imagine 'worst case' problems, it is often the mundane which is most likely to occur and be overlooked. An electrical outage unresolved could cause lab equipment or drug infusion pumps to fail. Fridge malfunctions could result in damaged stock, with a cost in both replacement as well as lost revenue from downtime. A plumbing leak could cause flooding after-hours which would be undiscovered overnight (or over an entire weekend).

While insurance can be helpful at paying for loss incurred it will not help you continue trading through an incident or stop customer departure. Good proactive measures can avoid situations leading to problems in the first place.

Veterinary practices typically store narcotics and Schedule 4 drugs which make them a target for criminal activity. Not only does this include theft after-hours, but the possibility of internal theft as well. Rural practices may store firearms to perform euthanasia. Improper protection of these items can result in criminal charges against practice management.

Employees are protected under state and federal workplace health and safety (WH&S) legislation. Whilst most practices will have considered medical safety issues such as biohazards or animal injury, consideration needs to be given to 'lone worker' safety for example after-hours staff or staff performing home visits.

Electronic security technology is an invaluable tool for both the protection of assets (including people) as well as providing a sense of wellbeing and safety among staff and customers. Although the typical 'alarm system' traditionally monitored doors and windows or motion inside premises, modern systems can supervise environmental conditions such as temperature, flooding and even noise. These are particularly useful conditions to monitor if animals are kept at unattended premises overnight.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras' primary role is security and the identification, after an incident of what happened. However the technology can be a useful business enabler as well. Consider how much time is spent in a large facility trying to locate staff - 'where's so and so?' or equipment. If staff can glance at a monitor and locate each other, hours of billable time can be more productively utilised.

Some clinics even use their CCTV to provide a 'web cam' for customers to check-in on their animals left at the practice's Dog Daycare. They love it. However it also allows practice-staff to monitor animals after-hours via the Internet without being required to drive into the practice. Modern advancements in the technology mean cameras can 'see' in low or zero light.

Monitoring of smoke and temperature can provide for animal safety after-hours. Geoff Golovsky, Director and Practice Principal of Vet HQ (vethq.com.au) engaged security provider Calamity Monitoring (calamity.com.au) to provide security system maintenance and monitoring. Mr Golovsky said:
"Our mission is to provide the highest quality pet care and to be an integral link in the human animal bond. While staff can look after the animals during office hours, we rely on good technology to keep them safe after hours. It gives us peace of mind which we in-turn can pass to our customers."

Very few Australian business owners are expert in security and typically turn to a security company for advice and guidance. In choosing a security provider it is important to know who you are dealing with. Skill sets very and whilst security providers may seem 'trustworthy' they may not have the technical expertise to properly meet your requirements.

A good starting point is the consumer section of the Australian Security Industry Assocation (ASIAL.com.au). This provides licencing guidelines (which vary from state to state) and how you can be sure your provider is properly licenced. This gives a reasonable assurance as to criminal history and probity. Be wary of electricians and other tradesmen who may offer to install security but are not in fact licenced, either individually or as a company.

Alarm systems should be properly monitored by an Australian Standard 2201.2 Certified monitoring centre, a list of which is published on ASIAL's website. Calamity Monitoring is 'graded' and always has been.

Unfortunately there is no legal requirement for monitoring companies to be 'graded', and a very large number of security monitoring providers are not, and could literally be in someone's bedroom or have terrible procedures and systems. ASIAL grading of AS2201.2 is an indicator of quality and ungraded monitoring providers should always be avoided. Police can decline requests for assistance from ungraded providers and insurers may attempt to reject claims where they can determine that an alarm system did not 'meet standards'.

Some security companies act as a middleman and sub-contract the monitoring to a third-party. It is important that this relationship is disclosed so you can ensure you are in fact getting what you paid for and not simply getting a discount service and lining someone else's pockets.

ASIAL's website has a published list of graded monitoring centres which should be verified. If your security company claims to provide monitoring - even if they say they are graded - check that list. If their name does not appear, look elsewhere!

Your alarm system should be programmed to send arm and disarm signals which allow you to prove to an insurer or police that your system was correctly armed (or be notified if someone forgets). Conveniently it also allows you to keep an eye on staff and cleaner comings and goings by way of a monthly report.

Unfortunately many alarm systems are connected to monitoring via their phoneline, and while the monitoring service itself may seem inexpensive 10 or 20 phone calls each week can quickly add up as a substantial 'hidden cost' of the service. Even worse, the phoneline can be simply cut with a pair of scissors rendering your security system unmonitored. We typically recommend people consider 'IP Monitoring' systems which allow your alarm system and camera network to communicate with a monitoring centre via a combination of your internet connection and the mobile network. Even if your phoneline is sabotaged (or simply fails) your system can still be monitored, with no call charges. Even better you may be able to do away with a phoneline altogether which represents a significant cost saving. As more and more businesses move towards modern telephony such as 'VOIP' the ability to move legacy hardware off phone lines is something worth considering.

Modern systems can also provide smartphone 'apps' which allow you to arm/disarm remotely (great for when someone forgets to do so) and even remotely open doors or gates for after-hours deliveries without having to issue keys to third-parties.

Importantly, security and risk-management is not a one-off task. Equipment needs to be maintained, processes checked and staff educated and trained. Just like a healthy animal having a checkup, if you feel like you've invested a lot of time and money and 'nothing happened', don't be upset. There's a very good chance you're doing the right things. When you get security right, nothing happens.

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Article originally published in "In the Black" veterinary magazine, August 2014.

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