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Brave new world

December 5, 2021 by Alistair Enser

Last week’s survey is still up and running, but initial results point to concerns over the risk of cyber security, with 1 in 2 of those who responded saying they are very concerned. Separately, it seems that the threats posed by terrorism and extremism have been largely forgotten by many during the recent pandemic, despite the United Nations flagging a bubbling undercurrent of increased extremism.

Our survey reveals concern for crime, but it’s hard to tell whether this is now more pronounced or has always been there. Is it a function of increasing civil disturbance, fear of crime, and the opportunity provided by empty offices and commercial buildings? I would be interested to know. So please place a ranking on these threats, so we can combine your responses with our results.

Unique challenges

The pandemic has presented some unique challenges which require the security industry to regroup and focus on how it can help keep customers safe as they re-open. The rate of infection flares up on a local basis and, while rates in the UK are steady and not rising to the same extent seen in Spain or France, local outbreaks and the resulting lockdowns present great challenges and create massive disruption.

The UK has gone through a particularly gruelling process around the allocation of A-level and GCSE results, and one repercussion is that universities now have no limitation on the numbers of students of certain subjects that they may admit. This presents its own security challenges, of course, and universities need to ensure their campuses are safe for the larger numbers of students that are now expected, even with social distancing and remote learning measures in place.

Many of these universities are based in the UK’s cities, of course. But a recent visit of mine to the West End of London showed that parts of our city centres are currently ghost towns, as workers stay away from offices and work from home instead. A situation compounded by the fact that employers are actively keeping workers at home. For example, Carlyle, a $9 billion private equity company, has asked London-based workers to quarantine for fourteen days if they take public transport, even at the weekends.

Where next?

Our future is uncertain. As I explained to Brian Sims of Security Matters recently on his podcast, two views of the current situation emerge. One is the urbanist’s utopia of pavements, ample bike lanesmore focus on green spaces, a better work/life balance and extended networks of boulevards replacing indoor shopping centres. People may migrate away from public transport to cars, bikes or foot.

The other view is a dystopia of empty streets and boarded-up shops; a barren cultural landscape, replaced by socially-distanced and masked citizens, scurrying quickly between their jobs and their homes. Physical interaction will become limited, and social gatherings virtual.

Our eventual destination is probably somewhere in between, and let’s hope it is nearer the former. Whatever happens, it is clear we will see change, both in how we interact, where we interact, and how technology can accelerate to assist. Would it be so bad if the days of being squeezed into Underground trains were firmly behind us, for example? We always knew that being packed like sardines on the Underground was unhealthy and uncomfortable, now it may simply become unacceptable- what are the alternatives?

A tale of two cities

Is the time when life revolved around our large cities over? As businesses encourage workers to stay at home, there is a suggestion of a wider move to flee city centres and into suburbia. Estate Agents report a surge of interest in those wishing to move out of cities to somewhere with more space, now that a commute into the City of London, or the centre of Manchester, for example, isn’t so important.

This raises questions. How will transport infrastructure cope with this change in priorities? As we eschew public transport, will the roads and cycle lanes become unmanageable? Twenty years ago, our industry worked to equip town centres with comprehensive security systems. Over recent years investment has dropped, yet perhaps the move to the suburbs will see a resurgence in security spend given the change demographic?

Indeed, if more people work from home, taking advantage of the improved connectivity, better office tools and a reduced commute, there will be a renewed need to keep people and property safe in these newly populated areas. The move to the suburbs will broaden many businesses’ outlooks, but also provide them, and their workers, with new security challenges.

Our security industry can and must rise to the challenge. Let us be proactive and think about those changing needs, threats and opportunities. Technology will certainly provide a lot of assistance, but a good dose of brain power and unlimited thinking will be the order of the coming days, weeks and months.

Stay safe.