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Sending your employees into dangerous territory? G4S Canada uses an arsenal of technology to make sure they stay safe

Globe and Mail Update

An hour ago, someone was murdered at a posh London hotel. A protest near an important conference centre in Cairo has suddenly turned violent. Simmering unrest in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta has led to gunfights. While these events might not hit the headlines here in Canada, they could be valuable pieces of information for workers who are travelling to those locations on business.

That's why incident reports on events like these stream in by the minute to the Toronto offices of Group 4 Securicor (G4S). Here, security experts use information from a varity of sources keep tabs on high-profile clients around the world. With 7,000 employees operating out of 22 locations in Canada, G4S Canada has its eyes and ears on thousands of clients in more than 100 countries and 500 cities through its Incident Management Centre (IMC). The company (whose global HQ is in the U.K.) also has up to 400,000 experts and agents spread out across the globe. Its security and monitoring operations include protection of person and property, vehicle convoys, embassy security and electronic monitoring.

Most businesses understand that travel is a natural cost of doing business, but they often don't have a contingency plan in place for trips where safety might be an issue, says Steve Davies, G4S Canada's manager for corporate security and investigative services. "We had some Fortune 500 clients who had no idea what they would do if one of their executives got into trouble overseas," says Davies. "And those who did
have some kind of incident plan in place tended to push it over to a manager within the company that wasn't really qualified, and didn't have the proper resources to begin with."

G4S is recognized as the world's largest provider of electronic monitoring services, which can include GPS tracking, live video surveillance and incident reports sent via phone, e-mail or text message. Monitoring can also extend to family members, to make sure they're safe while
the client is out of town.

A high-ranking IT security executive with a Canadian telecom networking firm agreed to be interviewed for this story, but for security reasons, he wouldn't give us his name. His firm has a monthly contract with G4S that includes tracking overseas employees. In one recent case, two of his technicians were sent to Madagascar for three months to help rebuild critical infrastructure. Both were equipped with GPS devices that attached to their belts. "If they felt threatened at any time, they simply needed to press the panic button on their belt to open up audio communication with the IMC, and send out an alert and GPS fix," he explains. "And if we wanted to check in on them at any time, we could ask G4S or log in to a website and ping them." He says he'd know within minutes exactly where his workers were on a satellite map, and what direction and speed they were travelling in, either on foot or in a vehicle. In the event of a critical situation, G4S staff in Africa, along with local emergency personnel in Madagascar, would respond and get them to safety.

The device they were wearing was a small receiver that looks like a closed flip cellphone. It works with satellite (line-of-sight) and the GSM cellular network, so tracking isn't affected when a client enters a building. The response time between pushing the device's panic button and the IMC receiving an e-mail or text message is about 15 seconds, says Sherwayne St. Cyr, who coordinates operations in the Toronto-based IMC. "Local intelligence is vital on the day of an event or travel, regardless of whether it's a foreign country or here in Canada," St. Cyr says. "We can get pinged or alerted if a client's heart rate starts to get erratic, for instance, or even control and shut down a vehicle through some of the tracking technologies we have."

St. Cyr adds that the planning phase prior to an event or travel ensures that G4S is aware of a client's medical history, culinary preferences and even minor details like what brand of bottled water they prefer. Backup plans are also at the ready in case there's any divergence from the client's itinerary.

But the intelligence goes further than just following one individual. It can also include locating and surveying the physical presence of a business looking to make a deal with a client—in other words, making sure the operation is legit. "This particularly comes into play when we talk about mergers and acquisitions," says a U.S.-based security consultant who collaborates with G4S. "It's verification of facility, and we've found a big difference between perception and reality in several cases." The surveillance can include ground personnel, supported by satellite tracking and electronic monitoring, he adds. This way, G4S can report back to clients and make suggestions based on the evidence they've compiled. These discoveries, he says, have saved clients millions of dollars in potential losses or fallout from business dealings that likely would have gone awry.

The same type of security measures can be applied to important vehicles, such as tractor-trailers hauling expensive cargo. Since the threat of hijackings or insubordination is always a consideration, G4S says it would be able to place motion-sensitive video surveillance within the trailer. "When the doors on the tractor are opened, the camera can turn on so we can see what's happening," Davies says. "Video is very expensive for us to do, generally, but this set-up helps keep the costs
down because you're not getting a live feed all the time."

Inside the IMC, information flows constantly into G4S's computers. The sound of pings and ringing phones fill the room. It's just another day at the office for St. Cyr and Davies. "Security is very easy to do," says Davies, "but it's even easier to not do well."

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