Part 2: The Security Challenges of Reopening Offices, Campuses and Venues

This is the second in a series of four blogs sharing insights from a Clubhouse discussion hosted by Armored Things investor Glasswing Ventures about some of the security challenges involved with reopening post-COVID for businesses, schools and venues.

The participants represented a 360-degree view of the topic covering everything from security and technology to business and operations. The speakers included:

  • Rick Grinnell — Founder and Managing Partner, Glasswing Ventures
  • Julie Johnson Roberts — Co-Founder & CEO, Armored Things
  • Tom Axbey — Operator, Investor, Advisor, and Armored Things Board Member
  • ​David McLeod — VP, Chief Information Security Officer, Cox Enterprises
  • Charlie Bonomo — Senior Vice President & CIO, MSC Industrial Supply
  • ​Brendan Welter — Chief Security & Technology Officer, Sterling National Bank
  • Chris Lord — Co-founder and CTO, Armored Things

In this segment, the discussion shifts from what reopening looks like to the role technology might play in that process.

Rick Grinnell
So, how much of this (safely reopening business, schools and venues) is going to be technology enabled, and how much of it is just simple, basic process? Tom, you used to lead a technology company that was in the safety business, why don't we start with you and your thoughts on that subject.

Tom Axbey
When I was in the safety business, it was primarily focused on higher education. Campuses generally have a professional, well trained and equipped campus safety force. That's the backbone of it. But then you've got to realize that most campuses are equipped to protect the perimeter of the campus, and who can come in, and who can come out, not what happens there (on campus). So, you can sort that out digitally. But if you look at it historically, college campuses basically relied on blue lights and digital sign engines. Then mobile changed everything. Everyone had a mobile phone in 2007, which coincided with Virginia Tech and the need for proactive notification. But it was still very reactive. Higher Ed campuses today are going through a huge change. On one hand, they're very semester based. At the same time, they have huge sporting events, and they're also balancing distancing-learning with onsite populations. David (McLeod) said that basically he’s made three to four years of progress in one year, and I think everyone's gone through that in the enterprise. And Charlie (Bonomo) said they're setting up hotel rooms. But if you're a college campus you don't have that. So, what you need to do is start being more proactive about how you manage people, because campuses were always about the perimeter of physical security and then mobile devices. So how do you track people? And that's really the biggest challenge that campuses have right now, especially as they face going back to school this year.

Brendan Welter
I had an observation that those that have done well through this crisis, are those that have been decisive. And primarily it's been those that have been decisive due to supporting data and things of that nature. What Julie and Tom and others have been speaking about certainly resonate with me in terms of being able to collect the right information to get to the right decision maker. So, the decision makers can lay out a path forward. That doesn't mean they won't course correct. But it does mean they will make be decisive about opening, and opening on a specific percentage, but they will prioritize their colleagues on that behalf. I do certainly believe that data and technology is going to support decisive companies that will be successful in the long haul.

Tom Axbey
You’ve got to be data driven.

David McLeod
Even when I think about discovering the pattern of what happened on day one with 5% walk through testing and adapting to that, we don't know how folks came and went through buildings. We know that we put up these cool new areas, but we're watching ants in an ant hill and we don't see it yet. So, we need the data before we need to adjust. We need the data after too. It can be our biggest guidance, especially if the data let us talk to people about how to feel safe.

Tom Axbey
And you'll say you need access to the data during as well, right.

David McLeod
Absolutely.

Charlie Bonomo
You know, what I wonder about is the position that companies will take based on doing this as the new kind of reoccurring event, like a power failure. So, I put in generators and things like that and it just happened once. In this case, we're all going to get vaccinated and in 10 years we won't be talking about it anymore. Because to solve these issues or to facilitate them with technology, it's probably a fair amount of infrastructure that gets laid down at a cost. Will companies lay down the infrastructure, or will they handle it with process and kind of keep their fingers crossed that it doesn't happen more regularly?

Julie Roberts Johnson
I think that's a great point. From my perspective, I sometimes worry that security and safety generally are underfunded until a bad thing happens. Then they temporarily get budget. And then as attention kind of weans away from them again, the budget tends to go away a little bit as well. Then we're potentially caught flat footed the next time a similar or same event happens. So, my hope here is that we've had a bit of global learning; that this becomes part of that preparedness posture the same way you would want to have board-level conversations about cyber hygiene, or in a university setting, things like active shooter. I think it's unacceptable if those Black Swan events have not been contemplated at a very high level for an organization. And I imagine that despite maybe the level of threat perceived to going down, I would imagine that there's still a perception that these things could happen again from what we've learned.

Read part 1: Understanding and accounting for the psychological security of reopening