The Interview: Brenna Guiney, Independent Security Professionals
Brenna Guiney, Independent Security Professionals.
In SEN’s Interview this month we speak with security consultant, sociologist and social impact practitioner, Brenna Guiney, of Independent Security Professionals, about her security career, the different ways people perceive, behave and respond to security and technology strategies, and her thoughts on women in security.
JA: When did you join the security industry – when did you come to consider security a valid career path?
BG: I was lucky to grow up in the security industry. My family owned a security integration company throughout my childhood, which was acquired by TAC (now Schneider) in 2007, and it’s where I had my first job. But even before I started my first job there, rather than normal family conversations, our dinner table conversations were about CCTV and access control, so it was a part of my life and rhetoric at a very early age. Being able to see, touch and use these systems at such a young age made them feel like second nature to me once I started thinking about them in more detail.
So, by the time I started working in the industry, I had developed a good foundation of technical knowledge, as well as knowledge of how jobs are priced, tendered and run. Doing take-offs and estimate sheets at 15 years old really ingrained it in my brain before I had even considered a career in the industry. While I found it far more interesting to work in my family’s company at 15 than the local supermarket like my friends were, it was not until university that I realised I wanted to forge a career in the security industry.
Throughout my degree in Sociology, I specialised in security, surveillance and counterterrorism, and it was through undertaking empirical research projects and in-depth theoretical studies that I realised I wanted to undertake a career path that allowed me to delve into both technical and social problems. Security consulting allowed me to do just that.
JA: At what point did you realise the security industry could offer you a challenging and rewarding career?
BG: By the time I was nearing the end of my university degree, I was already targeting a career in the security industry. However, the moment I realised it could fulfil my desire for both a challenging and rewarding career was in my first position out of university as a project administrator. I was immediately thrown in the deep end, which I loved, and it was the mixture of the project deadlines, client liaison, complex technical issues and administration and regulation requirements that I found so rewarding. I had exposure to the government and policy sphere prior to this position and it was the contrast between the laborious nature of policy development to the fast-paced delivery of multiple projects and engagement with a varied client base in consultancy that won me over.
JA: Brenna, you’re a security expert and a sociologist – how valuable is it to understand society and social problems when planning security solutions and procedures?
BG: I wouldn’t quite call myself an expert, it’s said that it takes 30,000 hours and I’m still too young for that! But a security consultant and sociologist, yes. This combination allows me to uncover exactly how important it is to understand society and social problems when planning security solutions and procedures.
In Sociology, it is understood that crime is an inherent part of society and that all societies have a ‘natural’ level of crime. It is then modulated by various social processes and forces, such as policies, policing, security mechanisms, and so on. But this notion suggests that no matter how many security interventions are undertaken, crime will never be reduced to zero. Therefore, it is critical to understand the typology of a society to determine what its natural crime level is, what its modulated level is and why, and then how different security interventions may act on this level.
However, in our industry, we’re not always just trying to act on crime, but also deviance. We may be wanting to modulate how people move throughout a space, linger where we don’t want them to, draw their attention away from certain spaces, attract or deter certain individuals from engaging with a space, and so on.
The most valuable information to determining how to achieve these goals is what comprises the society in which the unwanted behaviours take place. Society is only created when there are norms between individuals, and therefore profiling allows you to determine what mechanisms are required to act on these norms.
JA: There’s a reactive element to technology – do you agree that more human understanding could enhance the way security technology is applied, making it more effective and more efficient?
BG: Absolutely, reactive implementations are typically less effective and costly, mostly because the incident or lack of efficiency has already happened, and the infrastructure is typically not in place. While it can never be determined with absolute certainty, social research allows for many potential outcomes or impacts to be determined before they occur. This allows for technology and security to be implemented proactively, which is typically a more effective approach.
For example, there are situations where proactively, certain unwanted behaviours can be influenced and supressed from occurring in the first place through passive means. Conversely, after unwanted behaviour has been allowed to occur, overt means may be required to control it or shift it away from the area in question. Overt means are typically more expensive, laborious, and perceived negatively in terms of perceptions of social control, fear and anxiety. So yes, there can be ongoing negative impacts from operating in a reactive state.
JA: Is it fair to say that while the security industry has a reasonable sense of technology and is across many aspects of crime prevention there’s a shortage of understanding of human behaviour and its relationship with positive/negative social change?
BG: Absolutely, I think that is a fair statement based on my experience in the industry. One of the main things I see from security interventions (that’s clearly not considered in the design), is that the overdesign of systems using overt security mechanisms can result in a decrease in an individual’s perceptions of safety and security. Peoples’ fear and anxiety increases as the result of a security intervention, which is obviously not the goal of security design.
This is primarily because there is a disconnect between the way we in the security industry define ‘security’, which is how safe an asset is from a threat, and how the general public define ‘security’, which is how safe and free from fear they are. Once this disconnect is acknowledged, the negative social impacts of our security interventions become apparent, which then allows them to be acted on.
JA: In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of security system design? And what do most systems get wrong?
BG: From a system design point of view, it would be the consideration of the user and their predisposed attitudes towards technology. Systems are typically designed with a one size fits all approach, but this forgets to acknowledge the fact that no 2 individuals are the same. Yes, there are norms in society, but even still, there are vast differences between demographic, social and cultural groups. For example, the over-65 demographic is the least digitally-included age group, which can result in more negative attitudes towards usage and acceptance of new technologies, particularly due to previous experiences with technology and lack of perquisite skills.
Conversely, those that speak a language other than English have a higher digital inclusion rate than the average Australian, which is the result of the ease with which technology can be translated into various languages, and the fact that digital interfaces typically remain common across cultural bounds. Just these 2 small examples indicate the need to understand the end user of technology before determining how a system should be designed or delivered. This includes direct engagement with the end user at various stages of the design process, and while yes, it may be more time consuming and initially more costly, there is greater return in the mitigation of various issues that may result from poor system design and implementation on an ongoing basis.
JA: Do you think there’s also a human element to the security operations side that can be altered to dramatically improve performance?
BG: Definitely – take security control rooms. As is widely acknowledged, there is a capacity to the extent of human attention and therefore control room operators can only take on so much information. However, studies have also shown that to relieve the stress and boredom some experience, control room operators develop narratives about those who they watch, while some even try to communicate through camera movement with their subjects.
While this is a somewhat expected outcome, studies have also shown that the detached nature of many control room operators from the physicality of what is occurring on their screens has also resulted in growing ambivalence towards incidents and their subjects. Obviously, this can have a significant impact on performance in security operations, particularly if incidents are not responded to efficiently or with the level of importance required.
Although these specific studies only sought to identify the issues in some control room situations and not solutions, they indicate the need to acknowledge the impact of the work on the worker and develop strategies to relieve the pressures that cause behavioural changes wherein productivity is reduced overtime.
JA: Could you sketch out the social impact of a particular security solution in a given situation? Was this impact entirely expected or did it come as a surprise?
BG: Let’s take for example hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM). There is a general acknowledgement of how the pervasiveness of security technologies in society have resulted in people perceiving a reduction of their civil liberties, but there has been little discussion outside of specific academic journals about the impact that physical security mechanisms like HVM can have on individual freedom.
As a security consultant, I absolutely agree with the protection of public spaces with HVM to meet increased threats of vehicle attacks over the past few years. But I’ve also observed that many HVM installations are reactive and rushed, resulting in intrusive barriers in spaces that are meant to appear inviting and sociable. By implementing security measures in this way, these obtrusive barriers conflict with the intended sense of space and the socialisation that is meant to occur within it.
Typically, security systems undertake some sort of social sorting that decides who is restricted and who is not, whether this is through CCTV systems with movement analytics, or through access control systems that have a predefined hierarchy of access. However, the socio-spatial impacts of hostile vehicle mitigation in places of mass gathering are non-discerning and cast a wide net of scrutiny. The physical barriers impact on an individual’s liberty of movement equally whether they are a threat or not. The result of this is that public space remains accessible, but becomes filtered.
From these socio-spatial impacts come socio-cultural impacts, where individuals begin to engage differently with social spaces. As Salman Rushdie said, “there is no such thing as perfect security, only varying levels of insecurity”. As such, the result of the overt or incorrect implementation of HVM is that unfortunately the more secure we create a place, the more insecure people can feel with increased perceptions of vulnerability and threats.
Now, isn’t it the ultimate achievement of terrorism if the very mechanisms we use to secure ourselves result in the achievement of their aim; to restrict or abolish Western freedoms? We restrict our own movement and the ability to freely access a space in the attempt to protect ourselves from a security threat, but in the end, result in lessening personal security in the sense of being free from fear and anxiety. This is the social challenge that we must be cognisant of when implementing security solutions.
JA: What advice would you give women considering a career in security or who are hoping to advance their careers? What should they focus on?
BG: I would say that building a network of professionals who inspire you is key to understanding everything that the industry has to offer. For me, meeting and engaging with a network of varied professionals opened my eyes to the vast range of careers that fall under the security industry banner, and to the fact that there is the potential to forge your own path even if it does not already exist. Meeting strong and successful women, many who owned and operated their own companies, was a great inspiration for me, so I suggest that any women considering a career in security surround themselves with positive and supportive networks.
JA: What has your most challenging project been so far – what did it teach you?
BG: It was more a time period than one project, as the most challenging moment was when I was working on 2 PPP’s for correctional centres – one which was based overseas – as well as completing the design of a correctional centre expansion and commencing the construction phase of another. Understandably, it was an immense challenge to balance the competing objectives of all these projects. I know that anyone who has worked on a PPP can appreciate the all-consuming nature of them and the desire to develop the best design – it can take over your nights and weekends for months. So, balancing this with my 2 existing projects was difficult, especially because I had worked on those 2 other projects for about 18 months each and the success of them was very dear to me.
While it was a tough few months, it was probably also the most formative period of my career. It taught me to properly prioritise and delegate, it developed my leadership skills, it pushed me technically and personally and I think I became a far stronger consultant for that. I also think those few months were indicative of what it’s really like being a security consultant and learning to ride the wave before things calm down in the ebb and flow of project-based work. These are skills that I now find invaluable being the director of Independent Security Professionals and being able to balance leading the business, delivering for our clients and maintaining a work life balance.
JA: What do you love most about your role – what gives you the most professional satisfaction?
BG: I love driving the direction of the company and targeting projects which I both find interesting and challenging, and working with clients that I align with professionally. One of our main tenets is to work with our clients in partnership, which has been an immensely valuable approach to the success of many of our projects. It has allowed us to elevate security out of the services and into the strategy of our clients’ businesses to deliver policy direction for their operations.
JA: Do you have any advice for young people started out in the industry?
BG: As the ASIS International NSW Chapter Young Professionals Liaison I’m quite passionate about bringing young people into the industry. I recently spoke at an industry engagement event at the University of Newcastle and found the interest from students to be enormous. However, before I spoke to these students, who were from the faculty of Criminology, they had not really heard of security industry career paths. So my advice isn’t really to young people, but to those established in the industry, and it is to hire graduates, create internships, remunerate young people based on output and performance rather than age, and welcome those from various academic backgrounds because diversity of opinion and knowledge is how the industry will continue to thrive.
For young people, my advice would be to have persistence and to chase down the career you want, no matter how many closed doors you experience. Also, seek out a mentor. So many established security professionals are open and willing to share their knowledge, which can be invaluable for young people starting out in the industry. I also think many young people can get discouraged if they do not achieve the position they want or expected straight away. Remember that your career is decades, not years or months long, and there are many paths to achieve your desired outcome.