John Bates, Chief Executive of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), examines whether the security industry is sufficiently prepared for a pandemic flu outbreak and if the Government should be factoring the industry into its emergency planning.

Pandemic flu has certainly been a headline grabbing issue for the past few weeks with 47 cases of the ‘swine flu’ infection in the UK and almost 5000 worldwide. The situation does not seem to be escalating as seriously as expected, but undoubtedly it is a wake-up call for businesses and public sector organisations across the country as they consider whether they have sufficient plans in place to continue working during a pandemic.

It is generally accepted by the UK government that a flu pandemic is a long overdue event with the last being the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968 which claimed the lives of one million people across the world. With this in mind, BSIA cash-in-transit companies worked with APACS two years ago to pull together suitable pandemic flu plans to protect and prioritise where possible the flow of cash around the UK. These plans were instigated as soon as the swine flu infection became a potentially serious issue and communication has proved effective between the key organisations involved in the planning with weekly meetings to assess the current situation.

Despite such planning, the BSIA understands from government that the security industry, either in general or in any specific part, will not be treated as a priority to any other industry during an outbreak of pandemic flu. Consequently, neither cash-in-transit couriers, nor the security officers that protect our national infrastructure and communities will be prioritised during an outbreak. Indeed the BSIA understands that the Government’s emergency planning for a pandemic only prioritises healthcare professionals, so police officers, the armed forces and other emergency services will be in the same position as the security industry.

The BSIA advice to members during the swine flu outbreak was to follow the guidance set out by the Department of Health, BERR and the Cabinet Office and we quickly provided our members with the latest information in this area. However, many organisations will now be giving serious thought as to whether their own organisational planning is robust enough and whether the Government’s response to the outbreak would have been sufficient if the situation had become significantly worse.

I certainly feel that further consideration should be given as to whether our communities and national infrastructure would be put at risk if a serious pandemic hit the UK. As an industry that could be called upon to support an overstretched police force during a time of national emergency, the private security industry should be seen as a key stakeholder within such planning.

Each and every organisation in the UK should be seeing the swine flu infection as a wake-up call and an opportunity to assess whether their emergency planning is robust enough. The security industry and the Government are no exception to this and the BSIA will be a willing contributor to any review that is undertaken.

BSIA Website