Time to establish a dialogue with the public?

Most members of the public have formed robust opinions about security and the impact it has on the micro level of their day-to-day lives and on the macro level of national and global threats. For a profession that seeks, above all else, to serve the public and keep them safe we should therefore enjoy a robust and questioning relationship with the general public, our ultimate end-users. Yet there is little systematic research into public attitudes in areas such as counter-terrorism, cyber security, critical infrastructure, invasive technologies, organised crime, ideologies, privatisation of services, and so on.
As such we run the risk of failing to garner public support for security; of failing to present security as a professional discipline on a par with respected disciplines like medicine, the law or architecture. We miss the opportunity to encourage young people into the profession by failing to create awareness of the intellectual challenges presented by delivering security, or giving them a clear insight into how it works. Furthermore, much of what we within the profession claim as an understanding of public attitudes is based on assumption rather than rigorous interrogation and analysis.

Media and the public
One of the key conduits to the general public of course is through the media. In certain cases it might be claimed that the media plays a large part in leading public opinion and in shaping the policy responses that ensue. From the profession’s point of view then, a greater level of engagement with the media and through them the public would provide concrete evidence of how the public perceives and understands threats which will enable the profession to develop effective communication strategies for its dealings with the public.
And the security profession certainly does have a strong basis for establishing a meaningful dialogue with the public. One of the words we use within the profession is convergence, yet this means nothing to the man or woman in the street. What they do understand are specific threats that impact on them and it should be possible to use any of the risk areas below as the basis for the kind of conversations that will transform our relationships with the public at large.

Cyber Security
Cyber security is something constantly encountered by everyone and represents the epitome of a target-rich environment; individuals, organisations and government institutions must negotiate a daily obstacle course to avoid damaging attacks on the integrity of their data, their businesses and their lives. Increasingly threats will be targeted and customised. Cyber security will be engaged in a perpetual battle where it is either one step ahead or one step behind the latest threats. Cyber security brings risk into every home.

Physical World Threats
Physical world threats that have emerged within the 21st Century are the proliferation of affordable advanced technology, the increasing diversity of threats and the globalisation of security threats. These three have combined to make the world a much smaller place than it was, with those seeking to harm us often capable of doing so hidden from our eyes and acting from great distances. This represents a permanent change to the nature of risk and requires responses that the public must buy into.
Increased levels of threat from terrorism and crime have resulted in greater spending on physical security by governments. Alongside this, governments are enacting legislation and regulations which demand increased security levels which further drive the adoption of physical security across public, industrial and business organisations. Some of this can be intrusive in its application. We need the public to appreciate what needs to be done and why.

The pressure on security professionals operating in this environment of enhanced and continuous risk will be enormous. The bureaucratic constraints of their roles will become increasingly challenging. There will be new security frameworks to operate within, an increasing burden of legislation and regulation to be assimilated, which will inevitably increase reporting and compliance requirements rather than lead directly to physical improvements in security delivery. Effective support structures will need to be built to enable security professionals to continue to function effectively. Put simply, we need all the help and understanding we can get.
Managing the inevitable convergence of these threats is a complex challenge for the security professional and the support they will need from professional bodies like the Security Institute and from education providers is likely to increase in equal proportion. But above all, the profession will need the understanding and support of the public. A successful business always listens and responds to its customers. Security cannot afford to be seen negatively by the public as a necessary evil imposed upon them and must instead be welcomed as a positive enabler in their lives. A process that allows them and their loved ones peaceable enjoyment of all that our societies have to offer.

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