Leveraging communications technology to enhance physical security

By Jeremy Osborne, Senior Sales Manager at Infobip South Africa

Crime remains an ever-present danger in South Africa, and this has driven a demand for private security services, citizens are turning to private security companies to ensure their safety.

It is perhaps not surprising then that the private security industry in South Africa is among the largest in the world, with over 9 000 registered companies and 450 000 registered active private security guards.

Security companies in South Africa play a crucial role in terms of crime mitigation, providing a range of services – from access control to armed response – to companies and private consumers. However, as mobile devices and data become increasingly ubiquitous, communication technology can play a pivotal role in aiding security companies to react far more quickly, potentially saving lives.

Traditionally, the panic button has been the standard method used to alert a security company that a customer requires assistance. The device – often installed in a private home or carried on a person – is activated when an individual needs help and sends a signal to the security company’s control room via radio telemetry.

One of the significant drawbacks of a panic button is that it only works by sending a signal to the security company’s control room when it’s within range of the communication equipment installed in a home or office. However, in a world characterised by growing mobility, people require security that follows them around wherever they go.

Going mobile

This is where the prospect of using a system that is connected – preferably through a mobile interface like a handset – changes the value proposition of the traditional panic button model. A person in distress can activate  a panic request wherever they are, alerting the authorities or their private security provider that they need assistance and simultaneously provide their location.

A mobile panic button can be further enhanced by incorporating technologies such as WhatsApp API, which adds options to the interface. This allows a user to go directly to their contacts on the mobile device, open up a chat and activate a panic button.

The ubiquitous nature of WhatsApp makes it the ideal channel for this purpose. WhatsApp provides access to multiple services, both on a personal and business level, allowing users to communicate with friends, brands and even to transact. It is a channel that people are familiar with makes it the ideal solution to support personal security requirements.

Additional layers

A notable example of WhatsApp API that has been used successfully for security purposes is the recently launched Automobile Association’s (AA) Armed Response Service, which is available countrywide to anyone who finds themselves in an emergency situation. Users simply subscribe to the services and ensure that they have an active data signal with location services. The AA has a network of over 160 security partners who will come to a user’s aid when an alert is activated via WhatsApp.

Incorporating rich media content into the solution provides additional layers and gives users options to not only share text but also their physical location, images, as well as recordings of conversations happening in real-time. This is especially important for people who find themselves in situations where they need assistance but cannot speak.

For instance, victims of gender-based violence (GBV) often find themselves in the same room as their abuser and need a non-verbal way to call for help. Typing out a request or sending a surreptitious recording of an altercation to an operations centre can summon help without alerting the perpetrator.

Also, WhatsApp’s chatbot platform and its capabilities to onboard subscribers and handle payments makes it an even more attractive proposition for private users and organisations alike. It can assist customers along their entire journey and gives them a sense of being able to engage with the brand on their own terms.

People tend to not actively think about security until a situation has occurred, but as a society, we must place significant emphasis on the digital security that we use in our lives – it’s a constant overhead that we need to manage. Technology can assist significantly, creating a safety barrier between companies, individuals and criminals with an intent to harm. 

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