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Patrol Route Design: in 3 Steps

Patrol route design is crucial. Thousands of people use our proof of presence technology to perform a security patrol and as a result we’re often asked:

“What’s the best patrol route design?”

Now, just because we design proof of presence software doesn’t mean we know everything about guard patrol design. We’ve therefore asked some of our customers to detail what they think is important in patrol route design.

If this article does not answer all your questions, check out our security patrol ultimate guide

(Please note, a security patrol is sometimes also called a guard tour, guard patrol or patrol tour.)

Patrol route Design - Guard patrol design - Patrol route design - where to put nfc tags - how often patrol - types of proof of presence

Step 1. Define why you need a security patrol

Guard patrols have been around for thousands of years. The Romans used them, Chinese emperors insisted on them and today they’re the staple of most security protocols. Throughout history they’ve been used to deny, deter and detect, both intruders and escapees. Common reasons for a guard patrols include:

  • Incursion / attack / destruction of asset
  • Hostile reconnaissance
  • Terrorism threat
  • Insider threat
  • Espionage/  Voyeurism threats (Hidden or concealed devices)
  • Safety patrols
  • Intelligence

Sometimes a security patrol is simply a way to keep staff busy in the silent hours, ‘make sure they’re doing something…’

In any event, it’s important to identify why you’re implementing a guard patrol because this will drive its design. For example, a patrol route designed to detect insider threat will most likely examine areas that host servers or meetings. Whereas, a patrol route designed for hostile reconnaissance will focus much more on a site’s perimeter.

Step 2. Select Your Proof of Presence Technology

If you’re lucky enough to have fantastic security guards then their word may be sufficient to assure you a security patrol has taken place. However, in the event of an incident and criminal or civil proceedings, having proof of presence (beyond a security guard’s word) is important in demonstrating a security guard has discharged their duty.

In addition, today’s software does much more than just provide proof of presence, they’re an enabler for reporting.

Which Proof of Presence should you use?

Below we run through seven different types of proof of presence, from the most basic to the more sophisticated. There’s also an indicative budget figure to show the year one cost for setting-up each option. The costs are based on a typical six storey, city centre office building.

a) CCTV instead of Guard Patrols

  • Cost: Free if you have a CCTV cameras

SIRV CCTV Guard Patrol Proof of Presence for Dummies: Designing your first Guard PatrolDo you need security guards to conduct patrols? You’ll often see control rooms using CCTV tours to perform a visual check for intruders and untoward events. This is more cost effective, less risky and convenient than sending a security guard out on patrol. It’s also considered more reliable than a guard patrol because you’re relying on software analytics rather than human reporting. The CCTV recording is its own proof of presence.

However, CCTV tours don’t provide the same deterrent as a guard patrol. The sight of a CCTV camera may deter some malicious actors but most know very few cameras are actively monitored and therefore discount them. In addition, even if CCTV does detect something untoward what then? Unless you have an available security guard on site you’ll need to wait for a mobile patrol or police officer to attend and investigate.

b) Hand-written Record

Cost: <£10 for a couple of physical daily occurrence books

SIRV Daily Occurrence Book DOB Proof of Presence for Dummies: Designing your first Guard Patrol

You still see paper logs based in receptions, gate houses and loading bays, used by security guards to record their name, date and time of visit. This log (often referred to as a Daily Occurrence Books (DOB) is a very basic proof of presence but it’s still a significant improvement on a security guard’s word.

One big problem with hand written records is the ease with which they can be falsified, either in full or simply by recording a false time of visit. The hand written sign-in therefore depends on the honesty of both the patrolling security guard and the owner (if there is one) of the proof of presence, the Daily Occurrence Book.

c) Access Control

Cost: Free – if you have an access control system

SIRV Access Control System Proof of Presence for Dummies: Designing your first Guard PatrolMany buildings have smart digital access control systems installed. These systems usually control occupants in and out of buildings as well as controlling their movements within a building. A security guard can demonstrate their proof of presence around a building by presenting their access control card to proximity readers.

Assuming the building already has an access control system in place this is a zero cost option.

However, using access control systems for proof of presence does have its drawbacks:

  • Access control readers are not cheap, and they’re placed in locations to control staff movement, not record security guard proof of presence. Therefore, many areas covered by a guard patrol may not have access control readers in place (for example, washrooms).
  • Few access control systems can easily produce the proof of presence reports management require.

d) Data collector & touchpoints

  • Cost: Device, software license and tags £500

If all you want to do is provide proof of presence of a guard patrol then this is the solution for you. The security guard achieves proof of presence by placing a data collector device, (often called ‘dumb readers’ as all they do is read locations) against metal tags that are affixed to specific locations. Once the security guard has completed their patrol they return the data collector to its docking station where its data is uploaded to an online reporting portal.

Over the last few years the market has moved away from the data collector because a smartphone can provide the same proof of presence as well as additional functionality (at a cost).

e) Smartphone with NFC tags or barcodes

  • Cost: Device, software license, NFC tags / barcodes £1,000 – £1,500

SIRV Near Field Communication NFC & Barcodes Proof of Presence for Dummies: Designing your first Guard Patrol

Scanning NFC tags involves holding the rear of a phone less than one centimetre away from an NFC tag and reading the tags identity through radio waves. In contrast, scanning barcodes involves the phone’s camera reading a barcode, just like a supermarket till scanner reads a barcode.

Using NFC tags tends to be quicker than scanning barcodes. Barcodes are also easier to vandalise and damage than NFC tags. For these reasons NFC tags tend to be more widely used than barcodes.

In common with the RFID reader tags, NFC tags and barcodes can be forcibly removed from their location by malicious actors.

Advantages and disadvantages of using a smartphone to read NFC tags / Barcodes compared to a Data Collector

  • Because the smartphone sends proof of presence information in real time a security guard’s last location can be tracked, an important lone worker consideration.
  • The mobile application that provides proof of presence often provides a host of other reporting features. These include incident and event reporting, tasks, messaging, electronic procedures and asset tracking.
  • A smartphone has its own communication functionality (phone, text etc)
  • It’s more expensive than a data collector
  • Technophobe security guards may object to a smartphone
  • A data collector may be tougher than a smartphone and therefore have a longer useful life.

f) Smartphone with GPS

  • Cost: Device, software, positional tags £1,000 – £1,500

SIRV Global Positioning System GPS Proof of Presence for Dummies: Designing your first Guard PatrolMuch like using a smartphone’s Maps, the same built-in GPS (global positioning system) can be used to provide proof of presence for a guard patrol. In addition, some mobile applications offer ‘geo-fencing’, which create virtual boundaries based on GPS locations. If a phone travels beyond its geo-fence then an automated alert can be triggered. This can be a useful feature if a guard patrol is taking place in a hazardous environment, for example a railway.

  • Using GPS has a few drawbacks:

    GPS has a significant draw on a phone’s battery.

  • In built-up environments the accuracy of a phone’s GPS is poor.
  • GPS cannot plot the whereabouts of a phone on a vertical axis. Guard patrols cannot therefore be defined in multi-level buildings.

g) Smartphone with Bluetooth and Beacons

  • Cost: Device, software, beacons £2,500 (unless you have a network of beacons already in place)

SIRV Bluetooth Beacon Proof of Presence for Dummies: Designing your first Guard PatrolIn this instance a smartphone’s Bluetooth feature is used to communicate with something called a beacon, which are affixed to specific locations. The beacons are able to relay their location, thereby providing proof of presence to a mobile application on the smartphone.

This is similar to using barcodes and NFC tags but there are some distinct differences:

  • Beacons need their own power source (mains or battery with a 12 month lifespan)
  • Beacons are larger than barcodes or NFC tags (think saucer size)
  • You need to be physically next to barcodes and NFC tags to scan them, whereas the Bluetooth signal can travel over 50 feet, meaning there’s no need to present the phone to a fixed point.

Because the security guard doesn’t need to stand next to a beacon to produce proof of presence third party observers won’t find it easy to spot a guard on patrol. This can be an advantage if the guard patrol design is to detect threats such as hostile reconnaissance.

We’ve looked at why you should conduct guard patrols and different kinds of proof of presence. Now lets look at how to design a guard patrol using NFC proof of presence software.

Step 3. Your Guard Patrol Design

We’ve looked at reasons to conduct guard patrols and different kinds of proof of presence. Now lets look at design considerations for a patrol route design using NFC proof of presence software (like ours).

It’s important to note that what follows is not a scientific endeavour, if you’re looking for empirical research check out this article on security in estates. The below is a combination of input from our customers and our observations from thousands of guard patrols. 

Security officer needs: Ensure that the security officers are given the right tools for completing the patrol e.g. Communication, Equipment & Management. Where possible equipment should integrate with existing systems to assist with planning, monitoring and reporting.

I) Safety of the Security Guard

The first consideration should be the level of risk you expose your security guard to through the patrol route. Patrolling a fence line on a warm summer evening is a very different experience on a dark winter night. If your patrolling security guard is operating alone (most likely), then a lone worker solution that complies with BS8484 is an important consideration.

Proof of presence software such as SIRV can provide the last location of your security guard according to NFC tags. It can also be combined with push-to-talk devices however, this doesn’t offer the same features as a dedicated lone worker product. 

II) How long should the patrol route take?

What constitutes a patrol can be as brief as inspecting one location and scanning one tag. In most scenarios your patrol will be a trade off between human resource, existing assignments and the risk faced.

We’ve seen a guard perform a one minute, one location patrol and we’ve seen three guards performing a four hour patrol split between each of them. In any event, if the patrol is too long you’ll find the security guard will need to attend to the closest washroom anyway.

Guard patrol designs allow for around one hour.

III)When should you conduct a guard patrol?

It’s sometimes said that predictability is a criminal’s best friend. Assigning set times for when a guard must perform patrols gives malicious actors the opportunity to spot when a patrol is underway and exploit it accordingly. It’s prudent to alternate the timing and frequency of patrols.

If you are looking for a guard patrol to be performed often, for example every hour, we’d encourage a rolling window is assigned, meaning the patrol should take place within a parameter, providing some unpredictability.

If you over emphasise the time it takes a security guard to move between tags and complete patrols you’ll end up sending your security guards out on a race, not a patrol.

IV) What NFC tags should be used?

An NFC tag is simply an electrical circuit embedded in surrounding plastic. They come in all shapes and sizes. The smaller they are the less information the circuit can store. However, storage is rarely a problem because tags usually only contain a simple identification code for example, ‘B1’. When the smartphone app reads ‘B1’ it interprets it to a location, for example ‘Front Entrance’.

Your guard patrol design should consider whether the tag is for the outdoors. Some outside tags can cope with extremes in temperate (some are designed to withstand temperatures between -30 and +60 degree Celsius.) Most tags are ‘anti-metal’ which means they can cope with being affixed to metal surfaces. Avoid placing the tags on surfaces than expand and contract, for example wood.

What NFC tags should be used for guard patrol? An NFC tag is simply an electrical circuit embedded in surrounding plastic. They come in all shapes and sizes. People tend to be more sensitive about the appearance of tags when they’re placed indoors. Small and thin paper based tags are popular if you’re looking for the NFC tag to be discreet.

We’ve seen some clients deploy tags with their own branding and warning ‘do not touch’. This warning is like a taboo to a teenager, they‘re usually far more likely to be touched and removed by under occupied recidivists.

Our article here takes you through the best NFC Tags to include in your guard patrol design. 

V) Where should you place the NFC Tags?

This will often determine the route the security guard takes. If you position the tags too close to each other then the security guard won’t have time to look around, they’ll simply be scanning tags. Position the tags too far from one another and you risk the patrol losing its shape.

When selecting tag locations bear in mind the environment, where incidents are taking place and intelligence you have to hand.

We’ve seen quite a few clients place tags in super discreet places, almost hidden. This makes finding them nearly impossible and the patrol becomes a search for tags rather than a patrol. The tags can be placed out of plain sight but they should be easily reachable. Bear in mind you may have some very tall or very small security guards. Moreover, if a cover security guard cannot easily find the tag how likely is it that they’ll complete the patrol?

Popular patrol route design tag locations:

  • Plant Rooms
  • Tech rooms (server rooms)
  • Control rooms (often the start and finish location)
  • All entrances and exits
  • Stairwells
  • Loading bay
  • Garage
  • Perimeter fence line
  • Areas requiring inspection, for example safety of building works

If you want to avoid predictability and boring the security guard don’t fix the sequence in which the tags must be scanned. (A patrol route designed for high risk environment may ignore this advice).

VI) How many NFC tags should be used?

As mentioned above, too many tags too close together is not a good thing.

If you have a city centre office block with six floors we’d usually see one tag on each floor’s stairwell and one tag placed elsewhere on each floor.

VII) Who should conduct the Guard Patrol?

Only inducted, authorised and trained security guards should be assigned to perform patrols. If you’re worried about the security guard becoming bored or predictable think about varying who in the team perform the patrols.

VIII) What should a security officer do during a patrol?

This is driven by the nature of the patrol route design. For example, if the security guard is performing a ‘lock down’ patrol at the end of operations then you may ask them to confirm each access and egress point is secure.

If your proof of presence software has reporting features then common reports may include:

  • Building damage
  • Building faults
  • Unauthorised access

Note: To encourage a security guard to produce reports ensure they receive more than a reporting tool. Provide the security guard with:

  • An incentive to report
  • Training on what should be reported

IX) What device should a Guard Patrol use?

We have a full article on the best devices here.

It’s prudent to have one or two devices spare, in case of breakage or loss,

X) Plan-Do-Review

Regularly review your patrol route design to evaluate its effectiveness.

Conclusion

We often see guard patrol design with little thought for their their aims and objectives; even those that are well planned are rarely reviewed. If you incorporate guard patrols into your assignment instructions you will at least, hopefully, review them annually.

We hope this article helps those planning their patrol route design.

Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard used for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances

Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard used for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances

GPS: Satellite navigation or satnav  system that uses satellites to provide autonomous geo-spatial positioning.

GPS: Satellite navigation or satnav  system that uses satellites to provide autonomous geo-spatial positioning.

Access Control Proximity Reader: They can enable a single identification for each employee or visitor in a quick and efficient way. Badge and Biometric Access Control equipment can be used for inside or outside application.

Access Control Proximity Reader: They can enable a single identification for each employee or visitor in a quick and efficient way. Badge and Biometric Access Control equipment can be used for inside or outside application.
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