When a utility company turned to AGB, an award winning security service company, to protect workers and critical infrastructure, the security company developed its own emergency response plan, patrol system and training to minimize disruption

Critical infrastructure for utilities needs protection nature. But in doing so, repair technicians also need protection from human nature—in the form of irate customers.

When a violent windstorm swept through Chicago, turning dependable power lines into tangles of limp spaghetti, utility customers were in the dark for days. Baffled rush-hour motorists had to maneuver around non-functioning traffic signals. Wherever the power goes out and utility infrastructure takes a beating, customers often don’t empathize with workers doing their best to restore service step by step. In fact, power customers often take out their frustration on utility service technicians.

Huge storms create anxiety in people, who then get upset and harass crew members, demanding that they restore service to their home immediately. Employees confined in bucket trucks are targets for customers’ frustration. Extra complications face workers sent to high-crime or simply unfamiliar areas where they don’t feel safe.

A year of protests raises more potential threats to critical infrastructure. Utilities must weigh the risk of political dissent playing out in attempts to shut down the energy grid or harm utility workers. When there are security and safety concerns, power companies call on security guard services for backup.

Three-pronged Plan Keeps Utility Infrastructure, Repair Technicians Safe

To secure locations during power outages, AGB employs a special system with three levels of protection. First, we have chaperones, mobile patrols who stay with the crew members while they’re up on bucket trucks or conducting repairs on the ground. Chaperones are assigned to high-risk areas where they are exposed to potential threats.

Next, our grid patrols work in an outer layer that surrounds the target. If a chaperone needs assistance, he has a grid patrol team member to respond. Our utility client requested a five-minute response times in high-crime areas. That’s very expensive and difficult to pull off, but we found a way to do it.

With our roving patrols, we spread out even further from the target and our personnel can soon be on site to help with extreme response situations. The rover is typically a supervisor who can make sure the interior security patrols stay fresh and alert.

In support of this three-tier system, we leverage a 24-hour dispatch system, which documents every conversation. Clients need this level of transparency if they have to produce an exact sequence of events due to a legal issue. And we use a communications strategy resembling that of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management & Communications.

Security Training Powers Emergency Response to Minimize Disruption

But all this wouldn’t mean much without best-in-class training. Our security workers practice their emergency response to escalating threats to field technicians or critical infrastructure. Our officers receive much more training than the state requires. In fact, we’ve established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the AGB Institute, to validate and certify our security guard services. Our goal is to launch a business that prepares not only our staff but also our clients. Meanwhile, with the realities of COVID, we’ve invested in a Learning Management System that allows us to offer virtual training.

In the final analysis, people are the critical factor that protects utility infrastructure. Our proprietary system was developed to address the specific needs of the utility industry. This model has proved effective in eliminating crime against utility workers in high-risk areas.

Arba L. Houlden Jr. is AGB’s Executive Vice President of IT and Business Development