Advice for Your Safety in Reaction to COVID-19

As more confirmed cases of COVID-19 are identified, we must be vigilant and work together as Canadians to keep the virus contained and controlled. At this time, factual based information must be separated from personal opinions to avoid misconceptions that could put you and your family at risk. Continue to follow the guidance of the experts, wash your hands thoroughly for at least twenty seconds, don’t touch your face, stay home if as much as you can, don’t buy more than you need from the store and check-in on those close to you that may be vulnerable and need assistance.

Since we consider our clients and their families as if they were our own, we’ve sought expert advisory to address the current state of emergency and provide valuable insights and advice.

Andrew Kirsch (Avante Security expert)
Meet Andrew Kirsch, Avante’s Security Expert

Andrew Kirsch served as an Intelligence Officer with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) for 10 years. He spent 4 years in the special operations security department leading cross functional technical and physical covert teams in the execution of warranted clandestine operations. After leaving CSIS, Andrew was a founding member and first ever Department Security Officer (DSO) in the Ontario Office of the Provincial Security Advisor with a mandate to enhance physical, personnel, information and network security across the Ontario Public Service.

Since then, Andrew established Kirsch Consulting Group to help high-net-worth and high-profile individuals facilitate safe and secure operations by designing effective holistic security programs and strategic risk mitigation solutions. We are fortunate to have Andrew as a resource to help us and our clients get through these times of insecurity with peace of mind.

Q&A with Security Expert Andrew Kirsch

1. How does the current COVID-19 pandemic compare to past crisis’s?

“These are exceptional times we are living in. I remember SARS and H1N1. This feels different. I don’t recall the same worldwide mobilization of resources or intense restrictions on our individual movements. We are all being asked to play a critical role to help stop the spread of this virus. I am confident we will rise to the challenge, but I also recognize that this could take some time. Our day-to-day lives have been and will continue to be impacted in a far more significant way with COVID-19. We are all acutely aware of our vulnerabilities from a health standpoint however we should also be aware that the rapid and drastic changes in our daily lives are creating new security risks and vulnerabilities that we have not previously had to consider. “


2. Since this is a time of uncertainty, to help everyone assess their current risks and vulnerabilities what advice can you give to the public?

1) Be Vigilant:

“Sadly, there are already reports of online and door to door scams taking advantage of our fear and the amount of uncertainty in the world. Be cautious of what news sources you are reading and links you click, be wary of anyone coming door to door to try to sell you something or purporting to be from a government or official agency. Criminals will attempt to pray on our insecurities. Please reach out to your trusted security partners like Avante if you have any questions.”

2) Assess Your New Operations:

“As our daily lives change, so will our security needs. The virus has caused great restrictions of our physical movements including working from home, social isolation, and in some cases self-quarantine. Are you equipped to carry out these new operations safely and securely? Is your home Wi-Fi secure? Are you using a secure VPN? Will you be handling, transmitting or storing commercially or personally sensitive information in your home office and are you equipped to do so? There are ways to mitigate the security vulnerabilities that come from working remotely, take some time to review if there are any you should be putting in place.”

3) Have A Plan:

“The spread of this virus and our collective response is putting great pressure on our business’s and personal life. It’s time to think about your own continuity and contingency plans. How are you staying connected to those close to you? What do you need to operate? Who is counting on you and who are you counting on? This is not intended to be alarmist. It is simply a suggestion to ensure that you have a plan to communicate regularly with those closest to you and a fall-back plan should you or someone close to you need to be further quarantined or isolated. And if those plans change. Make a new plan.”


3. What do you think will be the largest challenge as we get through this crisis?

“The world is moving very fast. As I give this advice, I am conscious that there is a chance it could be outdated in a matter of hours not days. We are all doing our best to get used to our new reality. At the same time, we need to be conscious of things we are leaving behind as we practice social distance and put parts of our lives on hold. Is your office secure? Cottage? Store? Do you have day and/or evening security? Is mail piling up? Are valuable items or information locked away and out of view? Take a moment to consider those places and things you may not have access to for a while. You want to ensure that you have left them in a secure state and that there is some ongoing monitoring occurring to ensure that it stays that way.

There is so much we don’t know. It’s important in times of turmoil and uncertainty to rely on basic security principles, be vigilant, constantly review your operations and assess if you have appropriate security in place, have a plan and if things change make a new plan. We are all in this together. I hope my notes can provide some practical advice to get us through these challenging times. As part of the Avante Security team, we are here to help.”


4. How has your experience in security prepared you for a crisis like this?

“I think the most important thing to remember in a crisis like this is that things are going to happen that we don’t expect. We should have clear objectives and make plans on how to achieve them, but we have to do our best to stay calm, be flexible, reassess, make changes and ask for help if we need it.

I realize these are uneasy times and this is a serious subject but let me make this next point with a lighter story from my first day in training for the special operations team at CSIS. This is where I learned how to break into houses, cars, etc.

I remember very clearly the first briefing we had. The head trainer was a grizzled veteran of hundreds of clandestine missions. I recall his words vividly: “We will not be messing around with you guys on this course. We will not be creating any arbitrary or artificial obstacles, tricks, traps, nothing. Real life has a way of getting in the way. When that happens, we don’t want you to think that we did it. We trust things will get plenty screwed up on their own without us.” It didn’t take long for him to be proven right.

It happened on our very first training attempt at a covert entry into a condo unit. We had spent days putting together the perfect plan. We had practiced and drilled until we could do it in our sleep. The night of the exercise we were ready.  The door to the car opened and we jumped out. There was a small paved path from the parking lot to the front door. It was maybe 20 feet long. It wasn’t wide enough for two people so rather than go single file that night one of our team members decided to approach the building just off the path on the surrounding grass. And wouldn’t you know it, he happened to step in a huge pile of dog poo. The trainers could not have done that to us if they’d tried.  If he stepped a couple of inches in either direction, he would have missed it. But he didn’t. He stepped right in it.  You can’t sneak into an apartment smelling of dog poo. Especially when nobody is supposed to know you were there. Our team quickly retreated back to the car. We tweaked the plan and tried again, minus one sneaker.

We are living in unprecedented times. We are doing the best we can in circumstances we’ve never encountered. We can do everything we can think of to prepare for all hazards in this crisis, but obstacles and challenges will come up. We may need to adjust and take a different route to get to our objective, but that’s okay. Dog poop happens. Plans change. Don’t get discouraged. Keep going.”


5. What advice can you give to our clients and others in our communities?

Advice number one is obviously practice social distancing and listen to the health experts. We are all reliant on each other to help stop the spread of this virus.

From a security perspective I think it’s helpful to start at the basics. While we have some time at home over the next several weeks it’s a good opportunity to prioritize your assets. I don’t mean count your things or rank their value against each other, what I mean is really take a moment to consider what you have that has value to you and what are those things that you would like to protect or keep private. This can be physical monetarily valuable assets like luxury items but also irreplaceable or sentimental family items. Also consider hard copy or digital sensitive information. This can be personal or commercially sensitive. Things like bank statements, social insurance numbers, and business contracts. Even that piece of paper or word document on your desktop where you keep all your internet passwords. More broadly you can consider your reputation as an asset you may wish to protect.  This is a personal exercise for everyone.

The starting point to think about security is having a very good understanding of what you have that is of value to you and what you would like to make sure stays safe, secure and confidential. The next steps will be to assess vulnerabilities and threats to those assets and finally review if you have appropriate safeguards in place to protect them.

I am absolutely available to provide individual risk assessments to clients that are interested. You can contact Avante directly and we can coordinate an assessment and specific recommendations.”

6. How do you think Avante can best support our clients and communities during this time?

This experience has been so unique. We’ve never before had to rely on each other in this way.

There will be a lot of unsung heroes when this is all said and done. The people that stock the shelves at the overwhelmed pharmacies and supermarkets, the janitors and cleaners working hard to keep businesses sterile, delivery people and public servants implementing and processing all of these new programs to keep the economy afloat. I believe included in this list will be many members of the security industry; the responders, the technicians, the operations centre operators watching over us.

Avante’s clients and the community will be relying on you. We will need your professionalism, training, and dedicated staff now more than ever. It’s for times like these that we invest in our security and your clients should take comfort to know that you are there for them. Continue to communicate with your clients on the steps you are taking to meet the challenges. Be open to your clients concerns and make plans with them as their security needs change. And as the situation evolves, continue to remind them through your service that they have a security partner that is there for them and has their back. I know you are up to the challenge.

To summarize, there is still so much we don’t know and I don’t want to make predictions, so to deal with any challenge that comes our way,  it’s important to be vigilant, constantly review your operations and assess if you have appropriate security in place, have a plan and if things change as they inevitably will just make a new plan. We are all in this together. I hope my notes can provide some practical advice to get us through these challenging times. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to myself and the Avante security team. We are here to help.

At this time, we’d like to make the public aware that we have taken measures to protect our clients and staff. We are also closely following the recommendations made by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Provincial Government.

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