The emergency closure of the M2 motorway between the Crown Interchange and Maritzburg Street earlier this year posed an unprecedented issue for Absa – an increased security risk for clients and staff.
To combat this, the bank has launched a major new safety initiative to not only protect its staff, but also to try to make Johannesburg CBD safer.
The M2 motorway was closed at the end of February, which effectively turned all main roads that lead into the CBD into “the new M2”, said Riaan Crafford, Absa’s head of physical security and violent crime investigations.
“Before the M2 road closure, we had 22 security officers standing on what we call Safe Corridors – safe routes within the city. Right now, we are posting 180 security officers per day,” he said.
“Deployment has changed because the risk profile has changed, and the safety of our staff is paramount.”
Crafford said that the M2 road closure facilitated conversations between all relevant parties including Absa, participating banks, the JMPD and the City of Joburg. “These parties pulled together to create what they call the Forum for Integrated Risk Management (FIRM),” he said.
“There are close to 500 cameras in the CBD, which are being monitored from a centralised point, as well as visible and undercover metro officers.”
“There is going to be a huge presence in the CBD. 1,500 traffic wardens are undergoing training, 700 of whom will be dedicated to the CBD alone and very soon you will start seeing security officers and wardens stationed with yellow bibs, regardless of affiliation, many of whom will be along our Safe Corridors,” Crafford said.
“In addition to the security officers, Absa also provides shuttle and vehicle escort services for staff and clients to and from their premises until 21:00 in the evening.”
Crafford said that Absa is also using new technology to aid in the fight against crime – including drones.
“We are in very advanced drone technology discussions,” he said.
“There is a lot of regulation around it, but we have identified a vendor that actually spear-headed the anti-rhino poaching drone initiative in the Kruger National Park. If all goes well, we will be the first city in the world to deploy and make use of drones in this way: flying in a CBD area and monitoring the grid.”
Crafford said that Absa would use the drones to compliment the static cameras on the street.
“We would like to have drones flying routes that talk to mobile units on the ground. The challenge is not only the red tape and regulations that need to be managed, but also the matter of mapping out the most effective routes.”
Absa is working with law enforcement to make this initiative a reality.
“We’ve encouraged them to run the initiative. This allows for the drone to be considered as a police chopper and will allow for the project to continue long after the M2 reopens.
“We’re in the final stages of having this approved and getting started with proof of concept. So, if we do this here and it works, we can make use of this technology in other South African CBDs.”
Absa’s Operational Risk Management Centre is also home to an operations room which has a complete line of sight on the location of every active security officer, while providing direct access to ‘interactive surveillance jackets’ – or body-cams.
The jackets enable a security officer to take snapshots and come fitted with panic buttons that provide an instant live feed of what they are seeing along with an alert to the risk centree in the event of an emergency.
Plans to continue after M2 reopening?
With the M2 expected to re-open in October, it raises the question of whether the project will continue, thereafter.
“I think it will, but perhaps not on the current scale,” Crafford said. “But we’re making all the right noises and there’s been a lot of urgency from the MEC down.”
He said that Absa will also have to look at operational requirements with its Towers Main project is scheduled to open in 2020.
“We need to ensure a large presence. Besides the 180 security officers on our safe corridors, we’ve also got 160 security officers on the campus,” Crafford said.
According to Absa, an increased presence of security in the CBD has led to a measurable decrease in crime-related incidents.