Recently, a parking company auditor in the Charlotte, North Carolina (US) metro area was assaulted, as was reported here, in the LinkedIn “Parking Professionals” group page. Fortunately, the auditor was not injured. Her manager was concerned enough to reach out to the LinkedIn group for advice on how better to protect audit employees sent into the field to conduct on-site surveys of operations.
Supporting line managers in mobility-related professions like parking is our core mission at the H2H2H Foundation. This incident motivated us to make some practical suggestions for protecting auditors.
Why Bother to Audit?
Many mobility management organizations are tasked to collect and safeguard revenues, especially cash. To that end, many managers dispatch auditors or surveyors to conduct on-site reviews of the operations of their facilities. These reviews are critical to the financial success of operations such as parking facilities, toll plazas and ferry entries.
Audits provide assurance to stakeholders that all reasonable efforts are being made to protect revenues. Establishing an audit routine communicates to employees that they are being held accountable and that management is focused on operational results.
The annual return on investment (ROI) for an audit program is often two to three times salaries and benefits (200-300%). In fact, a 100% ROI is a benchmark used by some organizations.
Auditors must be highly trained and well-prepared for this fieldwork. This is certainly true of their core mission of ensuring revenue integrity. However, auditors must also be street-smart in ensuring their own safety and security in the field while conducting audits. Mobility managers should be concerned about training auditors for this task. But they should be even more concerned about taking additional steps to minimize known – and unknown – risks to their auditors.
Recommendations for Protecting Auditors
Here are a few comments and suggestions to help you maximize the security of your auditors and minimize risk to their persons:
* Protect your auditors and your bottom line. Mobility managers are wise to consider additional protective measures beyond simply training auditors and sending them out into the street. One major “incident” risks the life and health of the employee. Remember, too, the liability risk and legal repercussions to an incident would no doubt be costly.
* Conduct audits in teams of two whenever possible. Attacks and holdups can occur night or day; there is security in numbers. For example, if you are doing a “shakedown” audit, one auditor can be focused on the cash and tickets in the booth while the other one watches everyone’s back. Another benefit: two sets of eyes pick up more detail about what’s going on in the facility.
* Two can audit faster than one. Audit “teams” of two might seem to double your cost of conducting the audit, but this can be partially offset by the speed of conducting the audits. Most audits pay for themselves, so if your team can conduct more audits, there will be more recovery and savings. Remember also the “Lifetime Value of a Thief”. Discharging a employee who is stealing now “recovers” all the future ill-gotten gains of that thief; this is an additional payback on your investment in auditing.
* Bring “Muscle”. In particularly bad areas, consider a security escort – guard services and even off-duty cops are usually not outrageously expensive and you can often dial back your “team” to one auditor plus security.
* Find surveillance “nooks”. Perhaps there is an office tower, hotel or another parking garage that overlooks the subject property. Or, perhaps you can park at a distance and observe happenings in the facility. From the safe vantage point of line of sight or overhead view, you can count the cars and track the activity on the lot over time. Make sure you have the permission of the property owner to conduct surveillance; building security will likely have objections to “suspicious characters” loitering near the windows and using binoculars and cameras.
* Audit by video/audio. An IP camera, linked via the local cell carrier’s high-speed broadband network, can provide a video feed that can be monitored or recorded for later review. Having a camera deters theft and confers some security on the attendant. If the camera is not actively monitored 24/7 in real time, however, it is likely you would need to disclaim active monitoring so there is no legal “expectation” of instant response in case of emergency.
* Upgrade the revenue control system to reduce the number of audits required. Limit the attendant’s options to process a transaction and open the gate. Tighten control over the allowed actions remaining. Going cashless removes the temptation of cash. If the customer must interface with a credit/debit solution and cashier can’t open the gate without creating an exception report of some kind, the need for onsite audits is reduced. At this point, a “drive-by” audit can be conducted. In a drive-by audit, the auditor is just checking to see if controls are in place and to verify the attendant has not bypassed the control system by, for example, removing the gate arm.
* Consider remote facility management. With no attendant, the risks of on-site theft is reduced. While the start-up costs can be significant, once a system is online the incremental costs to add locations is minimal.
* Add to the auditor’s personal self-defense arsenal. In the Charlotte case, the manager, David Couture, is considering a number of self-defense measures. “Coming from a police background,” he said on the Parking Professionals Facebook page, “my first thoughts on a corrective measure for after hours operations are:
- Handheld radios with a panic button;
- Hourly check ins with manager and or call center;
- Advising call center or manager when auditing a new location e.g. Call Sign (so name doesn’t go over radio) and location;
- ‘Under duress’ code words to pass on, and
- Body cams”
After further consideration, Couture reported on the Parking Professionals page that he will be implementing the handheld radios with panic buttons and body cams first.
* Ask your auditors for their suggestions regarding their safety and security. Listen to their ideas and implement if feasible. It is their lives at risk; they may have some novel ideas on how you can help them protect themselves. A side benefit here is in enhancing organization morale. You always want to communicate to your employees that you care about them (hopefully you do).
As an audit program begins to pay off, it’s always good to keep your success in perspective. The safety and security of your auditor-employees must always outweigh the safety and security of your revenues.
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