Friday, May 14, 2010

NY plot shows need for vigilance and practice

HEADLINE: NY plot shows need for vigilance and practice
SUMMARY: Despite progress in the preparedness of public emergency responders in terrorist targets like New York and London, the private sector has had a mixed record in updating its procedures and preparing staff for crises, notably in instilling a rigorous culture of office security drills, experts say. "People would be mortified to learn that there are companies -- a very small number, including major corporations -- out there who simply have not responded to the new security requirements," said Hagai Segal, a security expert and lecturer at New York University's London branch, adding that such firms tend to lack commitment to test exercises and procedures, and perceived security and business continuity as a cost rather than a benefit.
ANALYSIS: Our biggest flaw as Americans is complacency. Most of Europe and the Middle East have been on high alert since the days of the IRA, PLO and other smaller, but no less lethal, organizations. Our situational awareness, response times and plans have improved since 9/11. However, these efforts are being compromised because of the many financial emergencies across the nation.
Practicing and training requires a significant amount of money and resources. FEMA has dramatically reduced its large-scale training programs because of budget issues. Companies frown upon “losing’’ the productivity time from their workers who participate in training and drills. When they do conduct drills, we find that they are more often than not just to meet the basic requirements or regulatory mandates. The fact is, most of these drills aren’t challenging and are rarely allocated the resources needed to make for a true learning experience and you don’t have time for on-the-job training during an emergency.
Firestorm finds that about 70 percent of employees do not know what to do during an emergency. A recent study showed an overwhelming lack of confidence by students and faculty that their universities are equipped to handle a crisis. Why? It is the lack of training. Training and drills develop skills and confidence of everyone involved.
More shareholders and employees need to apply pressure to the C-level management and board members to be more vigilant about being prepared. Training does not always have to be focused on a big terrorism event, but on the more common events such as fire, workplace violence, communicable illness and severe weather. It is far easier to adjust a plan than to make one up on the fly.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Corporate security - Large U.S. companies allocate less money to executive security

HEADLINE: Large U.S. companies allocate less money to executive security
SUMMARY: The economic crisis has corporate boards examining executive perks for ways to cut costs. One expense that several U.S. corporations have reduced since 2008 is personal security for top executives, research reveals, despite the opposite trend for international companies, which face a greater threat for executive kidnapping.
ANALYSIS: While their corporate security budgets have been reduced or eliminated, the threats facing executives are not decreasing. Once again the recent event of attempted terrorism this week in Times Square has illustrated how lucky we have been since 9/11/01. Another “Kramer Jihadist” was foiled by his lack of training or experience in bomb-making. The Mexican border situation does not seem to have peaked yet and shows no signs of any end in the near future. Workplace violence and its potential carryover to home justify a self awareness for executives that it is a dangerous world.
Executives need to be their own advocates and need to be better informed and more hands-on than before. Your own preparation and mindset are a big component to preventing and surviving an attack. From a corporate loss perspective, violence against an executive can impact shareholder confidence, company value, public relation challenge, ability to attract new executives, and more.
Some pointers to stay safe:
·         Be careful of that GPS system in your car. All your personal stops can be copied off your GPS while you are at that special event for an hour or two. When kidnappers/attackers know the location of your home, children’s school, the office, the gym, your favorite watering hole, etc., they can act when you are most vulnerable. Most attacks happen extremely close to home or the office.
·         Kidnappers/attackers don’t just show up and decide to act randomly. They plan and plan. While they are planning is when you need to be observant of your surroundings. Just making prolonged eye contact and pretending to take a digital picture of a person of interest can be enough for them to pick a softer target.
·         Develop a situational awareness mindset: Have a security audit performed of your home, the landscaping around the home and immediate vicinity; conduct a personal and professional threat assessment; conduct a vulnerability assessment; have a plan in place for your home and your office and share your daily plans with your assistant; attend training courses; ask HR about conducting background checks according to your threat and vulnerability analysis.
·         Choose a high quality, reputable company to assist you (make sure they specialize in executive protection). Good security is seldom obvious and rarely defeated.
·         Mix up your work schedule, changing your departure and arrival times and routes a few times a week. When stopped in traffic or a light, make sure you can see the bottom of the tires of the car in front of you. That distance generally allows you enough room to cut the wheel and get out of that traffic lane.
·         Take a professional level evasive driving course (most abductions happen around the car). Learn to use your car to your advantage and know how to reduce your vulnerability.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Travel Security - Drug violence scares off tourists to Mexico

HEADLINE: Drug violence scares off tourists to Mexico
SUMMARY: Despite the bulk of drug-related violence being far removed from Mexico’s tourist destinations, fear is driving away visitors and threatening a crucial industry, already battered by last year's swine flu outbreak. Gory news reports of daily shootouts between drug cartel hit men are fueling concerns that Mexico is increasingly unsafe, even if most of the violence is along the U.S. border, far from top tourist areas. The number of international tourists flying into the Pacific beach resort of Acapulco fell by almost a quarter in the first three months of this year. The U.S. State Department has warned against nonessential travel along the U.S.-Mexico border, especially in the violent cities of Ciudad Juarez and in Tijuana, where hotel occupancy rates have dropped to around 30 percent.
ANALYSIS: The accounts of drug-related skirmishes and violent acts in Mexico are regular spots in the news. What is not typically reported is that the majority of these acts occur in a ribbon along the northern border with the U.S., and for the majority of Mexicans, life is pretty much status quo.
Hotels and other tourist-dependent businesses report significant declines in revenue and traffic. These reports vary widely with each business and destination. A significant percentage of the drop in Mexico’s tourist economy can also be attributed to the slumping U.S. economy and the H1N1 flu outbreak.
The liaise-faire attitude of American tourists partying in Mexico has shifted to a more guarded mindset. The precautions needed now to vacation in Mexico should be similar to visiting any U.S. city that has pockets of high crime. Tourists account for a very small percentage of victims in these conflicts. When you are
booking a destination, it is important to pick a location away from the known hot spots as you would in the U.S. Like being in an unfamiliar city, you should travel in numbers, keep to the main streets and exercise additional caution venturing out at night. Before you select a hotel, pick an established company that has and wants to keep a positive reputation. Contact them directly and ask questions about their security measures, private security guards and medical facilities.
Business travelers need to take additional precautions as they could be viewed as a potential kidnapping victim or a target of opportunity. The risk of kidnapping is a very real problem and adequate procedures need to be in place. Companies need to have plans in place for their employees and visitors. Kidnappers want money, not the person. Kidnapping procedures need to be rehearsed and individuals need to be trained. Contracting with executive protection professionals is a huge step in prevention. Hiring reputable U.S. companies with experience in Mexico is a logical choice. If you engage with a Mexican-based security company, U.S. laws and regulations
will be worth little.
Many financial institutions provide this coverage for key employees. The loss of key personnel can be just as devastating to a company as a natural disaster, catastrophic fire or large criminal activity. Companies that operate in Mexico, have a supply chain linked to Mexico or employees working near the hot spots of the
border region, need very detailed business continuity plans and training to address the various threats and vulnerabilities that come with operating there.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Homeland security

HEADLINE: Why no subway is safe from terror attacks
SUMMARY: The suicide bombing of Moscow's subway this week highlights a potential danger that millions of people face on a daily basis on mass transportation systems. Security experts say little can be done to prevent future attacks without disrupting the infrastructures of the world's major cities. "Subway attacks are ideal for a terrorist," Will Geddes, CEO of International Corporate Protection, told CNN. "They are bringing the whole city to a halt and they not only create the disruption on that particular day but they create a greater residue of fear, which is their main aim.’’
ANALYSIS: Today, Americans understand the risks associated with a free society and overall have been cooperative with increasingly invasive security measures for air travel. For years, the public transportation systems of European, Middle Eastern and Asian countries have been easy prey for terrorists. Why? The heart of terrorism targets innocent, regular citizens going about their daily lives.
Subways afford a higher degree of terror compared to above-ground modes of transportation. When a bus or above-ground railway is bombed, the responders have an easier time gaining access to the scene, traffic can be rerouted and the bomb blast is allowed to expand in open air, which dissipates the shock wave faster compared to a constricted environment like a subway.
This week, the agency that operates New York City’s massive subway and train network, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) publicly announced that half of the cameras within the subway are inoperable for a variety of reasons. Here we are, eight-plus years after the attacks of 9/11 and we still do not have a fully operational surveillance system in NYC.
New York City has a very good response team and does conduct drills on a regular basis. The problem is all of these resources are designed for AFTER an attack occurs. More resources need to focus on the PREVENTION of an attack in the form of Preaction™ planning.  
WPIX News in NYC toured some subway stations with MTA board member Andrew Albert to look at some of the areas of concern. Mr. Albert was very candid and forthright about the shortcomings of the MTA’s security system. He made the following statements addressing the camera and security measures in place on the subway:
·         "It's here but we don't know if they are working or if they are even watching us in real time (referring to the security cameras overhead at the time).’’
·         "So, we are pretty much alone. You have plenty of subway riders but you are alone when it comes to security."
·         "Is anyone watching? Yeah, the terrorists, the criminals, the people that prey upon us ... they are watching."
These are not reassuring statements. In the latest Terrorism Literature Report dated March 1, the experts are clear that Al-Qaeda and its satellite operations (in the U.S. and abroad) are still very focused on another U.S. attack, desperate for a U.S. victory to maintain credibility amongst terrorist groups. Aside from AQ, what about the typical street predators that includes individual felons, gang activities, etc.? Our vulnerabilities are increasing as governments grapple with reduced budgets. The resources to prevent and respond to emergencies are diminishing. Citizens need to be more vigilant and self-reliant than ever.
Having a Culture of Preparedness requires personal, family and community planning. You can start by going to and downloading Disaster Ready people for a Disaster Ready America for free.
HEADLINE: Rancher's murder fuels firestorm
SUMMARY: The unsolved murder of a southern Arizona cattle rancher erupted as a new flashpoint in the debate over illegal immigration, with conservative media and politicians demanding increased border security. Cochise County detectives have no information on the lone gunman who shot 58-year-old Robert Krentz, not even a nationality. More than half of all undocumented immigrants arrested along the border last year were caught in the Tucson Sector, which covers most of southern Arizona. A Border Patrol spokesman said he was not aware of any U.S. citizen being murdered by illegal immigrants in that sector for more than a decade.
ANALYSIS: Trying to address the situation in Mexico will make the peace process in the Middle East seem simple. For years, Border States have been warning of this building powder keg to the deaf ears of Washington. The genie is about to come out of the bottle and he is angry.
The Homeland Security Newswire recently reported that it is not uncommon to have a dozen homicides in a night in Juarez, which once was a highly desired location for American companies taking advantage of NAFTA. Since then, these companies are turning into high-security compounds, which are eroding the profit margins they sought moving south of the border. Car-pooling, operating cash-free locations, high security fences, kidnapping training and personal defense topics are the rule of the day now. The Mexican police are reluctant to report murders and kidnappings because these incidents will further drive away tourism and much-needed American commerce.
This past month alone, we have had the senseless murder of this rancher, three U.S. consulate employees murdered, factories being robbed and now the cartels are putting bounties on school children so the parents will pay a fee to spare their children’s lives.
The current methods and policies of the “drug war’’ are not working the way they were intended to and need to be reviewed. Removing the prohibition -- and thus the high profit -- from the drug trade will have immediate impacts, reducing the amount of money available to buy weapons, politicians and public sympathy. DHS announced that they are spending $742 million to “launch’’ security improvements at the ports of U.S. entry (by government standards that could take years to start and perhaps decades to be completed). But how much money has already been spent since the 1980s when the war on drugs was declared? What has been our return on investment? We really need to rethink our strategies. Improving entry points is a great start but is not the end-all solution it is being painted to be.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Officials: Texas plane crash targeted feds

SUMMARY: A Texas businessman upset with the Internal Revenue Service deliberately crashed his private plane into a multistory office building that houses federal tax employees, authorities said. The pilot was presumed to have died in the crash though his body had not been recovered. At least two people were seriously injured and a third person — a federal employee who worked in the building — was unaccounted for, fire officials said. Joseph Stack, 53, left a message on his company’s web site railing against the IRS and saying “violence is the only answer.’’
ANALYSIS: Along with the obvious advice to avoid putting your office space in proximity to a potential target such as an IRS facility, this incident put an exclamation point on a week that served to illustrate that you never know when a disaster can strike, or in what form.
This week we have had:
  • Numerous hospitals and other organizations exercising some part of their emergency plans because of the weather. Many never considered a snow plan.
  • Another example of workplace violence (the item below) where lots of signals were missed by the organization and law enforcement.
  • Iran fast tracking a nuclear showdown in the Middle East.
  • Continued hacking, showing our computer network vulnerability.
  • Visa having around 70,000 accounts compromised, which has not made the news yet. I know because I was one of the people hit and found out because I used to work for a bank and my friends inside told me what happened.
  • The Olympics’ opening ceremony being marred by protestors and technical glitches.
All of these events required back-up planning. The question is, who did well, who got burned and who just got lucky because the incident wasn’t more severe or last longer?
--Scott Watkowski, Firestorm franchise principal

Friday, February 5, 2010

HEADLINE: Intelligence officials say al-Qaeda will try to attack U.S. in next 6 months

SUMMARY: The Obama administration's top intelligence officials this week termed the likelihood of an attempted al-Qaeda attack on the United States in the next six months as “certain,’’ and also warned of the increased sophistication and frequency of cyber-attacks from Chinese hackers. "Al-Qaeda maintains its intent to attack the homeland -- preferably with a large-scale operation that would cause mass casualties, harm the U.S. economy or both," said Director of National Intelligence, Dennis C. Blair.
ANALYSIS: The recent headline should not be of any surprise, but more of a reminder that we need to stay vigilant on terror. We also should use this as a reminder of what terrorism can do to businesses. The incident does not have to affect your operation directly. Like many companies, your business disruption can become a business disaster.
Take a moment to consider your vulnerabilities: 85 percent of the country’s infrastructure is in the private sector. You should be asking yourself, is my business continuity plan going to work? Is it up to date?  Does it address the new types of threats? Was the plan ever tested? When was the last time it was read (70 percent of employees do not know what to do in an emergency)? Is anyone in my critical supply chain at high risk? What are their plans? The fact is 55 percent of companies that experience a disaster are out of business within two years.
If terrorists attacked a couple of critical interstate bridges in your area, how would that affect you and your business? What if the Los Angeles and New York City ports got shut down for a couple of months? What if we experience conditions and confusion as in Haiti from a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or fire? Terrorists are looking to attack softer targets that can create economic disruptions and instill fear in the public.
Start 2010 with a review of your security measures and your overall business continuity plans. To do your part helping to thwart terrorism, and instill overall good business practices, consider some of the following points:
·         Identify your critical vendors and ask about their business continuity plans.
·         Develop a crisis communication plan in the event you have a workplace violence incident, lock down, or unexpected closing for days or weeks.
·         Perform a review and look for gaps in all your plans.
·         Update all calling trees and phone directories.
·         Perform daily checks on critical areas and keep a record of these security inspections. Some day you might need them for court. Keep your reports accurate and detailed.
·         Secure all mechanical and utility rooms that contain gas or electrical equipment. Generators make great targets because they typically have large supplies of electricity and a fuel source.
·         Check accessibility to utility feeds on a regular basis. It is a good idea to take digital photographs to verify existing conditions and if need be, to compare them against something in the future.
·         Increase your foot patrols and make your presence known. 
Being prepared and training for terrorist activities helps you review and assess other components of your disaster plans. This planning also helps for other problems that occur with regular familiarity throughout the United States: fire, flooding, earthquakes, workplace violence, armed robberies, etc. Taking Firestorm’s Business Continuity Self-Assessment can help focus energy and your limited budget dollars.
--Scott Watkowski, Firestorm franchise principal

Friday, January 15, 2010

National security - U.S. to further raise airline security, official says

SUMMARY: In response to the information collected from the terrorist responsible for the attempted bombing of an airplane on Christmas and other intelligence gathered from our security agencies, the TSA is increasing airline security. The new regulations are expected to include further in-flight restrictions in passengers’ movement, more random pre-flight screening of passengers and an increase in the number of federal air marshals on flights.
ANALYSIS: These additional measures are designed to better control and observe passengers during flight. As with this recent attempt and the attempt that Richard Reid made, observant fellow passengers were able to thwart these attempts. Good fortune was also a major factor in preventing an in-flight bombing.
As travelers endure more delays, more evasive screening and restricted movement while in flight, it is important to realize that terrorism is a very real and growing threat. Few people realize that the chemical being widely used for explosive devices, called PETN, is widely used in medicine. Lentonitrat, which is used for the treatment of heart disease, is almost pure PETN. Less than three ounces of this chemical was sewn into the undergarments of the failed Christmas Day bomber. This chemical is odorless and is almost impossible to detect with the equipment currently employed at the airport screening areas.
Fortunately, PETN requires a lot of heat to explode and usually the detonation device or the ignition process is identified or fails before the explosion takes place. We may not always be so lucky, as the terrorists keep trying and improving their methods. The TSA did not help matters when they released their Security Procedures by mistake a couple of months ago, which I previously commented on in this forum.
Travelers and individuals in general need to be vigilant to prevent future terrorist attacks. Some tips to help you safeguard yourself, community and fellow travelers:
  • Look for individuals who exhibit apprehension or nervousness as they approach security, or may be wearing too many clothes or not dressed appropriately for the conditions.
  • Report any odd, unexplained odors, which could be a chemical-based explosive or detonation device, or any liquids leaking from containers or unusual stains on packages and luggage.
  • Report anyone in possession of too many batteries, “unique’’ batteries, unexplainable wires or too many matches.
  • Watch for bags that appear too heavy for their size when being handled.
If you see any of these characteristics, contact the authorities. Remember, that in 2009, the U.S. arrested 15 people for serious terrorist activities and almost all of them were U.S. citizens. The game is changing every day and the stakes are getting much higher.