Business News/ Opinion / Reform corporate security

Though the events of 26/11 may have changed the way we approach corporate security, there is still a long way to go in terms of security preparedness. In India, perceptions about corporate security have often been defined by presuppositions and a certain predictability that can be precarious. For instance, when you visit a movie theatre with a female companion, you are subjected to frisking at the entrance—whereas your friend, who has to merely show her handbag, escapes scrutiny, at times because of a paucity of female security guards. It is also presupposed that a woman presents a reduced degree of physical threat. Such ideas can be misplaced, especially as the most prominent suicide attack on a VIP in independent India involved a female suicide bomber. Such predictability in drills encourages sloth and leaves the security system vulnerable to being surprised by the innovativeness of terrorists, putting thousands of lives at risk each day.

Organizations, at times, tend to focus on immediate relief without caring to diagnose the underlying risks, fault lines and practices involved. Such a tendency results in an emphasis on more visible elements of security—such as manpower, gadgets and surveillance devices—irrespective of whether they reduce risk. Besides having specialized security organs, growing recovery systems organically by training in-house employees helps reduce uncertainties and increases speed in recovery. For instance, a US law firm Sidley, Austin, Brown and Wood Llp. (SABW) had 600 employees at the erstwhile World Trade Center (WTC). When 9/11 occurred, each took out his copy of the evacuation plan and followed the instructions. Barring one, all survived that day.

It is estimated that 70% of businesses fail at the first crisis-handling rehearsals due to unfamiliarity with procedures. When WTC was attacked in 1993, Morgan Stanley took 4 hours to evacuate 800 employees. The company decided to rehash its drills and disaster management plan. Eight years later, when planes struck WTC, Morgan Stanley was ready. Around 3,800 of its employees—barring 10—were evacuated within a mere 45 minutes. In the 20 minutes between the first and second plane strikes, the company had implemented its evacuation plan as people had been trained about their actions during a disaster. Before the second plane hit, most of the employees had left the higher floors and evacuated the building. In a short time, they even set up an alternative command facility to direct rescue operations.

Innovative measures help scale up security and reduce costs. At Russia’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, a Turkish hound bred with a jackal was found to be a more effective sniffer dog. The authorities broke from the tradition of using high-cost sniffer dogs and, instead, capitalized on the fact that a jackal’s olfactory sense was four times stronger than a dog’s. Unsurprisingly, the large number of low-cost hybrids facilitated wider security deployment.

In India, at a counter-terrorism school in Chhattisgarh, Brigadier (retd) B.K. Ponwar picked up four stray puppies from the streets and trained them with high-breed dogs such as Labradors and German Shepherds. After a gruelling training course of nine months, he found that the street dogs were as good at detecting explosives as the pedigreed ones. Since pedigreed dogs cost Rs1 lakh each, training more street dogs helped combine low costs with high efficiency.

The street dogs of Chhattisgarh and jackal hounds of Sheremetyevo prove that innovations help scale up security while reducing costs. The cases of Morgan Stanley and SABW suggest that firms which prepare for unlikely scenarios stand to gain. What Morgan Stanley did between 1993 and 2001 saved lives, which was priceless. What firms do to better manage their security processes today will decide which way they go in a disaster or an attack such as 9/11, 7/11 or 26/11.

Probal DasGupta is a crisis and security management specialist. Comments are welcome at

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Updated: 26 Jul 2009, 09:25 PM IST
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