Perception and Security

What is your ultimate sense of security? Machine guns and barbed wire? Or an environment of trust? In the end your perception of how safe you feel is the ultimate measure.

by Pete Ferguson

Several years ago I visited South Asia for the first time. I had been assured by many that the city I was going to was one of the safest cities they had been to because on every street corner were men with machine guns and body armor and that at each of our facilities and hotels were metal detectors and TSA-type security.

I was led to believe my visit was unnecessary and that I’d likely be finished with my assessment within hours.

I ignored the advice and planned several days figuring I could always change my flights and come home early.

Usually with security, the more show up front, the more hidden skeletons in the closet behind the curtain.

I took along a coworker with military experience and connections within the cities we would visit to get a better perspective.

Upon arriving at the airport, my traveling companion quickly pointed out that many of the machine guns were either fake or had no triggers. We were able to strike up a conversation with many of the guards and get them talking. Training was non-existent. Most had never fired a gun or fired once during their training academy. Many of the guns were in fact inoperable or had the barrel welded shut.

We finally found a gun that looked to be able to actually fire but there were no bullets. When we pointed this out to the guard, he smiled and quickly pulled a single bullet from out of his pocket. When asked if this was his personal bullet, he said it was passed from guard-to-guard between shifts. His hands were black from the gun powder and my friend asked if he could examine the bullet to which the guard obliged (we now had his only one …)

The bullet spun easily within its casing and the little remaining gun powder was spilling out.

As we proceeded to each of our facilities, we found that either the metal detectors were non-functional, not plugged in, or that the guards would not challenge us when we did set off a beep.

Of particular hilarity was a hand wand that the officer waved over us. We asked to examine it. It was a piece of wood carved and painted – quite expertly – to mimic a metal detector. At least in this case, the guard had a hand weapon that could do some pretty serious damage.

At other sites we examined multiple times there were no batteries or power supplies even installed on the real metal detectors.

From an American perspective, this seems like a “not in my back yard” kind of problem. Unfortunately in the US I’ve found on multiple occasions that regardless of what security may appear to be on first glance, hold a door open in the facility and get a good book, because no one is going to come and check on it for some time. When we follow up and go to the security office, the alarm may still be blinking on the screen, or the officer will say it never appeared, or they will say they deleted it because there is no manpower to go and check on these things.

Many in the industry will cite this is due to a lack of training. I’ve found the the training manuals in the office, the officers will swear they have read it.

Training is important. But Security is only the end sum of a collective group of action. Security is more than “guards and cards.” Good security only comes about when a culture – cultivated from all levels of the organization – is created and supported at every level.

Unfortunately I’ve seen the same dog-and-pony shows in America. Guards with biceps bigger than my leg, but hold a door open and wait a while, no one is coming.

Security is a management function. If local management does not participate, it is all for show.

Your job as a manager is to spend 80% of your time creating and strengthening relationships with upper management to get their buy in to your job function, and 20% guiding the competent staff you’ve hired to keep raising the bar and looking for creative ways to get stuff done better, faster, smarter, and continually showing how the company’s financial investment is paying off.

While my responsibilities were in Asia, thanks to a very dedicated team, I was able to partner very effectively with management in facilities, legal, government relationship and operations and we were able to move great strides in the right direction. That is one of the things I greatly enjoy about my current company – management at all levels are expected to participate and be involved.

Whether I’ve cleaned toilets, refinished floors, or worked to expand security globally, the principles have been the same. Perception is everything – at first. And then you need to back it up and constantly check for complacency and increase competency on the back end.

The real understanding of your worth comes over a long period of time when you continually prove you are as good as or better than the first impression.


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