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by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, June 4, 2009

I know I've said it a million times, but it's because I hear it all the time: Security is everyone's responsibility.

I just read this article from CNN about four students who have been taken into custody for allegedly touting a toy gun around Princeton's campus. In this day and age, when school shootings are frighteningly common, no one should be waving around fake guns on a college campus. It's stupid and frankly, it's a good way to get shot. I attended an active shooting seminar several months ago and know that security personnel are trained to stop a shooter and might not have time to decipher between a paintball rifle or a toy gun and a real weapon. Because of the incident campus security briefly asked Princeton students to remain indoors.

Another interesting side note from this article was this sentence (thanks to my colleague for pointing this out):

However, four juveniles with a toy gun were taken into custody, New Jersey State Police said on the Web site Twitter.

Are there a lot of police departments out there using Twitter? Talk about a good use of social media. During a crisis a department might not have time to issue a formal statement or hold a press conference, but they probably have time for someone to post 140 characters on Twitter. It keeps the media and public abreast of the situation, but isn't mistaken as a formal statement. Interesting, wouldn't you say?

by: Whit Richardson - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I've been following the case regarding an accusation that campus security guards used excessive force on students during an altercation that was caught on video (see my past blog with the video footage here). According to this article, a district attorney has filed charges against the three Colby College students with counts of assault, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.

An independent investigation found that "virtually everyone involved could have conducted themselves better." And while the students involved have accused the officers of misconduct, no formal charges have been brought against the officers involved.

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, May 28, 2009

The University of California, Irvine experienced a scare last week when a student reported seeing a man dressed in camouflage carrying what appeared to be a rifle near campus. According to this article, after security sent a mass notification message out to the student body, several other students confirmed seeing a person matching that description and carrying a gun.

As it turns out, the man was carrying a paintball rifle and headed out to the range to shoot with some friends, which, in this post-Virginia Tech time, is really pretty stupid. Frankly, I'm not familiar enough with guns to know the difference and if I saw someone walking around in camo carrying a gun I'd get real freaked out, too.

The university didn't go into lock down or issue an evacuation, but did ask students and staff to stay inside. And while this fortunately turned out to be a false alarm, I think there was more than enough reason for the university to take these steps. After all, better safe than sorry. Plus, it never hurts to test these emergency notification systems.

by: Whit Richardson - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good to be back after the extended holiday weekend. I picked up this press release from the Department of Homeland Security about the signing of an agreement between the United States and Canada to make permanent a joint law enforcement team along the international maritime border.

The team, called Shiprider, utilizes vessels, manpower and resources from the Royal Canadian Mount Police and U.S. Coast Guard. Shiprider will "combat smuggling, organized drug crime, gun trade and other criminal activity in shared waterways," said Peter Van Loan, Canadian Minister of Public Safety, in the release.

I'll admit, I don't love the name. 'Shiprider' makes me think of the Sea Shepherds, an organization that goes around saving whales (which apparently has a new show called Whale Wars, by the way), and I feel like there needs to be some lengthy acronym to make this partnership sound more official. But, of course, the concept of a unified international security force to protect our borders is a critical component to our national security (and international security overall). And while this partnership isn't a new one, a formal agreement between the two nations is a step in the right direction. Next up: Mexico.

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, May 21, 2009

We're having some incredible weather here in Maine (it's suppose to reach 90 degrees today, which is pretty much as hot as it gets here, even in the height of summer) and because my company values quality of life, our CEO has decided the office will be closed on Friday due to nice weather. Take that Fortune Magazine!

But because of the (extra) long weekend, I want to make sure to leave you with some extra security material to get you through all that family time.

According to an article in USA Today, the TSA is considering pulling the plug on the 'puffer machines' at airports. Apparently, they aren't reliable in airport environments. If you're unfamiliar with this technology, basically it shoots (or 'puffs') air on passengers to dislodge particles and then sucks those particles back in to determine if there are any explosive materials. Again, I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing this technology at any airports, but apparently 94 were installed in 37 airports around the country. The TSA purchased a total of 207 puffers for $30 million in 2004 (the 113 not in airports have been in storage). Since their installation, USA Today reports that the TSA has spent $6.2 million on maintenance and says that dirt and humidity are the cause of the breakdowns. The TSA has already removed 60 machines and will pull the rest, but at $160,000 each, that's a fairly big boo-boo.

On a more local note, there's been some fairly big security news in Portland, Maine. A school resource officer at our largest high school here was doing his morning rounds when he spotted a man in a car across the street loading a 7 mm Remington rifle. Apparently the man was planning to shoot some folks at his AA meeting in the basement of a nearby church and was not planning to enter the school, but the school resource officer approached him, told him to put the gun down and called the police. My colleague, Dan Gelinas, who works at our sister publication, Security Systems News, had a good point that this crime wouldn't have been prevented had the school simply had cameras in place. When I talk to security professionals in educational settings, that is the one thing they emphasize: There's no replacing people. Whether it's to detect suspicious behavior like in this example, or to simply establish a positive authoritative relationship with students, people are a very important element in school security.

And, on that light, positive security note, I hope you all enjoy the long weekend and the official start to the summer.

by: Whit Richardson - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There has been increased criticism recently about the TSA's use of whole-body imaging machines that take, what critics call, a "naked" picture of air travelers. This isn't a new issue (I've blogged about it before) and there has been legislation introduced to try to ban it, but CNN reports in its cover article today that a national campaign has been launched demanding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suspend use of the machines. The campaign is being led by a privacy advocate group called, Privacy Coalition, CNN reported.

Millimeter wave technology was first introduced at an airport in Phoenix, Ariz. in November 2007 and there are now 40 machines (at a cost $170,000 each) being tested and used in 19 airports, according to the article.

I guess I haven't been flying through the right airports, because I haven't had the 'pleasure' of trying out one of these machines. However, during Rhianna's tour of the Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, she got a behind-the-scenes tour and saw for herself what the image actually looks like. Rhianna's no prude, but she admitted that it pretty much reveals everything (as in, you can definitely determine if someone is male or female), but the one thing you can't really see is the person's face. Personally, knowing that it's difficult to identify a person by their face makes me feel a little better about the technology, but I doubt that's enough evidence to make everyone feel better about baring it all in the name of security.

by: Whit Richardson - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I tried to find a good blog post today that didn't have anything to do with budgets and billions of dollars, but once I get started on something I can't seem to get away from it.

I just received the transcript from Secretary Janet Napolitano's speech to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee presenting President Obama’s 2010 budget request for the Department of Homeland Security. This release is fairly overwhelming, but I thought I'd share a few security initiatives that caught my attention:

Explosives Detection Systems Procurement and Installation: An increase of $565.4 million to accelerate the Electronic Baggage Screening Program (EBSP) at the nation’s airports to ensure 100 percent of all checked baggage is screened with an in-line explosive detection capability system, or a suitable alternative. This funding will support facility modifications, recapitalization efforts, as well as procurement and deployment of electronic baggage screening technology systems.

Bomb Appraisal Officers: $9 million for an additional 109 Bomb Appraisal Officers (BAOs) to provide expertise in the recognition of and response to improvised explosive devices at airports to enhance aviation security. The request will provide BAO coverage at 50 percent more airports including all Category X, I, and II airports, and will provide a BAO in every hub-spoke airport system, and to airports that currently have only one BAO assigned.

Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams: An increase of $50 million is requested to fund 15 Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams dedicated to guarding surface transportation. The VIPR teams contain multi-skilled resources, including Transportation Security Inspectors, canine teams, Transportation Security Officers, Bomb Detection Officers, and Federal Air Marshals.

Northern Border Technology: $20.0 million is requested to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in providing improved situational awareness along the northern border through the design, deployment, and integration of surveillance, sensing platforms, detection technologies and tactical infrastructure. This technology will expand DHS capabilities, increase the effectiveness of our agents, and increase the ability to detect unlawful border activity successfully.

State and Local Fusion Centers: Full support and staffing by the end of FY 2011 are requested for the 70 identified State and Local Fusion Centers, facilities where information and intelligence is shared between federal, state, local and tribal authorities. Funding is dedicated to IT maintenance, support, and training.

Intermodal Security Coordination Office (ISCO)
: A $10 million increase is requested for the Intermodal Security Coordination Office within DHS Policy to support integrated planning between DHS and the Department of Transportation in the area of maritime transportation, as well as in other homeland security mission areas. The Intermodal Security Coordination Office will develop a strategic plan and metrics to guide development and modernization of intermodal freight infrastructure that links coastal and inland ports to highways and rail networks.

I realize there are a lot of unhappy associations out there who would like to see more money flowing into security, but what I gathered from this speech was the effort by DHS to put money into the coordination of various security entities. I included the section on fusion centers and the Intermodal Security Coordination Office because I think that demonstrates a real effort by Napolitano to bring these disparate organizations together and encourage communication on such a large scale, which I think we can largely agree on, is a crucial element to national security.

by: Whit Richardson - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More and more folks in the security industry continue to voice their disappointment with President Obama's 2010 budget. Following up from a previous blog, a story went out on our newswire today about port security not getting its full Congressional appropriations. As part of the SAFE Port Act of 2006, Congress approved $400 million for port security for five years (2007-2011), but in Obama's budget only $250 was allotted to port security. When I tried to argue that the $150 million from the economic stimulus package would bring the total up to $400 million, Aaron Ellis, the spokesperson for AAPA, held fast that the stimulus money was intended for job creation and therefore restricted port security directors in how they could spend the money to improve security.

And, ports aren't the only ones facing cuts in fiscal appropriations. I just received a press release from the Security Industry Association.

“President Obama is looking for cuts in all the wrong places,” SIA Director of Government Relations Don Erickson said. “We understand and support efforts to be fiscally responsible, but taking money away from programs that protect children in the classroom and the millions of Americans traveling on our mass transit systems or conducting business at our nations’ ports is not in any way responsible. It is a misguided step in the wrong direction.”

SIA also noted that the Transit Security Grant Program is facing similar reductions and was also only allotted $250 million, down from $388.6 from the current budget. Transit was authorized for $900 million by Congress for fiscal 2010, so they're facing much larger reductions. The cuts to transit particularly surprised me, considering the Secretary for Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, pledged to invest in mass transit security.

SIA also stated that while Obama's budget would keep funding for the Secure Our Schools program at the current level of $16 million, that is still less than the $50 million authorized in the School Safety Enhancements Act passed in September by the House of Representatives.

It's quite the dilemma. While no one wants to see reductions in security initiatives, we're also facing such an economic crisis that my guess is no one's going to get the money they want or need. What do you think?

by: Whit Richardson - Saturday, May 9, 2009

So after a long delay at Newark Airport last night, I finally arrived back in Portland. While Maine might not have the year-round sunshine like California, we certainly have a lot less traffic and natural disasters, which is a pretty fair trade off, in my opinion.

But, now it's back to work and as I sift through my 200 unopened emails, I've come across several interesting security-related stories that I thought I should share in an effort to get this blog back on track. (Sorry to those of you looking for my typical Friday fun blog, I've been having a little too much fun, lately).

An article yesterday in the Dallas News reports that President Obama has requested $2 billion more in funding for border security and law-enforcement on the Mexican border. The paper reports this will be an 8 percent increase for border and transportation security funding over this year and that a significant amount of the money will dedicated to technology and manpower to deal with illegal weapons and immigration.

There were several associations in the security industry who weren't too happy with Obama's 2010 budget.

The American Association of Port Authorities, for example, released a statement that it is disappointed, saying the administration has underfunded DHS's Port Security Grant Program.

The Administration's request calls for a 6.5 percent overall increase in DHS's budget for fiscal 2010, but recommends a significant decrease for port facility security funding over what Congress appropriated last year. In its proposed budget, the Obama Administration recommends the Port Security Grant Program-the only federal program that assists public ports to fund marine facility security improvements-receive $250 million in Congressional appropriations. While this is $40 million more than the fiscal 2009 budget request, Congress authorized $400 million for the program in the 2006 SAFE Port Act and approved a $400 million appropriation for port security grants in fiscal 2009.

Airports Council International, North America also released a statement expressing disappointment that funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) was not increased, given the need for critical airport infrastructure for safe and efficient air transportation. However, they did acknowledge a $100 million increase in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget for the procurement and installation of inline explosive detection systems, which it says is important for more efficient and effective screening of passenger checked baggage.

by: Whit Richardson - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I had a chance to experience some of the California dream yesterday with a tour of Paramount Studios in Hollywood as part of the ASIS media preview tour.

The film and production history at Paramount is mind blowing to say the least and while I felt enamored with the surroundings, the security issues there are nothing to mess around with. As you might expect, everyone entering the Paramount property must be registered and checked in at the front gate, which I imagine could in itself be an overwhelming task. I've never been on a movie set, but I knows it takes a lot of people, from production staff to movie extras to make these things happen. Clint Hilbert, vice president of environmental health, safety and security for Paramount, is only four months into the job and has worked in several other industries including healthcare and manufacturing. He said that the major difference at Paramount is how quickly things change depending on what production is being shot. Security is always balancing the needs of different production crews housed in its 30 different stages while maintaining perimeter security of its 62 acre property. During its busiest times, Paramount is like a self-contained city except there are a lot of really, really good looking famous people walking around (Hilbert didn't say the good looking famous part, that's just what I'm imagining).

Anyway, along with Hilbert, Rick Madrid, investigator for security emergency services joined us for the tour. His job is basically to ensure that films aren't leaked out early (like what happened with the new Wolverine movie, which was Fox, not Paramount) and at each screening studios send personnel with night vision goggles to make sure no one is videotaping the movie from the audience. Madrid said that he works very closely with the IT department as well as the L.A.P.D to catch bootleggers.
And, in addition to touring the studio of Dr. Phil (yes, I sat in his chair, but no pictures allowed, sorry) and the facade of the New York set we also got a tour of the studios command center. Louis Lam, executive director of security services said the security department is in the process of relocating its facility to a different dedicated location to monitor the nearly 200 cameras on the property. The security department also has its own on-site fire department and its security officials are all trained in fire fighting techniques.

Oh, and because I know you're dying to know, no, I didn't see any movie stars while I was there, or at least I don't think I did.