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by: Whit Richardson - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It was only a few weeks ago that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was making his rounds on all the networks talking about the slew of incompetent air traffic controllers. The topic made headline news for days (too many, in my opinion) and ranged from napping air traffic controllers to ones trying to catch a flick in between landing planes. It was certainly enough to keep the man busy.

Today, I saw a story on Huffington Post that caught my eye and made me laugh and thought I should share since I'm probably not the only one out there who needs a chuckle today. LaHood's most recent mission for his department is looking into measures to encourage automobile drivers to observe better safety standards when it came to bicyclists on the roadways. First of all, I'm an avid biker and one of my biggest complaints about the State of Maine is that they were too cheap to pave decent-size shoulders on their roads, making it dangerous for bikers to enjoy some of the most beautiful roads in the country. Every time I choose the scenic route, I know I'm taking my life in my hands and it just takes one inattentive motorist to ruin a beautiful bike ride (and perhaps my life).

First of all, I think it's interesting this is a topic LaHood is passionate about and something he thinks the Transportation Department needs to take the lead on.

“I’m concerned that people that are driving cars have a level of respect for bikers, and that’s the reason that we have these bike lanes,” said LaHood, in the article. “Bikers have as much right to the streets as anybody driving a car and I am concerned about [their safety]."

Perhaps it's the rise in gas prices that's prompting him to get out in front of what could be a rapid rise in bikers on the road (that's a big reason I started riding to work more).

The amusing part of the story, is that the reporter also expressed surprise at LaHood's passion:

Told that his heartfelt defense of bikers came off like the musings of a run-of-the-mill hipster, LaHood professed genuine confusion.

“I don’t even know what that term means,” he said.

Upon second reading, I guess it's not really all that funny (must be the cold medicine), but when I first read it I thought it was amusing that LaHood didn't know what a hipster was. Then I realized there's probably a large percentage of SDN readers who also do not know what a hipster is. So here, check out this link. Don't say you didn't learn anything from reading this blog.

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, April 28, 2011

Apparently, the city of Milwaukee is fed up with poor-quality video footage, too. A new piece of legislation passed by city councilors last week will require convenience stores to install not one, but two high-definition surveillance cameras.

According to an article in Milwaukee Magazine, the Milwaukee Police Department requested the legislation, which is intended to provide more reliable video evidence for criminal prosecutions.

Under the new ordinance, stores must have at least two “high resolution surveillance security cameras.” One camera must be pointed at the store’s entrance to capture people’s faces as they go in and out, and the other must be focused on the store’s cash register area. Stores will also be required to store the video on recordable CDs or DVDs, thereby disqualifying the old videotape systems still used by some stores.

Currently, stores are only required to keep video recordings for 72 hours. Under the new rules, they would have to keep the discs for at least 30 days.

I'm a little confused by the storage requirements of this legislation. This makes it sound like convenience stores will be recording all footage directly to discs (either CDs or DVDs), but chances are they're just keeping footage stored on a hard drive for 30 days, right? Usually, footage isn't transferred to a disc unless it's an actual incident that police need to use for forensic purposes, otherwise that's a heck of a lot of CDs, right?

Anyway, I think this is interesting that the city is requiring private businesses to improve their video surveillance programs. While this legislation is directed at convenience stores that are considered "high risk" businesses, I wonder if this concerns those in the private sector about the precedent this legislation could be setting? While I'm sure that most folks reading this blog agree that video surveillance should actually be a useful tool and provide clear images, there is a cost burden associated with such legislation. I'm sure there are some convenience store owners in Milwaukee who aren't happy about having to buy new digital, high-res equipment this week (but if you're an integrator in Wisconsin, you might want to get on this one).

by: Whit Richardson - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I was waiting all day yesterday for this news and it finally happened. Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, vetoed a controversial gun bill that would have allowed permitted gun owners to carry weapons on campus, according to this article in The Christian Science Monitor. The bill had been significantly scaled back from its original form, which would have allowed individuals with conceal carry permits to bring their weapons into campus buildings and classrooms. The bill that hit her desk only allowed weapons – open or concealed – in public "rights of way" on campuses.

In her veto letter, Brewer said the parameters of what was allowed weren't sufficiently defined:

"Bills impacting our Second Amendment rights have to be crystal clear so that gun owners don't become lawbreakers by accident," she wrote. She also questioned whether the phrase "educational institution" in the bill could be applied to elementary and high schools.

Dead is how this bill is likely to remain. Forty votes would be needed in the House to override her veto, but supporters look to be short of that mark. The bill passed in the House 33 to 24, according to the article.

Arizona would have been the second state to allow guns on all college campuses, after Utah. Texas also has a similar bill that could be ratified soon.

Governor Brewer's vetoes are considered a setback for the conservatives who control the Arizona legislature, according to the article:
Brewer's decision was particularly surprising because she has been a champion of gun rights in the past, signing bills that allow guns into bars and restaurants and that permit gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Another controversial gun bill is on her desk now: It would require local and state government to either allow guns in public buildings or secure those buildings with metal detectors and armed guards.

Are you surprised by her decision?

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, April 14, 2011

The majority of organized retail crime stories I've written about recently involve groups of thieves who travel around, hitting store after store after store. The I-95 corridor, for example, is a prime route for these gangs to travel because it's easy for them to hit multiple states and allude the jurisdiction of any one police department. The picture I've drawn in my head is of this group of hardened criminals, packed in a white van, plotting their next stop. But, turns out, that may not be the case at all.

I just read this Chicago Sun-Times article about a group of 70 youths who “stormed” a McDonald’s restaurant. It's actually unknown what this group was trying to do, other than cause the restaurant to voluntarily shutdown for three hours, but apparently this isn't the first time the Chicago police have dealt with flash mobs in the area:

“Both CPD and [Loyola] campus safety believe this activity is related to the same group of individuals who have attempted to create havoc in the area before,” wrote Robert Fine, the director of campus security for Loyola and a veteran Chicago cop, according to the article. “In February, we alerted you to a similar incident in which these ‘Flash Mob Offenders’ allegedly committed thefts within local retail stores around the Water Tower Campus community. The offenders exit the Chicago Red Line stop, they go to various shops or restaurants, usually clothing stores, and then storm the stores, taking as many items as they can carry. The incidents seem to occur most often on weekends, between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m.”

I'm wondering if this flash mob approach is becoming more common in retail theft than "traditional" organized retail crime. The theory, I'm guessing, is that if you show up with a huge group of people and grab as much as you can, the store can't possibly stop or even think about arresting everyone. Scary stuff if you're in loss prevention.

And, just in case you're really out of the loop, flash mobs have become a bit of a sensation in recent years, the most well known being gatherings of people in malls or other public spaces who sporadically perform some sort of act (usually a choreographed dance) and then disperse. It's quite entertaining, really. Usually these events are organized via social media like Twitter and Facebook. For your reference, here's my favorite from the Liverpool Train Station (and I think it's actually an ad, so it may not be a "real" flash mob, but it's entertaining):

by: Whit Richardson - Monday, April 4, 2011

The Virginia Tech shootings have recently come back into the headlines with the announcement that the school will be fined $55,000 for failure to notify the campus community in a timely fashion regarding shootings that eventually resulted in the death of 30 students and teachers on April 16, 2007. You can read more about the fine and what it means for institutions of higher learning on Tuesday's Newswire, but as I was searching the Internet for related news, this article popped up.

The article is about the banning of a video game that allows players to emulate school shooting sprees:

The object of School Shooter: North American Tour 2012 is to murder as many defenseless students, teachers and members of staff as possible. To do so, the player uses weapons based on those used by the likes of Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. After completing the spree, the player is encouraged to commit suicide before being captured by law enforcement officials.


With so much of the blame for school shootings already placed on violent video games (although that theory has been largely debunked, but was certainly a huge issue during the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999), why would game developers think this would be acceptable? Well, I guess because violence sells video games. Not being a gamer myself, I can't attest to the draw of such things, but I know there are a lot of people spending a lot of money (and time!) on video games that involve shooting people.

The developer of the game said in the article that he created the game because other school shooting games just weren't that much fun. "Nobody has ever tried create a proper game about a school shooting," he said, adding that he was not particularly moved by the tragedy at Columbine.

I guess it's a good sign that this game wasn't released "due to pressure from critics", but chances are it will be released at a later date. I personally don't think it should be released at all, but it's definitely not a smart marketing strategy to release it in April. After all, it's a tragic month for school shootings.

by: Whit Richardson - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Texas lawmakers are expected this week to send along legislation for a full Senate vote that would permit students to carry concealed handguns on the state's college campuses. According to this Huffington Post article, Texas state senators appeared poised on March 22 to send the bill toward a final vote. I wrote about this bill in late February (see Guns at school: Texas bill would allow concealed weapons on campus) and pointed out that many educators oppose such legislation:

University of Texas President William Powers has opposed concealed handguns on campus, saying the mix of students, guns and campus parties is too volatile.

This bill would make Texas the second state after Utah to allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public post-secondary campuses. The bill would grant private universities discretion as to whether they allow guns on campus, but Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, has said he will try to amend the legislation to give public university officials the same choice, according to the article.

Something I hadn't picked up from previous discussions about this legislation was that applicants for a Texas concealed handgun license must be 21 years of age, which means that many students aren't eligible. Personally, I think an age restriction is a good thing considering how many drunken brawls I've witnessed involving college-age folks (who, by the way, aren't legally allowed to be consuming alcohol in the first place).

What do you think? Would college campuses be safer if students were allowed to carry concealed weapons?

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, March 17, 2011

Complaints about aviation security will never end. Whether it's pissed off pilots or alleged high-doses of radiation from screening devices (certainly worthy of double-checking, don't get me wrong), there's always some sort of drama unfolding in the aviation security space.

Many security professionals would tell you (and have told me, as a matter of fact) that enhanced security measures in airports was a knee-jerk reaction to the events of 9/11. Was it an overreaction? Yeah, probably. But 9/11 was an event that changed the risk landscape in our country forever and made us all realize our gaping vulnerabilities. There are ongoing accusations that aviation security is just "security theater," but I strongly disagree, as I suspect most security professionals would. No one would ever say the Transportation Security Administration is perfect or that it's capable of stopping every person with ill intent. That's an impossible task. The TSA has admittedly gone through some serious trial and error to make the system work, and fails regularly in a very public way. Heck, the agency was so embattled it took a year and five months just to find someone who was willing to run it.

I just read a very interesting announcement that there could be some HUGE security changes coming down the pike. The U.S. Travel Association just finished up a year-long analysis of ways to improve air travel security and screening procedures. In case you're not familiar with this organization, they're a 2,100-member organization that "leverages the collective strength of those who benefit from travel to grow their business beyond what they can do individually" (which would mean pretty much any company, right?).

Recommendations based on this study were released in a report titled “A Better Way: Building a World Class System for Aviation Security.” An important recommendation to Congress was the need to authorize TSA to implement a new, voluntary, government-run trusted traveler program that utilizes a risk-based approach to checkpoint screening, with the goal of refocusing resources on the highest risk passengers. I think that would be smart and a lot of businesses would support bringing back a trusted traveler program for frequent travelers.

Also, an extremely important measure was in regards to the procurement of technology. With the ongoing debacle of whole-body imaging, the panel suggested that the TSA should develop a comprehensive strategy for implementing necessary checkpoint technology capabilities and that Congress should provide multi-year funding plans for TSA to execute this strategy. This kinda seems like a no-brainer, but apparently it isn't.

I thought the mention of developing risk-management methods and tools, while a very vague statement, could be critical as well. To me, this means adopting more of an Israeli approach to security. Pretty much every aviation security expert I've ever spoken to has acknowledged that the Israeli's have superior security measures, but such a system just isn't feasible due to the amount of air travelers in the U.S., especially if the goal is to IMPROVE efficiency for passengers. I understand and agree with that, but think the TSA could stand to improve its behavior detection training and other methods to identify travelers who may pose a risk (it's not profiling people, so just stop saying it).

Anyway, just to put an exclamation point on the report, here's what former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who was also a chair of this panel had to say: “A strong aviation security screening system must feature several characteristics, including efficient methods of deterring and interdicting terrorists and criminals; tailored security based upon risk assessment; frequent, clear communication with the traveling public; and cost-effective use of resources.”

Will anything come from this report? Hard to say not knowing.

by: Whit Richardson - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I recently blogged about legislation headed to the Oklahoma House that would allow students and faculty to carry concealed weapons on university and college campuses. Not long before that, I wrote about similar legislation coming out of Texas.

Apparently, there are more than a dozen states considering legislation that would allow professors and students to bring loaded guns into their classrooms, according to this article from CNN.

The article is written by Amitai Etzioni, a sociologist and professor of international relations at George Washington University and the author of several books, including "Security First" and "New Common Ground."

He said there is an inherent problem with this kind of approach to guns:
The drafters of these bills seem to have an image of peaceful students, bent over their books, suddenly attacked by gunslingers who materialize from nowhere. They ignore that students can and do shoot people on campus.

He argues that there aren't (and probably won't ever be) measures to ensure that mentally unstable people don't have access to guns:

And if it were ever created, I expect the National Rifle Association and various state legislatures would strenuously oppose submitting millions of students and professors, or anyone else, to such a test before they could purchase a firearm.

And there's also the issue of allowing students, specifically, to carry weapons. I may be generalizing here, but I'm pretty sure college students tend to drink more than other age groups, and, it's my fair opinion that alcohol and guns just don't mix (although don't get me wrong, I love beer camp, I mean, deer camp just as much as the next New Englander). So, I think he has a good point, the student body is a typically volatile group of people:

Worse, long before anyone storms into a classroom, some students will use their guns -- when their anger boils over, when they have one drink too many or their girlfriend makes out with someone else -- to shoot someone.

His argument is to make guns less accessible, not more. After all, he writes: "Nobody can kill 16 people from a clock tower with a knife."

What do you think? Would allowing students to carry guns make campuses more or less safe? What about campus security? Would it be more difficult to secure a campus knowing students may be carrying weapons?

by: Whit Richardson - Friday, March 4, 2011

Hard to believe the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy is coming up this fall. When I met with Louis Barani, security director of the World Trade Center, during ISC Solutions this year he talked about some of the events planned to recognize the anniversary in addition to all the work being done to secure the new buildings and memorial site. If you missed that story, you should check it out here. It was an awesome tour.

Anyway, this story in the New York Times caught my eye today. A man has designed a personal escape harness, called the Rescue Reel, which was inspired by the victims who jumped from the World Trade Center. To escape buildings, people strap themselves into the harness, lock the reel to a stationary point like a door frame and gently propel themselves to the ground, according to the article. The Rescue Reel retails for about $2,000.

Do you think this is something corporations would consider adding to their safety devices? Does the procurement of equipment like this fall under the purview of the security department?

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sometimes people's stupidity astounds me. While I try not to add to the sensational nature of much of the mainstream media's focus on the Transportation Security Administration, I couldn't let this one slip by. Here's a story from the New York Post about how a TSA supervisor who is accused of helping a man bypass airport security measures in order to smuggle cash and 200 POUNDS (!) of marijuana out of the state:

Behavior detection officer Minnetta Walker, 43 — whose position gave her free reign at the airport — used her status to help drug boss Derek Frank’s gang avoid full body scanners, luggae x-ray machines and secondary screening at the gates, authorities said.

First of all, I can't even imagine what 200 pounds of pot must look like. That's got to be at least several suitcases worth, right? I just don't understand how people think they could get away with such things, inside help or not. According to the article, Walker had been involved in such illegal activity since February 2010 and was only caught after she was wiretapped. But once again, more bad publicity for the TSA. It's pretty clear this agency will never be the recipients of good press, but I'm pretty sure John Pistole knew that going in.