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Back to school, security style

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's that time of year again, parents. Time to ship the kids back off to school and take a little breather from keeping their schedules full of 'activities' all summer long. Phew, what a relief, huh?

As schools prepare to have full classrooms again, issues of security are bound to come up. This story caught my attention in terms of how schools are striking a balance between their security programs and their budgets. When the contract between the local police and the Vallejo High School was not renewed, the school ushered in a "new era of campus security", according to the article, and increased and "empowered" their existing security force. Referred to as "site safety supervisors" these individuals are tasked with patrolling the campus and keeping students safe. The article did not specify if these supervisors were given any additional training to supplement the loss of police presence (like weapons or active shooter training), but they did say it saved them a heck of a lot of money.

District officials last year, when proposing a police-less security setup, touted the potential cost-savings as a benefit of the switch.

The police officers cost the district about $800,000 for the year, including salary, benefits and extra pay for covering after-school events.The district also was paying about $1.2 million for about 50 part-and full-time supervisors.

Now the district will spend about $1.7 million for 47 site safety supervisors. The total includes pay raises for all of the supervisors, including a higher pay range for the site leads. The supervisors also received new uniforms and Nextel cell phones for the leads.

And while this shift in security presence is certainly a cost saver, it's yet to be determined how effective the new supervisors are, especially since there are fewer than last year. The school is looking to increase its video surveillance system, which can certainly supplement for some personnel shortage, but can never replace the value of one-on-one contact, especially when you're dealing with adolescents. Every parent knows that.

**UPDATED**Officer's suspicion breaks open 18-year case

Friday, August 28, 2009

[caption id="attachment_1326" align="alignleft" width="262" caption="Allison Jacobs, left, and Lisa Campbell of the UC Berkeley Police Department"]Allison Jacobs, left, and Lisa Campbell of the UC Berkeley Police Department[/caption]

It never ceases to surprise me how many security-related stories I hear every morning on my way to work. This morning, all the networks are talking about the discovery of a woman, Jaycee Dugard, who was abducted on her way to school 18 years ago (when she was 11) and was found to be locked in a shed in Phillip Garrido's back yard. Garrido was a known sex offender and had had regular visits to his home by a parole officer who never suspected that Dugard and her two children (allegedly fathered by Garrido) were living in the backyard.

According to an article by CNN, this whole story unraveled after two police officers at the University of California at Berkeley became suspicious of Garrido when he came to campus with the two children requesting to hand out literature and speak.

Police officers "thought the interaction between the older male and the two young females was rather suspicious," so she confronted them and performed a background check on him.

That check revealed that Garrido was on federal parole for a 1971 conviction for rape and kidnapping, for which he had served time in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

A school spokesman identified the officers as Allison Jacobs and Lisa Campbell, and said the two became suspicious of "subtle behavior" Garrido exhibited.

While this story is largely tragic, it is a great example of someone following through with their suspicion. Granted, officers are trained (or should be trained) to be suspicious of uncharacteristic behavior and kudos to these two female officers who didn't ignore their suspicion and followed through on it. I'm sure this guy has raised suspicion from many, many people over the last 18 years, but obviously no one ever took steps to do anything about it. I mean, none of us wants to be perceived as being a nosy neighbor, right? Well, sometimes being nosy is the right thing to do.

Editor's Note: Just saw a CNN article about the campus security officers discussing what led to the eventual arrest of Garrido.

ORC on the run

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A little bit of good news coming out of the retail industry. Just saw this story about how authorities have broken up a retail theft ring that allegedly stole millions of dollars in merchandise from central Florida Publix supermarkets over the past decade.

While we often hear of ORC issues in box stores like Target and Wal-mart with items like baby formula and razor blades as the most commonly stolen goods, it makes a lot of sense that grocery stores would also be targeted. The press release cites hygiene products as being the items stolen, but I wonder if there's a market for other grocery items? I imagine there's probably not much of a fencing opportunity for items like canned beans, but I perhaps other items like liquor, wine/beer and even things like vitamins and other higher-priced goods may have some significant resale value. Interesting. I have a phone call out to the Publix chain to get their take.

Kennedy irony in Texas

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It just so happened that last night I was sitting almost in the very spot where the shots were fired that killed John F. Kennedy on the very night that his youngest brother, Ted Kennedy, died. The conclusion of the ADT media tour took place at the seventh floor of the famed Texas School Book Depository (Lee Harvey Oswald 'allegedly' fired shots from the sixth floor) in Dallas. Little did all of us know that while we were enjoying a fine dinner, the Kennedy legacy was ending.

On a brighter note, I found the ADT event to be very informative. I'm currently in the Dallas airport, so not everything has sunk in yet, but I was impressed with the length that ADT and its IT department go to evaluate and test various products before pushing it out the their sales team and then to you, the end user. And while I don't want to seem like too much of an ADT spokesperson, I think it's beneficial to know that someone is out there testing not only individual products, but solutions. For someone like me, for example, who writes about solutions all the time, I have neither the expertise nor the resources to do such a thing for myself. My only assessment of products and solutions is through my discussions with security practitioners who have actually put these products in place and can 'attest' to their viability. But, more importantly, I imagine it's even more difficult for you, the end user, to determine if certain products will serve your needs and when it comes time to integrating these technologies, that it will actually do what it claims it will do.

We just finished up the event about an hour ago with a final presentation by Jay Hauhn, vice president of technology and industry relations. He discussed some of the emerging technologies in the field, some of which I'm certainly going to keep my eye on. I was specifically drawn to alternative technologies for power harvesting, such as solar power and inductive power (which harnesses the energy generated from a door opening, for example, and uses that small amount of energy to power a door sensor). I only have the most basic of understanding of such things and think it's very much in its infancy in terms of development and application, but the concept of it sounds very beneficial in terms of time and money.

Ok, well more on the tour later including indepth coverage of a great discussion on the race between two towns to take the title of the safest city in the great state of Texas (Martha's got a great blog on it). Right now, I've gotta catch a flight so I can get back to Maine, where the climate is reasonable and the temperature, if it ever hits 100 degrees, drops well below that long before 11 p.m. Maybe it's the heat that discourages anybody from messing with Texas.

FEMA director to public: Step it up

Monday, August 24, 2009

As an addition to my recent thoughts about the public's role in our national security and emergency preparedness efforts, I read an interesting article in this month’s Atlantic Monthly about the new head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate.

The article emphasizes that Fugate is more of an average guy, with no formal education who is a former career as a firefighter and was previously charged with disaster management in Florida (although no formal title was given). And probably because of his background, Fugate’s approach to running FEMA and disaster management is more practical with a large focus on taking things local.

Already Fugate is factoring citizens into the agency’s models for catastrophic planning, thinking of them as rescuers and responders, not just victims.

I grew up in a very rural part of northern Vermont and while this area is fortunate not to deal with many natural disasters on the scale of earthquakes or hurricanes, there are plenty of second tier disasters. Winter, for example, brings plenty of near-disaster events ranging from ice storms and power outages to the daily issues of just plain old snow removal. Granted the northeast tends to draw fairly resourceful people (or perhaps that’s me being snobbish), but it’s one of those places where people look out for each other. No one is formally trained about emergency preparedness, but people know what to do and how to help. Apparently, Fugate is of a similar breed.

To avoid “system collapse” as he puts it, Fugate insists that the government must draft the public. “We tend to look at the public as a liability. [But] who is going to be he fastest responder when your house falls on your head? Your neighbor,” he said.

There’s that the-public-shouldn’t-be-seen-as-a-liability message we’ve heard from the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently (see previous blog).

I think this change in administrative message is critical. If our approach is more along the lines of looking out for each other and being a little more self-sustainable, I think it can only raise our level of security. It certainly can't hurt.

Did you hear the rumors?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Associated Press is reporting that the Obama administration has selected a director for the Transportation Security Administration. I mean, it's only been eight months since Kip Hawley ended his term - these things take time, people.

Rumor has it (although is it considered a rumor if the AP reports it?) that former FBI special agent Erroll Southers has been chosen for the post, although there's been no formal announcement made by the administration.

Southers is a former police detective and deputy director of California's homeland security office, charged with overseeing counter-terrorism policies. He was also the assistant chief of intelligence and emergency for Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that operates LAX, so he likely knows his way around an airport. Southers currently teaches at the University of Southern California.

Southers would be the fifth man to run the TSA and would need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Stay tuned...

Do we need security in gyms now?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

After I read an article about the shooting yesterday in a gym in Pittsburgh that killed four women and injured nine more, I couldn't help but feel a sense of helplessness. I know this is yet another case of an unstable person getting a hold of a gun and taking out all his social inadequacies on innocent people, but it just doesn't seem fair. Is there really any way to protect against these kinds of incidents? We can't start hiring security officers at gyms, can we? I mean that's just preposterous. I have a hard time waiting in line to scan my card, I certainly don't want to wait for some guy to look through my sweaty gym bag to make sure I'm not packing a gun.

But what's the solution? Will the crazy people always win? I'm sure there's been a lot of thwarted incidents that never make the news, and that gives me hope, but I can't help but feel that security will never be able to do enough.

The public: Security dummies?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sometimes those of us involved in the security industry get a little high and mighty about what we consider as having a superior knowledge and understanding of security. And, largely for good reason, of course. If you think and talk about security all day, you're likely to be more aware of security measures than the average Joe.

However, I found a recent speech by Janet Napolitano to be fairly humbling as she discussed the importance of engaging the public in matters of security.

“For too long, we’ve treated the public as a liability to be protected rather than as an asset in our nation’s collective security,” Ms. Napolitano said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “This approach, unfortunately, has allowed confusion, anxiety and fear to linger.”

During her speech, she encouraged voluntary participation in local emergency preparedness programs and said it was important that Americans be educated on how to be more aware of terrorism risks. But she acknowledged that at present there was no educational program in place.

Image that? Imagine a public who participated with their local police departments or even within their businesses about matters of emergency preparedness? I'm sure that if people knew what to expect and understood their role, events like Hurricane Katrina would have been far less devastating. I find the concept of the public as an asset rather than a liability quite refreshing. I know it sounds lofty, but wouldn't it be beneficial for our national security program to offer the public some sort of tax credit, for example, in exchange for participating in a few nights of local emergency preparedness training? Crazy talk, I know.

Also during her speech, Napolitano talked about the importance of fusion centers (which I've had a recent infatuation with, by the way, and am flying into Anaheim early on Sunday to make sure I can get a tour of the Norwalk Fusion Center as part of ASIS International). If I wasn't working in this industry, I would never have heard of such a thing, but why shouldn't the public know more about this? Why shouldn't there be a public line into these centers where members of the public can report suspicious activity? I know that's a lot to read into for one speech, but I think these are the kinds of discussions those charged with security the public must have in order to even come close to reaching a true national security program.

Big money for more transit officers

Thursday, July 30, 2009

So, I feel like a bit of DHS spokesperson lately, but there's just a lot of security-related news coming out of the department these days. For example, Napolitano announced yesterday that $78 million in ARRA money has been allocated to adding more security officers and equipment to our country's transit systems.

The biggest chunk of money is going to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority ($35.9 million), followed by $9.56 million to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and $6.34 million to AMTRAK.

The press release specifies that the grants will be used for anti-terrorism teams (both overt and covert), explosive detection canine teams and mobile explosives detection screening teams that, I'm assuming, will be deploying some of the technology that DHS has been piloting in recent months.

Airports get video systems courtesy ARRA

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

DHS announced today that it has designated $7.7 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for several airports to install video surveillance systems. The press release cites that Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Spokane International, Gerald R. Ford International and Boise, Idaho airports will receive a portion of the funds.

"State-of-the-art surveillance technology provides another critical layer of security at our airports," said Secretary Napolitano. "These projects will inject critical Recovery Act dollars into our local economies and create sophisticated security networks designed to detect threats and aid our emergency response efforts."

I don't exactly buy the injection of money into the local economy part, but do think it's important for airports to have solid video surveillance systems.

According to the release, ARRA has committed more than $3 billion for homeland security projects through DHS and the General Services Administration (GSA). Of the $1 billion allocated to TSA for aviation security projects, $700 million is dedicated to screening checked baggage and $300 million is allocated for checkpoint explosives detection technology.

DHS has obligated more than 20 percent of its ARRA funds to date, and is on track to obligate more than 50 percent by the end of September 2009.