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WHO raises pandemic alert

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Here's the latest from CNN:

* WHO raises influenza epidemic level from 4 to 5
* "Actions now should be taken with increased urgency," director-general says
* World Health Organizations reports 132 cases in 11 countries
* U.S. government working on vaccine, homeland security chief says

You've got to be kidding me

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When I saw the photos and the video of the 747 commonly known as Air Force On flying low over Manhattan, I was shocked. I was already aware that it was a publicity stunt gone horribly wrong — what blew my mind is that someone, in the White House, our good ole' U.S Government, approved this "mission." Some heads may roll on this one.
Have we removed ourselves from the events of 9/11 so much that an appointed official thought it would be no big deal to conduct this exercise? What is even more disturbing is that Louis Caldera, director of the White House Military Office, directed local New York law enforcement to keep the mission a secret. In my mind, that is a bigger problem than the actual exercise.
But too often this is how our country works. The truth is masked, hidden or spun and people are never really sure of what is right and wrong. It's no wonder we as a nation have trouble trusting others. If this "mission" really needed to happen (at a cost of $330,000+, I don't think so but ...) the general public, area security directors, elected officials and local law enforcement and emergency responders should have been notified. That would have limited the chaos that occurred in Manhattan. Sometimes I think we are coming close to having true public-private partnerships in the United States, and then something like this happens.

Swine flu hits home

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Since returning from Amsterdam under the weather, I have been the target of many swine flu jokes from my friends, family and co-workers. So to set the record straight, I, thankfully, do not have swine flu.
Believe me, I was nervous. Being on a plane for a combined 18 hours in the past eight days meant that I could have come into contact with anything. OK, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic (wouldn't be the first time) but this potential pandemic is scary. Sure, what happens will happen but I am a believer in prevention. And to that effect, I am taking my vitamins, drinking plenty of fluids and washing my hands incessantly.
To stress out my family even more, my sister and her husband are in Mexico on vacation right now. Actually, I don't even know if you can call it vacation anymore because they are at the airport waiting for a flight to come home much earlier than either of them had anticipated.
Disappointing to have your vacation cut short? Yes, but I think they made a smart move to come home. There is still no cause for alarm, as Obama said yesterday, but the signs of a potential pandemic are there.
As a security professional, now is the time to review your pandemic and business continuity plans especially if you haven't updated them since the Avian Flu scare. And if you have a free minute, let us know how much a risk this swine flu is or will be.
Here's the latest news from CNN:
*Health officials confirm at least 98 cases worldwide, 50 in U.S.
*Thousands flood Mexican hospitals, scramble for masks
*WHO notes significant human-to-human transmission, a step toward pandemic
* Mexico health official: As many as 152 deaths may be from swine flu

The rest of The Netherlands trip

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'm back on U.S. soil but not after falling ill in Amsterdam (just my luck) with the flu and now, a double ear infection. I think this is partially due to the very hectic schedule that we were subjected to that included bus and boat rides, two different hotels and nearly 30 presentations over three days. I'm still digesting all the information.

What is really striking about The Netherlands is its drive to have strong information sharing programs in place. I already talked about the cooperation between fire, security and safety at the Port of Rotterdam and the same initiative is apparent at the Netherlands Forensic Institute, which performs forensic examinations in a variety of disciplines that has a close working relationship with the Dutch police (they actually refer to them as a client). Because of this, and a host of new technology developments, the crime rate in the country is dropping. NFI also cooperates with other forensic institutes within and outside Europe to develop best practices and tackle issues such as research funding. Beirut and Lebanon are two areas that have requested forensic services from NFI. Officials from NFI are also in the middle of planning a trip to the United States to see how U.S. businesses can work with the Dutch agency.
NFI is also building a forensic field lab that will be used for education, instruction and practice and the development of investigation methods. It will include lecture rooms, a mock court, practice laboratories, a blood stain pattern analysis room and a room where it can imitate weather conditions for crime scene investigations.
By far my favorite part of the trip was the tour of security at Schiphol Airport that Miro Jerkovik, senior manager of security R&D; Gunther von Adrichem, project manager of security R&D; and Hans Geerlink, duty manager of security, facilitated. The program at Schiphol is incredible. It has 200 security checkpoints — the majority of those are located in the international terminal. Since the airport is located on one level, it has no way of differentiating incoming and outgoing passengers. International passengers are first check at customs and then are screened at the gate (Each international gate has its own screening checkpoint with metal detectors and profiling agents). Those flying within Europe are screened in a manner similar to the TSA's process and then enter into a centralized area where screening is not necessary at the gate.
As someone who has not flown out of Schiphol before, I was somewhat wary of this process but the day I left to head home I was more impressed than wary. Screening 300+ passengers at once is no easy task but you couldn't tell from the way the screeners were acting. They were professional, quick and focused on the job at hand. There were also five agents conducting behavior profiling interviews on each passenger. Even though I tried to look as sketchy as possible, my questions were limited to why I was in Amsterdam, how long, where did I stay, what portable electronic devices did I bring, did I pack my own bags and did anyone ask me to take anything on board the plane for them. As four agents spoke directly with passengers, and screened passports, another profiler oversaw the whole operation, mainly looking for suspicious behavior.
Even though this system seems to work well on the surface, Miro was quick to point out that "you never know what's coming next ... you make a strategy and then you have to change it."
Policies and procedures changing are part of life when it comes to airport security. From a traveler's perspective, this can be challenging (we've all seen it at U.S. airports). "Sometimes regulations are hard to handle and hard to make it reasonable from the passenger's [perspective] but it all makes sense," Gunther said. "There is a lot of effort and know-how into how to make it right."
To lessen confusion, Schiphol produces brochures for passengers when it makes changes to its program and distributes them accordingly. I think this is something we don't do enough of here in the states. Sure, there is signs outlining 3-1-1 but there are times screeners don't even talk to passengers to let them know details of the screening process and if you're like my Dad, who hasn't flown since the Reagan era, things can get a bit complicated.
There is a BIG focus on technology at Schiphol. The airport has 1,000 cameras in place and plans to increase that number to between 3,000 and 4,000 (a mixture of converted analog and IP cameras) over the next few years. The plan is to cover the airport with cameras and other sensors, such as video analytics, license plate recognition and facial recognition, for example. "The whole point is to use cameras, not people," Miro said.
Approximately, 15 locations in the airport have L3 millimeter wave scanning machines in use. Although the use of such machines have met with criticism in the United States, Gunther said it is rare that passengers opt out of being scanned with the machine.
"We can show that this type of security is superior to what we have today," Gunther said. "It can find smaller stuff than we used to."
Partnership is also a key initiative at Schiphol. When the airport was given responsibility for airport security in 2003, it contracted with contract security companies to help assist in the process. But the world of security has changed since then. In 2008, the airport began to focus on "partnering" with these companies instead of "contracting" them. But the goal is still the same: "Effective, efficient security at a realistic cost."
Touring the airport was a great way to end the trip (I could have done without the four-hour dinner afterwards). These press junkets are difficult to schedule as there are always a wide variety of journalists attending. On last week's trip, there were three physical security editors, one defense reporter, one IT security editor and a homeland security consultant to name six, so you can understand the programming challenge. Even so, my regret is that there was not more time during the trip to be able to bring real-time information back to our respective readers. I've always found that having an hour break before dinner or a little time after lunch to blog or write a story is very useful. And those breaks could have helped keep this tired little editor from falling ill or at least that is my theory.

Campus security can't win

Friday, April 24, 2009

From one end of the spectrum to the other. Here's an article accusing campus security officials of not doing enough to stop illicit drug use at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Last Monday was April 20 (4/20) and for those of you who have been out of college for a few years, that's the "holiday" for smoking marijuana. I guess the date refers to the code, 420, used by police officers in reference to dope smoking, but I don't know if that's true or not.

Anyway, local residents are apparently up in arms about security's lackadaisical approach to cracking down on students participating in this illegal holiday. It came to a head when the local newspaper published a story about the gathering of about 100 students to recognize the day which included a photograph of students apparently smoking from a papier mâché hookah shaped like an octopus. What residents are overlooking, I think, is how hard these students are working. I mean, it probably took them at least three art classes to construct that hookah.

Security officials are defending themselves saying they never saw anyone openly smoking (which I don't buy) and that's why they didn't apprehend anyone or issue citations or do whatever it is that security does when it catches kids smoking pot. Some residents took things a little far in accusing the security department of being incompetent.

"I am incredulous at the scofflaws running Skidmore College," Pastor Eleanor Stanton of the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church said.

'Scofflaws', really? Them are fighting words for sure. But, my favorite quote is in regards to how security is obviously encouraging drug use on campus:

"The message is clear: Little Johnny, go ahead and smoke dope," Richard Wirth, candidate for public safety commissioner, said.

Yeah, Little Johnny, that's right, smoke your dope. You're well on your way to becoming a scofflaw too.

Okay, so there's my Friday fun.

As a side note, for all my faithful blog followers, I'm headed out on vacation next week and then off to California the week after that for the ASIS preview media tour. I definitely won't be blogging while soaking up the sun in Aruba, but I'll keep my eyes open, as always, for all things security. I'll be sure to fill you in about the media tour, which includes a tour of the Port of Long Beach that my non-security friends think I'm just a little too excited about. Until then...

And then there was one ...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm still pounding the pavement over here in The Netherlands (with very, very, very limited e-mail access. Quite difficult to keep up on things by the way) but there's some big news on the retail front today. NRF and RILA have agreed to merge. Here's the release:

WASHINGTON, DC -- The National Retail Federation (NRF) and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) today announced that the executive committees of both associations have unanimously agreed in principle to a merger that will create a single trade association representing retail interests in the nation’s capital.

The new organization will provide enhanced value to both RILA and NRF’s members and help to ensure that the retail industry speaks with a one voice to advance the industry and its more than 15 million workers.

“This is an historic time for our industry. The challenges and opportunities before our members are unprecedented. Now is the right time to bring these associations together,” said RILA Chairman, Robert A. Niblock, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Lowe's Companies, Inc. and NRF Chairman Myron E. (Mike) Ullman, III, Chairman and CEO of J.C. Penney Company, Inc. in a joint statement.

According to Niblock and Ullman, in addition to enhancing member value, the new (and as yet unnamed) association will accrue substantial benefits to all members collectively, small and large,  including:

A unified and stronger voice on policy, communications, and public affairs issues in Washington, DC
A host of exciting member events and conferences open to the combined membership of NRF and RILA and, including NRF’s “Big Show” and RILA’s annual Logistics Conference scheduled for  January and February, 2010;
Focused educational offerings and operational services for independent retailers
A single point of integration and dialogue with state retail associations and business groups in state capitals across the United States; and
A fully-integrated staff.

Completion of the merger requires that both NRF and RILA submit to a thorough due diligence process. The details of the merger are being developed by representatives from RILA and NRF.  Both associations’ boards of directors must recommend the merger, and both memberships must approve it.

Both RILA and NRF expect the process to be completed by this summer.

I wonder what this means for both association's respective LP conferences as well as their LP executive staffers Joe LaRocca (who recently stepped into a new role. I'd link to the story here but it seems as though we are still having some search engine issues.), Paul Jones and Rhett Asher. From a cost standpoint, I would think there would be some consolidation but there's obviously some significant value in keeping these three LP powerhouse names on board.

Video shows excessive force by campus security?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

When I spoke to Randy Nichols, the security director at Bowdoin College here in Maine, he said the number one security concern on his campus is alcohol. The use (and misuse) of alcohol on college campuses can make a fairly routine incident into a serious security matter.

That is exactly what seemed to have happened last week at Colby College (another prominent Maine liberal arts college). Based on several accounts, security was called to deal with a student who had allegedly passed out on a couch after a school-sponsored dance. As the EMTs were checking him out, two students interfered (my guess is they were trying to convince them not to take their friend to the hospital). Security was called and students were handcuffed and arrested. Well, that seems pretty standard security practice until you see this video.

After the incident, students protested on campus claiming that security officers used excessive force. In the video, the kid is openly bleeding and doesn't seem to be struggling, yet two officers have him pinned down. It's hard to determine whether excessive force was used and an investigation is pending. However, if I were to guess, I would say that alcohol certainly fueled this situation. It seems like the officers may have reacted too strongly to the situation, but a large group of potentially drunk and belligerent college kids could definitely escalate into a serious security situation.

**EDITOR'S NOTE: Colby College announced it has named an independent investigator out of Boston to evaluate the conduct of the security officers in question, according to this article in the Boston Globe. Apparently there are some questions of racism as the two students who were arrested are African-American and Hispanic and the security officers are white. No details on how long the investigation is expected to take.

The Netherlands, Day 2

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The big themes of yesterdays meetings were balancing security with an 'open' environment and public-private partnerships, as I so surmised.
At the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Serv Wiemers, director of investment climate and promotion for the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, described The Netherlands as the "gateway to Europe" and explained that the country's culture is to be as open as possible. "We are proud to be open," he said, "but of course, security is an issue. We need to find ways to combine security with this open environment." He said the country's perception of security changed following the events of 9/11 and cases of political and animal extremism.
Right now there are 10,000 foreign companies operating here, including Exxon, Coca Cola, Dow, Cisco and IBM. Even Starbucks, which only has about four stores here, set up roasting and storage facilities in the Port of Rotterdam.
Speaking of the port, that was the next stop on yesterday's tour. J. Sjaak Seen, chief safety and operations, with the Rotterdam area Fire Department, discussed the area's "long history of coordination." In 1998, in fact, the city started to combine efforts with local agencies because "if we didn't, we'd get in a lot of trouble." Other areas were not so forward thinking. An explosion at a firework factory in 2007 destroyed a neighborhood and killed 27 people. This served as a "wake-up call. They were asking how do we work together and how should we communicate."
Twenty-five safety areas were developed to integrate police, fire, medical and emergency personnel. Legislation was also drafted to streamline efforts and create organizational boundaries between these parties (that bill will be handled in the next few weeks, Seen said, and is expected to be official then.)
Private companies are involved in this initiative, including many chemical firms in the area. A regional dispatch center funnels information to police, fire and EMS in the event of an incident. Seen said they are working on the project to be able to link video and other sensor data to it. "This is still growing and expanding," he said. "Verifying information is the most critical thing you need. [We are] busy all the time working with these proactive movements."
Safety is a main priority at the port for obvious reasons and others. "If the harbor is not safe enough, economics will drop. The Netherlands would than suffer from lack of safety measures," he said.
J.C. Lems, director/chief harbor master/port security officer for the Port of Rotterdam, said port security is more than the terrorism component. It is also focused on small scale incidents, such as the number of suicide attempts that occur each year.
But the big issue continues to be keeping aware of what is entering and exiting the port on a regular basis. "The most important thing is who and what is at the terminal. Each terminal conducts an individual risk analysis," he said. There are currently 160 terminals at the Port of Rotterdam.
It currently scans 5 percent to 10 percent of its cargo with fixed portals as well as mobile scanning equipment. These containers are chosen for screening based on a risk analysis conducted by Customs. "Customs used to be heavily focused on goods," Lems said, "but now that has changed to how processes are secured."
In the Harbor Coordination Center, video walls are used to provide officers with situational data. The walls list each ship that is coming into or leaving the port as well as others anchored offshore. The data is received from the boats themselves, who are required to notify the port of their presence, or through radar. On the video wall, each boat is coordinated in a selected color to let officers know their risk-status. Red, for example, means dangerous goods are on board, brown dictates explosives, blue indicates a tanker with liquid cargo and green show these vessels carry no dangerous goods. "It is important to know what boats and cargo are in the area," he said. "We don't have a contained area. We do all we can to keep it safe."

Hijacker captured, but security questioned

Monday, April 20, 2009

A gunman who hijacked a plane in Jamaica yesterday has been captured and all the hostages on board were released uninjured, according to this USA Today story. Apparently the man "forced his way through airport security" and onto the plane and demanded to be flown to Cuba (where the plane was already headed, I believe). Authority's are saying the 20-year-old man was "mentally challenged" and from the bare bones of the story it doesn't sound like this was an organized hijacking attempt (although he did know what plane was leaving for Cuba). However, I would dare to question how he got through the security line with a gun and then no one could stop him before he got through the gate onto the plane? I've been to the airport at Montego Bay, Jamaica and remember it being pretty small, but I do remember there was a lot of security present (mostly in the form of officers with sniffing dogs - it is Jamaica after all). It's definitely a scary situation, especially since there were weapons involved, but I think it brings up a more important question of airport security and access control.

The Netherlands, day 1

Monday, April 20, 2009

I arrived in the Netherlands yesterday for my tour of selected security installations — Port of Rotterdam and Schiphol Airport to name two — and security innovators here. It's part of a push by the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency to showcase what the country is doing to secure its critical sites as well as what security technologies companies here are developing. Last night at dinner, Dorien van Boven, director of public relations for the NFIA, was telling me that the agency plans one press junket per year, each focusing on a different area of innovation. Prior focuses include biomedical and logistics. She said the security group is the largest group they have had in the four years NFIA has been conducting these trips.
One of the things I was told would be most interesting over the next few days is the private-public partnerships (I know, I know — one of my favorite phrases) that have been developed to best protect infrastructure, assets and people. I'm looking forward to hear more about the model developed here over the next three days.