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security practices

Just me and Tom Ridge ... chattin'

Friday, August 20, 2010

I interview high-level security professionals on a regular basis. Just the other day, I spoke with the CSO and manager of corporate security for, you know, the City of Calgary. Owen Key was a nice guy. He was well spoken, smart, knew his security stuff. I got a good story out of it. No big deal, really.

Well, on Monday, I'm scheduled for what is certainly the biggest interview of my career so far. I have an interview with Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (oh, and a former Congressman and Governor of Pennsylvania, too). So no big deal, right?

Uh, except, yes big deal.

I'm currently reading his book, The Test of our Times, and it's been very interesting to learn about the formation of DHS, from an inside perspective. First of all, bringing 180,000 federal employees from 22 agencies together under one roof seems like a daunting task, but to do it during a time where Americans felt so vulnerable? Well, let's just say it's not a job I (or I suspect most of you) would take on.

In his book, he discusses his reservations about accepting this position knowing that no matter what kind of job he did, good or bad, he probably wouldn't come out of it unscathed:

"And if I suspected that my political career would be sacrificed, well, so be it: We are all expendable. Despite my reservations, I would take on this new assignment, and I would give it my best."

I'm only a quarter of the way through this book (don't worry, I'll finish it by Monday), but I'm hoping it'll give me more insight into what he went through as a high-ranking government official. But that's not what I'm most interested in for my conversation with Ridge.

After he left political life, somewhat controversially, he founded a private security consulting firm, Ridge Global. Now as someone on the private-sector side of life, I'm curious if his perspective about how the government goes about protecting its people has changed? Obviously, DHS is an older (although still very young) department than when he was there, but I wonder if he sees better ways for the government to work with the private security sector? How does he think security professionals should be engaged? Are there specific skills security professionals need that he doesn't think they have? What about during disasters? Is the way we prepare and respond to emergencies evolving appropriately? What's the private sector's role in strengthening the nation against terrorism?

Oh, so many questions and so little time to ask them. Don't worry, I'll narrow it down before our conversation.

But, I wanted to give you, my loyal blog readers, an opportunity to have some input. What would you like to know from Ridge? Leave some questions in the comment section here or email me: LStelter(at) If nothing else, wish me good luck, people.

But, if you'd prefer to ask him yourself, he will be the keynote speaker at an event called Security Leadership: Reducing Costs without Sacrificing Value on Sept. 14 in Washington, D.C. I'm planning to attend this event and, you know, maybe shake his hand or get my picture taken with him or something. He definitely makes my Top 5 security celebrities. Don't tell my friends what a security geek I've become.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Read the full story from my conversation with Tom Ridge here.