NSC: Security: The Best Defense

Oct. 9, 2002
You're auditing the safety program at one of your company's facilities in Central America. On your way to the facility, you get stopped in traffic and before you know it, someone has stuck a gun through the car window and is holding it to your head. What do you do?

If things have reached that point, says security expert Christopher Hagon, a managing partner in the Incident Management Group, you're probably in big trouble. Hagon, who advises a variety of companies about issues related to executive and facility security, says that many of the executives who come to ask him for advice and help want to know what to do in the situation just described.

"Unless you're Chuck Norris, you don't want to be in that situation," Hagon told a group at the National Safety Congress in San Diego this week. "People are interested in action at the scene. You try to avoid that at all costs, because it means that you don't have control of the situation. Security is really about trying to put off the day when something bad happens."

Companies that are truly interested in security want to put barriers in place - both policy barriers and physical barriers - between the company and its employees and dangerous situations. The best security measures include encouraging vigilance among employees, says Hagon. "Everyone has to become a security manager to some extent," he notes.

He suggests companies:

  • Develop an overall statement about security.
  • Conduct a risk assessment to determine vulnerabilities.
  • Create contingency plans for all types of security related situations: bomb threats, mail procedure threats, workplace violence.
  • Improve and tighten up access control
  • Address expected risks.
  • Protect people, such as employees who travel to countries where the political climate makes it dangerous.
  • Don't reinvent the wheel.

Procedural barriers, such as pre-employment background checks and psychological testing, "are some of the most effective barriers you have," says Hagon.

He suggests making applicants familiar with corporate policies concerning safety and security and conducting pre-employment screening to weed out possible security threats. Include information about policies concerning workplace violence and reinforce corporate policies concerning the prohibition of weapons in the workplace.

Hagon notes that security emergencies are often the result of many small breakdowns in procedures and policies, rather than a suicide bomber or a plane crash.

Hagon was superintendent for security for the royal family in the 1980s. In fact, he headed up personal security for Queen Elizabeth of England when a man managed to break into Buckingham Palace early one morning, find the queen's personal quarters by wandering a quarter-mile of passageways, and sit down on her bed early one morning and ask for a cigarette.

When the queen called the security office to tell them there was a man in her personal chambers, sitting on her bed, she was told, "That's impossible, M'am," by her security guards, remembers Hagon.

According to him, alarm systems that should have alerted guards to someone entering over a fence were either ignored or turned off due to some 2,000 false alarms every month; infrared beams that indicated movement in an adjacent parking lot were blocked by incorrectly parked cars; guards had walked away from their stations or left early; doors that should have been locked and alarmed were not; and employees who should have stopped and questioned someone walking the halls without displaying proper identification ignored him.

"I came into work and they said, 'Someone broke into the queen's quarters and asked her for a cigarette.' I said, 'Yeah. Right,'" remembers Hagon, adding, "It just seemed so impossible that could have happened.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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