Friday, July 1, 2011

The Bunker Mentality

It's back, but it is not improved...

The Security Management article, Security Lies Beneath: The Case for Corporate Safe Rooms by Jordan Frankel, appears to be an expansion of another piece, Corporate Safe Rooms: What Lies Beneath?, published at Securityinfowatch.comI had some discomfort with Frankel's approach to executive safe rooms the first time I saw it.  The primary difference in this version of his article is the inclusion of examples that purport to demonstrate the value of safe rooms for executives. 

“Consider these chilling events, as reported by Human Resource Executive Magazine. Eight oil workers in Ecuador were held hostage for 141 days by Colombian guerillas. One of the hostages was killed when the oil company refused to pay $80 million in ransom. Afterward, the company was told if the kidnappers' demands weren't met within 15 days, another oil worker would be murdered. After lengthy negotiations, the company dropped $13.5 million in $100 bills in a specified area on a riverbank, then flew into the jungle and picked up the hostages.” 

The oil workers in this case were seized at a remote drilling camp by 35-40 heavily armed guerillas. A safe room might have helped, but only if the workers never stepped outside it, and the guerillas did not think to bring explosives or an RPG. 

“Think, also, of the late Paul Tatum who was gunned down in Moscow. Tatum, a founding partner of the Radisson Hotel in Moscow, was the victim of political violence.” 

Tatum was flanked by two bodyguards walking into a train stations when he was killed by a expert assassin wielding an assault rifle. A safe room would not have helped. 

“Or remember Mamoru Konno of Sanyo Video Components, who was kidnapped while leaving a company baseball game in Mexico. (Sanyo later paid $2 million in ransom for Konno’s return).” 

Konno was kidnapped in public. A safe room would not have helped. 

“And then there is Marshall Wais, owner of Marway Steel, who was abducted in San Francisco by armed gunmen;” 

Wais was kidnapped from his bed when his housekeeper was seized as she took out the garbage. A safe room might have helped, but only if he slept inside it every night with the door bolted. 

“Or Sidney Reso of Exxon, who was seized—his kidnappers demanded $18 million—and found 12 days later in a 14-foot hole in the ground.” 

Reso was kidnapped at the end of his driveway when he got out of his car to get the newspaper. A safe room would not have helped. 

“But let this statistic be the final word about the need for increased corporate security: the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that homicide was the second leading cause of job related deaths.” 

Frankel fails to mention that BLS statistics demonstrate that 75% of these murders occurred during robberies of retail and service establishments, usually operated by a lone clerk late at night; not the sort of crimes to which his executive clients are likely to fall prey.

Frankel make other bold pronouncements throughout his article… 

“These safe rooms are no longer luxuries. Rather, safe rooms protect lives, and are part of any reasonable company's playbook.” 

Perhaps this sort of perk is popular with royalty and oligarchs, who are spending their own money, but what board of directors of a publicly traded U.S. company is spending the sort of money this solution requires instead of implementing precautions that protect the entire workforce? 

“A corporate safe room is an example of common sense and basic intelligence, a way to protect a brand's most valuable assets: its executives.” 

It may come as a surprise to many shareholders, clients, and employees that the occupants of the "C suite" are the asset prized above all others across the entire enterprise. While there are a few firms whose fortunes rise or fall on the physical and emotional well being of the current CEO, in most cases we should be careful not to confuse rock star salaries with the actual value or mission criticality of any one ego. 

“Failure to build a safe room is almost a form of negligence, willful blindness in a dangerous world of criminals and terrorists.” 

Is a safe room really the very best security solution an executive can implement? What if a firm chooses to spend its resources protecting the entire facility and all its employees, starting with the receptionist, and ending with the CEO? Will failure to always include a safe room in every security plan constitute negligence? 

“The good news is that a safe room—the propriety [sic] kind designed by global security experts who recognize the enormity of this issue—can help guard against outside threats. As a haven from the unexpected and unforeseen, a corporate safe room is the best investment executives can make.” 

As the saying goesIf you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." Frankel's firm, Global Security Experts, Inc., describes itself as a leading designer of corporate safe rooms.” Its hammer is the safe room so it does not surprise me the problem it proposes to solve is an attack on an executive with time to run to his bunker. But a safe room will only be one element of a balanced executive protection effort, which in turn is only one element in a balanced corporate security plan, which is best integrated into a enterprise risk management program. The professional security consultant will use every tool at his or her disposal, not just the hammer.  A real business leader will make appropriate arrangements to look after every member of his or her company in a balanced manner, whether they work in the lobby or the boardroom.

At its best Security Lies Beneath: The Case for Corporate Safe Rooms uses hyperbole to pitch high-priced perks to Enron-sized egos.  At its worst it represents an appeal to FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt; an approach we have seen far too much of these past ten years.   

NOTE: I mistakenly attributed a July 2011 publication date to Jordan Frankel's article in my first draft.  Turns out it was published at Security Management as an online exclusive in May of 2010, the same month a shorter version of the article appeared at