Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fed Up Woman Says Enough is Enough

When Monique Lawless entered the Texas Wal-Mart, she had no idea what she was going to run into.  As she was checking out, she saw three men stealing beer from the store and head out to the parking lot.  The store employees did not attempt to stop them, so she told the cashier to watch her purse and ran out after them.  She jumped onto their car as they tried to drive away, stomping on the windshield and sunroof before sliding off as they picked up speed. 
The three suspects were later arrested and it turned out that they were brothers, all with the name Sylvester.  No wonder they turned to a life of crime.
For years, we’ve heard law enforcement recommend against intervening in criminal acts and, as a society, we’ve learned the lesson and dutifully stopped becoming involved, giving crooks free reign.  Conventional security wisdom would say not to get mixed up and to only fight for your property.  Normally, that is even my advice when teaching security awareness classes. 
However, Monique bucked the trend and took a stand.  Why she reached her boiling point may never be known.  She deserves to be recognized as a true everyday hero.  Of course, the local police quickly warned that this kind of intervention was not recommended.
Maybe if more people stood up against crooks, thieves, and other miscreants, we would see criminals become the ones hiding and acting afraid, not innocent individuals.  Most bad guys are ultimately cowards.  That is even a large reason that street gangs hang out together.  When it comes down to it, they don’t have the courage to act alone.  By sheer numbers, they can intimidate and bully others. 
In this case, though, one average, everyday individual challenged three suspects, all alone.  And it ended well.  She walked away without serious injury and the bad guys went to jail.  More people standing up like this can help curtail, if not stop, crime. 
That doesn’t mean that you have to get physically involved or jump onto moving cars.  There are a lot of ways that each of us can step up and help put the bad guys behind bars.  Three basic guidelines will help you do the right thing for the situation.
1.      Be aware of your surroundings.
2.     Be a good witness.
3.     Take action.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.  Be aware.  Don’t ignore what is going on around you.  No matter what happens, if you don’t know about it, you cannot help.  In fact, this is the basis of any self-defense program or personal security.  Awareness is the fundamental and is critical to being street smart (Five Tips to Becoming Street Smart).  Monique was obviously aware of what the three suspects were doing.  It would have been easier to ignore it, pretend not to see it or be so distracted that she didn’t see it.
Next is to be a good witness.  Bad guys do not want attention and don’t want anyone watching them.  If you see something going on, make note of what the person is doing, how they are dressed and especially look for identifying marks.  The more obvious, the more likely the suspect will feel uncomfortable and want to move on quickly.  There are some exceptions, as during a robbery (read How to Survive a Robbery).
Last is to take action.  That doesn’t mean doing anything high risk or suicidal or even some movie-like stunt.  The action could be as simple as calling the police and waiting to give your statement to the officers.  Be willing to follow up by going to court later, if necessary.  Too often, witnesses disappear before police can get statements.  Stand up for what you saw.
Action may mean intervention.  That is a personal choice, but if someone is getting hurt and you are in a position to help then do so.  We’ve all heard the stories of attacks happening in front of dozens of witnesses, no one even called the police, and no one stepped in to help.  Remember to be safe.  If it is too dangerous then seek help, but take at least that action.
So Monique Lawless is a hero and her actions likely led to the suspects being arrested a short time later after a police pursuit.  Don’t mess with Texas.
As for me, I will continue to teach employees to fight for their life, not property.  However, I will also train others to follow the steps above and will never criticize someone for taking bold steps to stop a group of pathetic thieves.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  Edmund Burke
              

                   

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Security Gone Soft

               What do you think of when you hear the phrase “gone soft?”  You probably picture something along the lines of a former body builder who has stopped working out and is starting to get flabby.  Or at least something along those lines.
               In the post, Security Gone Wild, I listed some of the problems when security goes over the top and is too excessive.  But another problem is just the opposite – when security is too soft.  Just like the former body builder, when security goes soft, it is no longer able to do the heavy lifting it once did.  It becomes ineffective and is as much of a danger as security gone wild.
               Those who know me or read my posts know that when I refer to security, I am looking at how security (or the lack of) affects organizations or personal security / self-defense issues.  Today, I am referring to a broader definition of security – macro-security, if you will.  Simply, that is the impact of security on society as a whole, such as public safety or law enforcement.
               There are two main ways that security goes soft.  The first way is to be symbolic only.  The second is lack of enforcement.  Two recent news stories highlight each of these problems.
               The United States imposed sanctions against Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA.  This was a political move to protest Venezuela’s ongoing trade with Iran, despite sanctions against Iran for its continuing efforts to build a nuclear program.  On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable and appropriate step.  However, the sanctions are almost entirely symbolic and do not actually restrict or stop oil shipments from Venezuela to the U.S.  There are some limits on financing and government contracts, but that is all.  In fact, Hugo Chavez’s response has been to insult and threaten the U.S., building up his own popularity with Venezuelans.  He has threatened to stop oil shipments to the U.S. despite the fact that 45% of his country’s oil exports are to the U.S., which would be economic suicide. 
               This is not only ineffective, but it could become a more dangerous position.  The largely phony sanctions give Hugo Chavez an enemy to rally his people behind and at the same time make the U.S. look weak and unproductive.
               So the risk of the political posturing could actually fail to accomplish what was hoped for and even backfire.
               The second sign of soft security is lack of enforcement.  This is a little different from a symbolic measure that is meant to sound tough, but purposely designed without a penalty.  Lack of enforcement comes when a law is ignored or not enforced for one reason or another. 
               A recent example of this happened in Colorado.  A driver passed a state trooper on a traffic stop and flipped off the trooper as he passed.  The trooper noted the license plate and the driver was later issued a summons for harassment.  Under Colorado law, harassment is a defined as a public display designed to harass, annoy or alarm the person targeted.  Certainly, flipping off anyone is going to be annoying at best, possibly alarming and definitely bothersome.  The ACLU became involved and the State Patrol dropped the charges.  In a way, that was perhaps a safe move to avoid a legal defeat in court, setting a new precedence.  On the other hand, I find the whole idea completely offensive that someone can drive around and flip off anyone, much less law enforcement, and it can be defined as a form of freedom of speech.  Our Founding Fathers must be turning over in their graves.  I’m sure that they did not put their lives, their homes, and everything they had on the line for some future jackass to claim that he had the right to insult others with impunity. 
               Freedom of speech was built on the concept of peaceful assembly and public discussion, not to protect insulting gestures that are certainly not peaceful.
               The risk with this decision not to enforce legitimate laws is the undermining of our public safety and law enforcement.  What are law enforcement personnel to do now?  They are already putting their lives on the line and now have to stand by while being abused without any recourse.  On a side note, next time you happen to be in court for a traffic ticket or even jury duty, exercise your freedom of speech and flip off the judge.  I’ll be curious to hear about the results as I imagine what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
               So what are the lessons learned from these examples?  Both are out of our control, but do offer some valuable ideas.  One lesson is to understand the risk of security gone soft.  It undermines your overall security program and causes a loss of respect and support for security initiatives.  It is an ineffective use of resources. 
               These mistakes can occur at the organizational level.  Think of a policy in your workplace that is symbolic only and does not actually accomplish anything.  Even easier, think of a policy that is not enforced and is therefore routinely ignored.  Examples could be as simple as propping open a door during a smoke break despite signs warning of the risk of robberies at a restaurant.
               If something is important enough to stand for then it is important enough to do so in a way that works, is effective and produces real results.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Security Gone Wild!

               You’ve seen, or at least heard of, the various Girls Gone Wild videos.  You know the ones, where young women, apparently intoxicated and on spring break, do things on video that they may regret later.  And judging by the news stories about the ensuing lawsuits, many do regret their actions.
               So what happens when your security program goes wild?  Well, it probably will not prompt any sales of DVDs.  A security program gone wild can cause serious problems: you can end up with ineffective security at best and, at worst, a serious hindrance to your business goals.
               As is often the case, you can have too much of a good thing and security is no different.  Excessive or overdone security will do more harm than good.  It can destroy productivity, affect employee morale and in the long run cause staff to ignore and even actively work against security measures.
               There are three primary ways that security can go wild – and none of them even involve alcohol.  The first is overkill, followed by FUD and last zero-tolerance.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these wild mistakes.
The first one is overkill.  This is often encountered with IT security.  Information Technology departments face many challenges and, in this day and age, are critical to the success of any organization.  This goes far beyond IT security issues.  Businesses need IT departments to provide reliable access to information on the network, fast internet access, email, streaming video, data backup and all the various software needed in a modern office.  IT security also faces very real threats from potential hackers and cyber attacks – any of which could cause severe damage or shut down daily operations.  The recent cyber attack on Lockheed Martin is an example. 
That said, IT departments often have strict procedures, which can go wild.  One IT security department tightened the guidelines on the process for creating employee network access, shutting out a number of department leaders in the process.  In one case, an employee was terminated late on a Friday and there was concern about his network access.  The department manager contacted IT to immediately close out the access, but was refused, as the manager did not have authority to access the security request form needed.  In the end, the employee had access for several months after being terminated and was actually seen in the public parts of the building on the organization’s computers.
This is a classic example of good intentions paving the road to hell, as the saying goes.  The process was well meaning, but had unintended consequences that actually undermined security.  The same type of problem applies to physical security.  Security procedures that are too strict or interfere with employees’ ability to perform their jobs will be ignored.  Employees will work around the restrictions if they are unreasonable.
The second way that security goes wild is FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt.  This is the bread and butter of some security professionals.  They try to build support by outlining worst-case scenarios and creating fear and doubt about what could go wrong.  There is certainly a time and place for this, when a realistic assessment clearly points to severe risks.  But too often, the security leader relying on FUD becomes an obstacle to changes or new processes.  They become the “no” person holding up an organization.  As a result, leaders will leave them out of the decision-making and away from the ‘real’ business.
I have to wonder how much security has fallen back on that since 9-11 and how many sales pitches have been made based on what could happen in regards to terrorism.  Entire industries have built up around global terrorism.  Seeing some of the videos of Osama Bin Laden, wrapped in a blanket, watching an old TV makes me wonder how we could have been so afraid of him.  Of course, there are many examples of very real and deadly attacks carried out by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups since 9-11 and before and there is no doubt that the threats will continue.  Still, there is an element of security gone wild in some respects.
The last pitfall is zero-tolerance policies.  Zero-tolerance may sound like a good idea, but too often interpreted as maximum punishment.  How many stories have there been of a kindergarten student being expelled for having a plastic knife in their lunch?  One story was about an elementary student who had a tiny plastic gun for an action figure with him.  It is okay to have a zero-tolerance policy, such as violence at work will not be tolerated.  That does not mean that each situation all involve the maximum punishment.  At work, an employee reading a gun magazine during his break (the adult equivalent of the action figure gun) and another employee who threatens a co-worker should be handled differently. 
The common theme when security goes wild is the absence of discretion and a security program focused on all the worst-case possibilities.  And the common outcome is the loss of confidence in the security program by staff, by visitors and even customers.  This translates to the loss of effectiveness of security.
To avoid going wild, business leaders need to make sure that their company’s security plan supports the goals and operations of the enterprise.  Decisions should be based on realistic risk assessments and account for the organizational culture.  Security should enhance the business, not hinder it or hold it back.  Don’t let your security go wild – you may avoid unnecessary lawsuits, embarrassing videos or at least bad PR!