The attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 was the worst one-day act of terrorism the world has ever seen. After absorbing the initial shock, Americans and the World quickly united to respond to the emergency and the threat. Until the true intent of the terrorist attack was revealed, we could not imagine such devastation occurring within our borders. Well, the terrorists have our attention now and we can no longer afford to live in denial. Because we live in an open society and value our freedom, we have proven that our nation is vulnerable to such irrational attacks. With this realization comes fear and speculation of what could happen next. Are we willing to sacrifice our freedom now, at all costs, in the name of national security?

Access Control Question

Since the attack a few weeks ago, I have been inundated with questions about what we should do to prevent terrorist destruction of other public buildings and public places. I have listened to many opinions about radical methods and procedures for restricting access to these public places. A common concern is, “Should we implement tight security measures in all public facilities that would restrict or deny access to the public in an effort to prevent future attacks?”

In my opinion, the answer is a reserved no. This is a highly emotional time and there is a definite sense of urgency to do something quickly. This is fear, fueled by speculation, and is out of control with the media endlessly discussing possibilities for future attacks. This is what the terrorist hoped to accomplish. In my experience, knee-jerk reactions bring quick fixes. Quick fixes usually cost more and are less effective than more thoughtful long-term plans. The same managers making costly decisions in haste today will surely regret it later. As time passes, the general public and business managers will demand free access to buildings because that's the atmosphere in which we prefer to live. Anything less will be giving into the fear of terrorism.

Have a Security Plan

Now is the time to dust off those corporate disaster plans and scrutinize them in light of our current conditions. Chances are that basic disaster plans already exist for most buildings, but are not fully developed or operational. Having a sound disaster plan will save lives in event of future attacks. If no comprehensive plan exists then that’s where you start. The plan should be clearly defined and articulated so everyone knows their responsibility should an emergency arise. All emergency equipment should be inspected and tested. Practice drills should be conducted for fire and emergency response. Remember the nuclear bomb drills in school in the 1950s? It sounded silly years later, but we all knew what to do if an atomic bomb went off.

Policy and Procedures First

Security improvements like access control should be first addressed at the policy and procedure level and supplemented with personnel to enforce policy. The next step is to impose physical barriers to limit and redirect traffic at entrances. These basic steps are the quickest to implement and the easiest to modify as conditions chabge, without making major structural alterations. For example, restricting ingress to a building during limited hours through a single door or driveway, and requiring identification to enter certain sensitive areas. I am certain that most building security priorities will change many times over the next few weeks as more intelligence is gathered and the industry has a chance to digest what has just occurred. Policies should be flexible enough to rapidly adjust to these changes.

Add Physical Security Slowly

Installation of new physical security measures or major design changes should come later after careful consideration and planning. What measures you deem appropriate today will undoubtedly change in a few weeks. A common post-incident inquiry from high-rise building owners was about electronic card access and video surveillance systems. Some buildings wanted them as soon as possible without much thought for costs or working the system into the daily routine of the building occupants. The requests for metal detectors and package x-ray scanners were also high without having a plan to deal with day-to-day deliveries and building maintenance. Government buildings and airports expressed interest in concrete barriers to keep vehicles away from vulnerable structures.

Many of our most famous public buildings have been in place for well over a hundred years without serious invasion. Do we really want to permanently disfigure them by adding new structures or barriers to insolate them from suicide bombers based on a handful of events? In my experience, Americans will only tolerate increased security and a restriction of their personal freedom for the short term until we see how the government response plays out. Americans will expect access and movement to be restored in all public spaces once the smoke clears.

Return to Normalcy

Historically following other national crises, Americans have proven to have short memories and will want be back to routines in a relatively short period of time. Those more directly affected by the tragedy will take longer to return to anything close to normal lives. I predict that any overly restrictive security measures will be eased or removed in time. That’s just the American way.

One person asked, “Won’t a return to normalcy make us vulnerable to future attacks?” Of course it will, but I believe most Americans will take the philosophical approach of not living their lives in fear of terrorism. If you think about it, ordinary security measures offer little deterrent effect against those willing to commit mass murder and suicide to carry our their mission.

What Can be Done?

For now, we need to rely on our government and the World experts to resolve this international threat. Meanwhile, we can learn to be patient and be a little more tolerant of the increased security measures until the terrorism issues are resolved or the risk of future harm is reduced. I think America has received a wake up call to take notice of credible threats both foreign and domestic. Meanwhile, we need to work with and appreciate increased security in key travel industries. One thing for sure, we will have to learn to adjust to the way we travel about the country and abroad.

What do you think?

Domestic Terrorism Homeland Security