Will the New Threat Result in Real Change?: Real Security Is Achievable, but It Is Expensive and Inconvenient. It Is Not Yet Clear Whether Society Is Willing to Pay the Price. (Viewpoint)

Article excerpt

Security professionals who have been in the industry a long time, as I have, view the September terrorist attack on the World Trade Center against the backdrop of the past. We know that after 1993, when the trade center was bombed, much was said about the need for more security. But most people did not listen.

Perhaps, this time, they will take heed. Perhaps this time our governmental agencies and private industries will look to our profession with open eyes and open minds and elevate private security to the proper place it deserves as the first line of defense in this war that we have just had thrust upon us. But I am skeptical.

As we watch the television news shows and listen to the commentators interviewing their guests, we observe a theme that runs through all of them; that theme is "the need for better security." We hear promises by members of federal, state, and local governments that we will become a secure nation. We listen to representatives of the airline industry and regulatory authorities tell us how we will increase airport security.

At John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I have long taught my students that "airport security" is an oxymoron in this country. It is a facade. It is lip service to a public that expects better security but will not pay the price in money or inconvenience for real security.

And of course the sad irony of the devastating World Trade Center collapse is that the security failure was not one of poor building security, because, as many people know, Douglas G. Karpiloff, CPP, who was the security and life safety director of the WTC and who perished in the attack, had worked with a special upgrade budget of $60 million to make those facilities as secure as any public building can be. The WTC disaster was made possible because of poor security at our airports.

We had--and have--poor security at our airports because we have not taken security seriously. We have been unwilling to relinquish even small bits of our freedom and comfort to provide a more secure environment. Even as Congress works to institute security measures in light of the heightened threat of terrorism, we find groups clamoring about invasions of privacy and "Big Brother."

We will wait in line for ten minutes at Dunkin' Donuts for our morning coffee, but we will not wait one minute for a security check while entering our workplace. We want to protect our children at school and our employees at work, but we dare not invade their sensitivities by asking them to wear photo identification.

Most of all, we do not spend the money necessary for good and reliable security personnel in most cases. Our society entrusts life and property to people working for minimum wages. Because of this low pay, these people are drawn from a labor pool that is undereducated and undertrained. Many recruiters of security personnel seek people from the same labor pool as our fast food restaurants do. What's more, these workers are treated on a par with the custodial staff. Given these factors, the public should not be shocked when security guards lack skills and motivation or become part of the problem by committing crimes themselves.

Federal, state, and municipal governments have been the worst offenders when it comes to cutting security's paycheck to the bone. They operate strictly on the principle of low bid.

As we move forward, millions of dollars will be allocated for physical and electronic security for airports and government facilities. In the process of spending that money, a consultant will be hired to perform the design work, but the choice will probably still be made based on the lowest bidder. A vendor will be chosen to provide equipment, and the choice will again likely be made based on the lowest bidder. …