Election year

Saturday, March 1, 2008

As I write this, the early returns from Super Tuesday are just coming in. John McCain has taken a commanding lead on the Republican side, while very little has been determined between Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Democratic front.
Already, however, the man some believe was the only candidate who truly understood the security industry, Rudy Guliani, has exited the race, his grand plan of rushing into the lead with a victory in Florida now gone up in smoke. As I listen to the rest of the field talk about making the United States more secure, it's hard for me not to harp on what seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the way we actually keep our country secure.
Sure, the military and police forces do their parts, but, in large part, it's private enterprises that represent our most obvious targets: gas refineries, power plants, universities, airports, anyplace where large numbers of people gather. And those places are largely responsible for their own front-line security.
Yet none of the major candidates addresses this fact in any real way. They talk about strengthening our borders, but it's clear there are already plenty of people within our borders who seek to do us harm and have the capability. They talk about ending the war in Iraq, but don't acknowledge that the War on Terrorism has plenty of other fronts. They talk about Homeland Security like they talk about Social Security, as though it's just another line item to figure out.
Look at Hillary Clinton's issues page on her Web site. She doesn't even mention Homeland Security as one of her top issues. Yet she highlights strengthening our democracy, helping the middle class and ending the war in Iraq--all things that depend on making sure people feel safe in their homes and workplaces.
Look at John McCain's Web site. He has a section on National Security, but when you go to read it, you realize it's all about the government for him. He wants to increase the size of the military, improve our anti-terrorism intelligence efforts, modernize the military and spend money more efficiently in the Defense Department. In my opinion, whether you double the military or not, it's not going to make a bit of difference in protecting the vast majority of terrorist targets. What are we going to do, post National Guardsmen at each of the 7,000 chemical plants where a terrorist bomb could cause major devastation?
In fact, though it may surprise many of you, Barak Obama has outlined the best Homeland Security plan of any of the major candidates, with a particular eye toward many of the private security industry's interests. It was he and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) who introduced the legislation that led to the CFATS standards, requiring chemical plants to meet a certain level of security. In my opinion, that legislation will have a more profound impact on the physical security industry than anything that's been passed in the last 20 years.
It's going to get the ball rolling toward more regulations that will make sure that potential targets are not unprepared for terrorist attack. Some of these will be mandates, like CFATS (which Eric Pritchard outlined eloquently in this space last month). Some of them will be incentive-based, like the legislation we write about in this month's "Government Watch," which will provide funds to colleges and universities looking to install physical security systems.
Either way, these efforts represent not only business opportunity for you integrators and installers out there, but also an understanding that businesses and private entities of any scale need to take responsibility for the safety and security of the people who pass through their doors.
Unfortunately, the piece most often left out is how these places are going to pay for that security, which makes the SIA-pushed campus effort so exciting.
Obama is also the only candidate who uses his issues agenda to highlight the fact that we keep poor track of our nuclear material, or to make note that our drinking water supply is often vulnerable to attack.
We need leadership that isn't reactive, that doesn't simply take up an issue because something's finally happened. We need leadership that sees the potential danger on the horizon and takes a proactive step to make sure that danger doesn't come to fruition.
As designers of security systems, these are things that many of you think about every day: risk assessment, potential dangers, worst-case scenarios. You should take it upon yourselves to demand that same foresight and planning from your elected officials, from your city councilors to your state representatives to your senators and congresspeople. You should also demand it of your president.
Let's say I'm more disappointed in the the other candidates than I am impressed with Obama. Nor should you read this as an endorsement.
All of you know it well--security means many things to many people, from reducing shrink to protecting trade secrets to simply keeping people safe from harm. Make sure you know what security means to the people you're voting for.