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Country roads, take me home

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Monday, February 11, 2008
Very quickly, as we get ready to head up to Tel Aviv (dinner at the Ambassador's house tonight might make blogging tough before the day is through), I wanted to mention a cool experience we had at dinner last night. Walking out of the hotel, Andrew Wray (read his blog here) and I passed by a few others from our tour group. We asked them if they'd gotten anything to eat. They said they went to Sbarro, up the street. "But don't expect to find anything with meat on it, man, all they had was vegetables." I told them that was because meat isn't allowed to touch cheese here, something to do with not boiling meat in its mother's milk, an Old Testament thing. And I'm not trying to call anyone out, but how can you go to Israel and eat at Sbarro? Maybe they were homesick and wanted some comfort pizza. I guess I can understand that. Anyway, we found a cool Israeli/Spanish tapas bar called Sol that not only had a number of Israeli cheeses and wines for the sampling, but also featured an Israeli duo playing pop songs on two guitars and singing (I knew they were pop songs because there were in Hebrew and everyone was singing along - no way a local band has that kind of song recognition for originals). The woman had a particularly fine voice and seeing the huge, shaved-head guy crooning was pretty entertaining. Still, I must be a little homesick, too, because I won't deny the kick I got when they broke into a perfect-English version of John Denver's "Country Roads." That was pretty cool.

Israel, day 2

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Sunday, February 10, 2008
Well, while all of you were taking Sunday off, we had a very busy day today, visiting the Knesset, which is Israel's Parliament, and Jerusalem's central bus station. Here's the quick recap, via video. It's short, and I'm kind of testing out the medium, so give me feedback if you want it longer, more detailed, etc. I think it's nice as a snapshot, and I'm going to give a lot more detail down below. So, I've got pages and pages of notes, but I think you see from that video that the thing I really came away with on my first full day here is how fundamentally differently the Israelis view security. In the United States, for example, we talk about risk assessment and we think we're so scientific in identifying where to put our resources and where threats are going to come from, but when a member of our party asked Yatchko, the Sergeant at Arms for the Knesset, ultimately responsible for the safety of the entire Parliament, how he balanced an event's likelihood and the potential damage it could cause, he almost didn't understand the question. He said, "what's of interest is what can cause the most damage." To him, the probability didn't matter in the slightest. "In life and security," he said, "there are only two possibilities: you either succeed or you explain. I don't want to have to explain." He said you can't afford to be surprised by a low probability event happening, so you must plan for everything and have a deterrent for everything. "Everything is taken into consideration." What baffled him the most was why we in the United States waste so much time on scanning and screening people who are obviously not threats. We got the fundamental underpinning for this later in the day, from Amotz Brandes, the leader of this tour at Chameleon Associates and a former Israeli military man (all boys serve three years in the army; girls serve two years, starting at age 18) and profiler for El Al Airlines. For the Israelis, he said, everything is about profiling, and not the silly racial profiling that Americans are so afraid of. Profiling for the Israelis is a constant process of identifying suspicions and refuting them. If something is suspicious, you start to inquire about it until you discover whether the suspicion can be refuted (the package was actually just left accidentally and is not a bomb) or not (we don't know what's in the package, who it belongs to, or what it might be). If you can't refute a suspicion, it becomes a threat, and threats must be dealt with (call the bomb squad). "Many times in security systems [outside of Israel - meaning in the United States, basically]," Brandes said, "they react to suspicion as if it’s threat, and a threat as if it’s only suspicion. For example, a machine picks up something on the X-ray, which is a suspicion, but that’s not a threat yet. Unfortuantely, they send five cop cars and make it an emergency. They have to first try to refute it. Every officer here is trained to have threat orientation. A guard knows all the methods of operation that apply to them at that time." Meaning, security guards aren't just worried about suspicious people, they're worried about the actual things those people might do. Are they a suicide bomber? Are they a "mule," carrying a bomb without knowing it? Is that person going to rush security with a machine gun or a knife? "I know all of [the methods of operation]," he said, "and all of the correlating suspicion indicators [as a security guard, or security director]. It’s my job to find the indicators and act on them." For the Israelis, it's not about law enforcement and putting people in jail. It's about stopping people from harming other people. And they're practical. While we were at the Jerusalem bus station, where Benny, the security director, took us through his procedures and showed us his central station (which didn't use analytics, but did have megapixel video), he casually mentioned that a military person had just reported a machine gun lost. In the United States, this would have caused panic. Here, it was just something to be concerned about. They knew the most likely scenario is that it had already been ferreted out of the building and would likely be sold to criminals or terrorists. They knew they would have to deal with it later. I'll blog more later about these topics as I visit other installations, but, for now, check out this video. It's a public service announcement that's shown here. It's in Hebrew, so you might not understand all of it, but you'll get the central point. It's teaching little kids to identify suspicious packages and then run away and tell someone about it. Here, everyone helps with security, and they are empowered to know what to do in dangerous situations. Even a little kid can understand that a package can be profiled, recognized as suspicious, and then dealt with. Why can't adult Americans?

Snowed in

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Saturday, February 9, 2008
Except for a couple post-college years in Washington, D.C., I've lived in New England my whole life. It's not for everyone, I know, but I like it here, and in my opinion, one of the best things about this part of the world is The Snow Day. There's nothing like getting 'snowed in.' As a kid it meant no school, as a grown-up it means work-from-home, and it always means get in the car and drive to the ski slopes. Thursday was the first not-fun snow day in a lot of years, really maybe ever. I'd hoped to have an update for you on the BarnesBuchanan conference which took place Thursday through today in Palm Beach, Florida. This is a great conference: a who's who of residential security companies, as well as the up-and-comers, all the relevant financial folks, and it all takes place at a swank seaside hotel in February. Instead, I got snowed in. Oh well, here are the official notes from Richard Ginsburg's (CEO of Protection One and featured speaker at BB) presentation.

Getting to Israel

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Saturday, February 9, 2008
Those of you diligent readers of my monthly editorial know that I am now in Israel, having spent the better part of the last 24 hours getting here. I am traveling here as part of a tour package put together by Chameleon Associations and sponsored by Infrastruct Security (check out Andrew Wray's blog off that homepage, too) that will eventually bring us to many of the major security installations in Israel, as well as put us in front of a number of experts in counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, emergency management, and general physical security. Over the course of the next seven days, I'll be providing reports on what I'm learning, what I'm seeing, and what the general atmosphere is here in Israel, arguably the most security-conscious nation in the world. Today, I saw many indications of how seriously Israel does (and doesn't really) take its security. First of all, upon arriving in the Newark airport from the Portland International Jetport (we can fly to Toronto, thus it's international), I found I couldn't go directly to my gate for the second leg to Tel Aviv. Why? Well, there's a second security checkpoint, independent of the one you go through to get to the gates area, just to get into the gate area from which the plane to Tel Aviv departs. This is Israel taking security seriously. You do not get on a plane to Israel unless you've been wanded and someone has looked through your bag. It's that simple. Then they check you in a second time, matching your face, your passport, and your ticket. This is Israel not really taking security seriously. The guy who wanded me got a beep for metal at both of my pockets (cell phone, keys), at my belt (belt buckle) and at my wrist (watch), but was completely uninterested in what was setting off the beep. I guess he was just trusting that it was unlikely that I had gotten a knife through the first security checkpoint, and therefore didn't need me to empty my pockets, but what then was the point of wanding me? Likely, just to make people feel safer. Similarly, the guy who pawed through my bag wasn't even really looking at it. He was just sticking his hand in there because it was his job. Still, as a deterrence measure, this treatment tells potential bad guys not to bother, I figure. Similarly, once we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, there was a security guy who "black-beaned" me (picked me out randomly, like the black bean in a jar of white beans -- what do you want from me, I just picked the term up. I didn't invent it) and asked me a few questions and looked at my passport before I even got to the passport checkpoint. Still, it was more of a formality than anything else. He either picked me because I looked like a dumb American unclear as to where to go, or because I was number 20. It's doubtful I met some kind of profile of a potential danger (although it's possible handsome guys with beards and stylish Brooks Brothers blazers have been identified as likely threats...). By the way, here's what Tel Aviv looks like from the air: Tomorrow, I'll get into the meat of the conference and have more to report, along with some video of the cool stuff we've seen at the Jerusalem bus station. Stay tuned (those of you surfing the SSN web site on a Sunday, after a couple of weeks of our site being down -- there must be dozens of you!).

We're back!

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Thursday, February 7, 2008
Okay, I know a lot of you have been jonesin' for your daily security-blog dope and we've been disappointing you for the past week. Sorry about that. It's a long story, involving Russians, IT guys working late nights, and lots of desk-pounding and cursing (also a fair amount of irony, but I won't get into that). Suffice it to say, we're back, and plenty of stuff has been happening in the meantime. You'll see fleshed out versions of many of these stories on the newswire later today, but here's a quick recap: Aronson Security Group bought Selectron, establishing a real northwest powerhouse of an integrator. At the same time, they established a convergence division that a lot of your are going to want to take a look at for the purpose of stealing ideas. These guys seem to get that companies want one security guy who handles everything (you know, like making sure the Russians don't get you). Assa Abloy bought Simons Voss. When I first heard this, I thought it was a little bigger deal than it actually is. Simons Voss makes some really cool wireless locking systems, don't get me wrong. I just thought they were a bigger company due to the enormous booth they had at the Essen show in 2006. Turns out they only do about $60 million a year. Still big, I guess, but not huge (especially in the scope of Assa Abloy). Also, Assa's going to let Simons do their own thing, so don't expect much to change, which is a good thing. March Networks bought Cieffe, a company from Italy you may not have heard of, but which makes some great IP video technology. They've only recently come to North America - Kolossal Technologies might be their only North American dealer. It's hard to say. But the combination of March's IP stuff for retail and banking and Cieffe's stuff for commercial/industrial applications makes for a very interesting manufacturing partner for progressive integrators. Plus, they've really got a nice global reach at this point. GE Security bought most of CoVi's assets, signaling a commitment to IP video solutions. Apparently it was quicker to just buy assets instead of CoVi proper, which means GE Security doesn't get the brand (but, as one GE official said as an aside, "I think we've got plenty of brand already"), and the executive staff doesn't come with the deal. They'll be busy honoring warranties and answering questions, most likely. What does come with the deal are all of the engineering and product support types-the brain power behind the technology. If there's one thing I've learned about GE, it's that they love to collect PhDs. More later, but that's probably enough for now.

False alarms hit the big time

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The false alarm issue went mainstream in a big way when this article appeared in The New York Times last Sunday. The article basically outlines the issue and cites different false alarm policies throughout the East, nothing those of you reading this don't already know, but my favorite section was this: "Not all towns see false alarms as a problem. In Westchester County, Lt. Robert W. Mazurak of the Bedford Police Department said his officers respond to about 50 alarms a week in Bedford, Bedford Hills and Katonah. Almost all are false. 'This is an important service we provide,' Lieutenant Mazurak said. 'We get to know where the houses are, and the people get to know our cops.'" I love positive people. I'm sure some of you would love to have this guy in your police department. I was confused by this paragraph: Officials in Suffolk County chose another approach, beginning in May 2005. If a business has more than 16 false alarms within 365 days the company is required to fix the faulty alarm within 30 days or it is put on a do-not-respond list. False alarms are counted only if they are caused by system failure, not employee error, and homeowners are exempt, said Richard Dormer, the county police commissioner. It sounds like if an employee triggers the alarm and police/fire respond it doesn't count as one of the 16 allowed alarms? Hmmm. I wonder how they track that? Speaking of tracking, I'm working on a story about a company that does exactly that: It takes care of all the administrative duties for tracking, enforcing and billing customers for false alarms. Keep your eye out for the March issue. (Was that plug too blatant?)

Don't forget to alarm the pet door

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008
This story about an intruder breaking into a Dallas house via a doggie door seems a little unbelievable. The door was eight by 12 inches, according to this story. Think the intruder was a pre-schooler? Anyone ever put a sensor on a pet door?

Securitas Systems' new name: Niscayah

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008
In a relatively conservative security industry, the latest news out of Stockholm has to be considered fairly bold: Securitas Systems, the integrator that spun out of Securitas, has announced it will officially change its name to Niscayah.
I know: Niscayah? According to the release, it means "secure and reliable" in Sanskrit. But you knew that. I knew a name change was coming. Apparently, after the spin-out, Securitas Systems only had claim to the Securitas name for two years, anyway, and they probably didn't want to wait until the deadline was upon them. Intellectually, I think this is a great move. It's different. It emphasizes the company's reputation for creativity. It says that the company is about more than just traditional security. But can you reliably google it? It took me a few practice runs to remember how to spell it (k or c? h at the end or no?), but I did get it eventually. And does it say "security" at all to your average end user? I'm not sure. What do you guys think?

Who's the most famous security industry member?

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Monday, January 28, 2008
I'm going to nominate Cris Carter for that honor. I'm frankly shocked that this New York Times article references his ownership of Carter Bros., however. It's rare that the sports section acknowledges a player's post-playing career. Of course, this - He owns a security company, Carter Brothers, based in Atlanta, and received an award for entrepreneurship from the National Urban League. - makes it seem like he's running a little old alarm company, or something. But, as you'll see in this story about Carter Bros. buying GE's Edwards installation arm, where I interviewed the other Carter brother, John, it's pretty dang substantial. I'm thinking for mainstream fame combined with security industry stature, Carter can't be beat. A close runner up might be Thomas McMillen, the former NBA star and congressman who heads Homeland Security Capital Corp., but a: his company is still smaller than Carter's, and b: Carter is on HBO.

Buckle your seatbelts. It's time for another Brink's investor call

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Monday, January 28, 2008
One thing about these hedge fund guys: They certainly know how to lively up an investor call. Yeah, it's still kind of like a math class, but this is one math class with some interesting personalities. The CEO of Brink's is like the teacher and those hedge fund guys are the kids who don't care if they get detention. Ready to tune in yet? Mark your calendar for one of the least boring investment calls of the year: Jan. 31, 11 a.m. Eastern Time.

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