How much Security is Enough?
As frequent readers of our blog know, I travel. A lot. At least once a week, usually more, I’m heading somewhere on a plane. A lot of it is back and forth between New Orleans and New York, but I’m also traveling to other locations around the world. One of the unique perks of this much time in airports is the people watching opportunities it affords. And with New York being the capital of the world (opinions vary), it’s not uncommon to see an odd celebrity here and there. Just in the past few months or so, I’ve interacted with the following people: Joe Biden, John Goodman, John Schneider, Ben McKenzie, Morena Baccarin, Chris Pratt, Keri Russell, the real “Chucky,” and Annette Benning. That’s right, from Deadpool’s girlfriend to Bo Duke, it’s been a pretty surreal few months.
One of the occupational hazards in my line of work is noticing the security protocols, or lack thereof, at every facility I visit and every person I observe. Celebrities and other dignitaries of renown have unique security challenges before them, and they can have wildly different opinions as to what type of personal security they should have. I won’t comment here about what I observed from those celebrities’ security protocols, except to say they ran the gamut. The smartest of them understand that at its core, any security measure you employ is essentially a barrier between you and the rest of the world. When your livelihood relies upon the rest of the world admiring you, you want to be very careful about putting barriers between you and your fanbase
We can see this principle playing out in our daily lives. Consider your last visit to different types of retail environments. If you went to, say, an Apple store, you saw bright, inviting spaces with plenty of light. You were probably greeted promptly and welcomed to the store. Compare that to perhaps a check cashing store, or a 7-11 in a rough part of town. You see the TV with your image on the ceiling. Maybe you had to be buzzed in. Maybe the clerk was separated from the customers by a barrier of bullet resistant glass. Two very different experiences. Which is the “right” approach?
Obviously, there is no one “right” answer. The appropriate level of security is dependent upon a myriad of factors including location, objective, foreseeable risks, and personal preference. When I’m designing a security plan for a person, facility, or event, there are certain things I consider, and I would encourage you to consider them as well.
What kind of home do you live in? Is it an upper floor apartment in a doorman building? Great, your risk of break-ins is greatly reduced. But guess what: if you’re past the seventh floor, the fire department’s ladders might not be able to reach you. Maybe you’re in a farmhouse in a rural area. Congratulations, you’re far removed from the urban centers and therefore the vast majority of criminal activity. But uh oh, if something does happen, the police response time is probably uncomfortably slow.
My point is that we should take an objective look at the place we’re trying to secure. We should understand the inherent advantages and drawbacks. We should understand the risks common to this area. What natural disasters occur here? What has been the criminal activity, and has it been trending up or down? What business or entities are nearby that may invite protests or other disruptions? An embassy or consulate for a controversial nation? An abortion clinic? A Federal courthouse? A quick Google search, or even just looking around, can help understand our location better.
What is my mission here? Let’s say I was asked to give travel security advice to two different groups traveling to New York City for the first time. The first is a tour group that wants to see the major tourist attractions. They’ll be going to well-monitored and highly trafficked areas that cater to tourists. These locations are always have plenty of light, visibility, and police patrols. My advice to them would be minimal, they are not likely to encounter any significant risk.
But let’s say the next group is a religious organization who plans to visit homeless encampments and needle exchanges throughout the city to bring clothing and hot meals to those in need. I can’t tell them to avoid rough areas – that is contrary to their mission. To them, my advice would be much more involved. The level and application of security measures must enable the mission, not obstruct it.
Of course it’s impossible to predict the future. But we can put some thought into determining the most likely risks that might befall us. Sure, it’s possible that I might be in a hot-air balloon crash, but a car crash is much more likely. Conceivably, a tiger could escape from the zoo and break into my garage, but I’m more likely to get bitten by my neighbor’s dog. Let’s say I read an article in the paper that there have been a rash of muggings in a certain part of town. I realize that I walk through that part of town on my daily commute. That just became a foreseeable risk for me. Drowning might also be a risk, but I’m not going to wear water wings to work. But I might stop listening to music as I walk so I can stay more aware of my surroundings. I might start carrying a “dummy” wallet with me to placate a potential mugger. I should focus my efforts on the likeliest, foreseeable risks specific to my environment.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine your own level of risk tolerance. As a security professional, I want people to have an accurate and thorough understanding of the risks they face and to take reasonable steps to mitigate those risks. But I DON’T want them living in a constant state of fear. Finding what is “enough” security can vary wildly from person to person. I’ve had CEOs I’ve consulted with that had very few credible risks before them, but they wanted a full complement of security personnel around them. I believe this was more as a status symbol than true security mitigation. On the other hand, I’ve consulted with others who had significant and credible threats against them identified that declined any additional coverage. It’s a personal choice.
So what is “enough” security for you? Only you can know, but I’ll offer a couple of links that may help in your self evaluation. Good luck, and stay safe!
Planning for major events and natural disasters:
International Travel Security