Police officers and firefighters are often seen as the first line of defense against a terrorist attack, but a new antiterrorism program is being developed in Pennsylvania that puts another group of experts on the battle front--private security professionals.
The Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security and the Philadelphia Chapter of ASIS International have teamed up over the past two years in an effort to improve cooperation between public law enforcement and corporate security in the fight against terrorism. The result is a four-pronged program designed not only to protect the state against the threats of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups but also to foster a wider debate nationally about the best ways the United States can thwart future attacks against the nation.
"The philosophy in Pennsylvania is that we need to have a platform of full engagement across the spectrum of private and public security," says Keith Martin, the director of the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security and the homeland security advisor to the governor. "The challenge was how to bridge this gap--how to bring all these people to the table. We've found a way to bring all these people together to maximize the exchange of information. What we are doing in Pennsylvania will become an exportable model for the rest of the country."
Daniel H. Kropp, CPP, the chairman of the ASIS board of directors, says the public-private partnership in Pennsylvania mirrors cooperative efforts underway in other states, including Iowa, California, and Florida. However, the work in Pennsylvania is further along because of the involvement of ASIS, Kropp says.
The effort in Pennsylvania includes four strategies. First, it involves an antiterrorism task force that facilitates formal and informal cooperation between private security and state officials; second, the program includes a new e-mail communication system that links corporate security officials directly with the state's homeland security office; third, state officials unveiled a public awareness campaign this summer with the help of private security that is designed to increase public vigilance against terrorism; and fourth, Pennsylvania has created a new state-level committee that brings together public law enforcement and private security to discuss tips for protecting corporations and other vital structures against future attacks.
Antiterrorism task force.
Pennsylvania's antiterrorism partnership between public and private security began in May 2002, when Bryn Palena, a national account executive for ChoicePoint who was then chairperson of ASIS's Philadelphia Chapter, and Jim Reaves, corporate loss prevention manager for QVC Inc., and a chapter member, formed a new committee to discuss ways that private security professionals could be better informed about potential security threats to their region and company. The Business Security and Counter-Terrorism Task Force, as it was called, which had eight ASIS members, began reaching out to local police as well as regional FBI agents and state homeland security officials about ways to improve communication between the state and the many security professionals working at private corporations.
Palena, who is now regional vice president of ASIS's Region XVI, and Reaves, the chairman of the counterterrorism task force, say that private security practitioners believed they could do a better job of protecting their companies if they had advance notice of potential threats. With this in mind, Reaves began making contacts with local and state officials to educate them about the existence of ASIS and its potential to help law enforcement stop or respond to a terrorist attack.
In the first few weeks, this included informal telephone calls and meetings with state officials, but the task force's first big success came when it sponsored a counterterrorism seminar in October 2002 that attracted an estimated 250 public and private security personnel from throughout the state. (The Philadelphia Chapter has since designated October as its counterterrorism month and invites a guest speaker to discuss terrorism with its members during that month's meeting.)
Organized with the help of Reaves and Mark Wolfheimer, the security manager for Vanguard and a member of the task force, the one-day forum was designed to educate security professionals about the terrorist threat and to bring private security and public law enforcement under one roof where they could meet and network. The seminar was taught by officials from the U.S. Attorneys Office in Philadelphia, the local FBI bureau, and experts from U.S. customs, immigration, and postal service agencies. It included tips on how to spot potential terrorist activity as well as how to beef up security during high alerts.
Most attendees were from private security, including ASIS members and other security professionals. Reaves says that the seminar was the first major step in building the public-private relationship that has evolved ever since. The seminar "opened a lot of doors between the private and public sector and opened better lines of communication," he explains.
The relationships that were built during the seminar began paying off immediately. In late 2002 and early "2003 , the task force began updating the Philadelphia Chapter's Web site to include new terrorism-related information, including potential threats and tips on how to handle a terrorist alert.
The task force used the contacts it had made during the seminar to help build content for the site. For example, task force members were able to get permission from state and federal officials to include information from government Web sites on the updated Philadelphia Chapter's site. In addition, government agencies agreed to link their sites directly to the chapter's site so that visitors could get additional information in their areas of interest. Reaves said the Web site contains information gathered from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security, and other government agencies.
The use of the Internet to spread information was expanded in December 2003, when Palena became the Region XVI RVP and began updating the regional Web site to carry the counterterrorism information that was first developed in Philadelphia. The Region XVI Web site is visited by security professionals from 11 chapters throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.
The task force has paid off in other ways as well. Reaves says the contacts he and other security professionals have made have led to other cooperative agreements between corporations and local governments. For example, security professionals at several companies in Chester County, Pennsylvania, have met twice over the past year to discuss how they can help each other during an emergency. The meetings, which included members of the county's emergency management department, have led to new plans to ensure that nearby Route 2002 avoids gridlock in the event that all the companies in the area have to evacuate personnel at the same time.
In December 2003, the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security established an e-mail notification system under which private security professionals from throughout the state who belong to ASIS are alerted about potential terrorist threats. The information contained in the e-mail comes from the CIA, the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and other sources that routinely update Pennsylvania homeland security officials about brewing threats. Kropp says the goal is to give security professionals enough information in advance so that they can effectively prepare for and respond to a terrorist threat.
"Communication seems to be the issue and this is a way we can get that communication out," Kropp says. "In terms of informing the people who are on the ground that there is an imminent threat, we want them to be aware so that if something happens, it's not a complete shock."
The Pennsylvania e-mail system grew out of a telephone conversation between Martin and Reaves in May "2003. At that time, Reaves had invited Martin to attend the October meeting of the Philadelphia Chapter, where he could speak to private security professionals and learn more about ASIS. Martin says he didn't know much about the Society until then but decided quickly that the organization could be helpful in the state's fight against terrorism.
Reaves told Martin that his task force was looking for ways to improve communication between the state and private security, and he suggested the e-mail notification system. Martin agreed and immediately began working with his technology staff to implement the plan. Reaves--with the help of Kropp--was able to obtain an e-mail list of all 1,100 ASIS members in Pennsylvania. The list was incorporated into the homeland security database, and the e-mail system was born.
Martin says the information contained in the e-mails is pulled together by Dr. Paul Konschak, the state's deputy director for intelligence and infrastructure. Konschak monitors the Web sites of federal security agencies, routinely talks to his contacts in those agencies, and reviews all classified materials sent from the U.S. government to the state. Martin says classified information is never e-mailed to private security, but he always asks federal agencies whether there is a nonclassified version of a report that can be transmitted--and in at least half the cases, he says, there is.
Last January, for example, Martin received a classified report from federal homeland security that he felt would be useful to private security personnel. He and Konschak contacted their sources in the federal government and made suggestions on which portions of the report could be released publicly. Federal officials agreed with Martin's suggestions, and Pennsylvania officials e-mailed an alert to corporate security professionals that included specific examples of how they could secure their buildings from a potential threat. For instance, the e-mail alert contained detailed plans for using concrete barriers to stop a car bomb or other vehicle attack.
"I think it's helped immensely," Reaves says. On several occasions, he says, the company's security staff and senior management raised their awareness levels in response to an e-mail alert.
"What the information that comes from Pennsylvania homeland security allows you to do is brief your senior management team on the different threats out there," he says. "It also helps you so you don't overreact or underreact to a situation. That's important."
As the e-mail notification system evolves, state officials and ASIS representatives are working to ensure that only important information is transmitted to security professionals. Palena says it is vital that security professionals not be overwhelmed with so many e-mails that they eventually became "numb" and ignore the alerts.
Martin agrees and says he only sends out information that he believes will be helpful to private security, adding that he is fairly selective about the intelligence that is transmitted so as to avoid overwhelming those who receive the alerts.
"This is not a mind dump," Martin says. "What we are trying to do is pass on information that is meaningful."
One way the department avoids sending too much information in the e-mail alerts is by using its Web site to communicate less vital information. Martin says the Internet site contains general tips and awareness information that don't have to be "pushed" on private security practitioners through e-mail. Security professionals can also use the state agency's Web site to register with homeland security and subscribe to e-mail alerts that focus on a specific industry.
Martin says he receives information for the site from news wires as well as government agencies, and the site is updated continuously. Referring to the head of the federal homeland security office, Martin says, "If [Tom] Ridge says something meaningful at 1 o'clock, it's on our Web site at 1:10."
The third strategy that has been implemented in Pennsylvania involves a public awareness campaign to bring the public into the fight against terrorism. Called "Relentless Vigilance," the campaign was kicked off in July and is being conducted with thousands of posters that will eventually be placed throughout the state reminding people to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
Martin says the campaign has two goals. First, he says that the awareness posters are designed to engage citizens in the effort to fight terrorism and educate them on what to do if they see something suspicious. Second, the posters will help to remind terrorist groups that the entire population is on the lookout for them.
"This is what it's going to take to beat the bad guys," Martin says. "If we engage everyone and be relentlessly vigilant...there will be no place to hide, no place to plan, no place to prepare."
The posters are being released in phases, Martin says, with the first batch placed throughout the state's public transportation system, including bus terminals, train stations, and airports. The second wave of posters will be placed in manufacturing and industrial facilities, while the third phase will include the commercial sector. The department worked closely with its new contacts in private security to gain the approval of private industry to use their facilities to hang up the thousands of posters that will eventually be seen throughout Pennsylvania.
The final piece of the public-private partnership in Pennsylvania rests with a new quasi-state agency called the Council of Law Enforcers and Professional Security Officers (CLEPSO). With roughly four-dozen members, the council meets quarterly in the state homeland security office to discuss issues related to terrorism. Like the task force created by the ASIS Philadelphia Chapter, the state-created council is designed as another forum under which private security and public law enforcement can come together to discuss strategies for thwarting an attack.
The council was formed in November 2003 after Martin began contacting security personnel from the public and private sectors to see whether there was any interest in having professionals from various sectors get together for an informational meeting about terrorism. Learning that interest was high, Martin says that he sent invitations to security personnel from throughout the state, all of whom attended. Today, the council consists of security practitioners from several professional organizations, including the district attorney association, the chiefs of police association, the sheriffs association, and ASIS International.
CLEPSO's meetings are informational, and usually include presentations by state or federal officials on current security threats. ASIS representatives have been among those giving presentations.
For example, at one recent meeting, representatives of the Secret Service briefed council members on security risks during the fall presidential election. This issue is particularly important in Pennsylvania, a swing state that is expected to host numerous presidential campaign visits. Secret Service officials explained, for instance, that campaign trips are planned on short notice and will tie up local police, meaning that corporate security personnel must be prepared in advance to implement any additional security procedures that may be required if a candidate is visiting their facility or campaigning nearby.
In addition to the formal meetings, Martin says the council is designed to allow private and public security personnel to network informally. "When you see an FBI agent talking to a mall security manager, who is talking to a financial services security professional--that is exactly what I had hoped would happen," Martin says. "It's fostered a sense of cooperation--a sense that we are all in this together, each in our area of responsibility."
Martin goes on to explain, "I find that a lot of people are doing interesting and good things that could be of benefit to other people if we share those ideas and best practices. Having this forum greatly contributes to that."
As the country continues to grapple with the best way to fight domestic and international terrorism, private security and public officials in Pennsylvania believe that they have taken a major step forward. Although the program implemented in the Keystone State is still in its early stages, those who are involved in the new partnership say it is a security model that may lay the foundation for how other states guard against the threat of terrorism.
John F. Kirch is the former associate editor of Security Management. He is currently a freelance writer and a doctoral student at the University of Maryland's College of Journalism.