Security Lies Beneath: The Case for Corporate Safe Rooms

By Jordan Frankel

Corporate safe rooms—fortified environments that act as a protective refuge in the event of a home invasion or other threat—are an increasing necessity for people and organizations of all interests. While films and television programs continue to ridicule safe rooms as an indulgence for the super rich or eccentric, actual events tell a different story: safe rooms are, and have been, an integral part of corporate structures and residences worldwide, an otherwise well-kept secret that immediately captures the public imagination

Daily news headlines confirm these threats, and brutal attacks against executives underscore the unfortunate reality of living in a dangerous world: safe rooms are no longer a luxury, but a common feature for companies of all sizes.Safe rooms are often the key factor between life and death. In most cases, safe rooms are part of an architect's plans, and a crucial element for security experts when consulting with owners during the critical stages of construction. Throughout this process, one principle is sacred: a safe room is a haven, a place where individuals, families, or executives can protect themselves from violence while the authorities answer a call for help.
For not only are executives vulnerable to attack—imagine the very real possibility of a CEO kidnapped, beaten, or killed by extremiststhe lack of a corporate safe room is, according to global security experts, a huge liability. The capture or murder of a company's executives would emotionally and financially devastate shareholders and expose insurers to potentially big payouts. Simply said, no executive is truly safe without a safe room.
Also, corporations do not publicize the existence of safe rooms for obvious reasons: first, executives and their security detail have no desire to broadcast to the enemy the fact these things exist; and second, from a purely psychological standpoint, there is no reason to frighten employees and disrupt their day-to-day operations. And yet, events like 9/11 remind us of the global security dangers that confront us. In fact, counterterrorism experts repeatedly warn companies that extremist groups seek opportunities to seize executives. For example, picture an otherwise sedate corporate campus—a multi-acre software company in Silicon Valley or Washington State, the very model of a relaxed work environment—led by a young billionaire and his team of engineers. This seemingly calm destination, where programmers can play volleyball during their lunch break and where the CEO parks his car in an ordinary space, definitely contains a highly sophisticated safe room.
The real question is not whether the executive has a safe room; the more intriguing questions are these: What does a corporate safe room look like? What is inside the ultimate safe-space? 
More sophisticated safe rooms, like the kind built for celebrities or executives (and there is some overlap concerning the essential features in a safe room for a home versus a corporate building), include: doors, walls, floors, and ceilings reinforced with bullet and bomb blast resistant materials, wireless communications, coatings to prevent eavesdropping, surveillance cameras, survival items (first-aid kits, water, packaged food, self-defense tools, backup generator, and even a kitchen and bathroom) as well as a secure air supply in the event of a biological or a chemical attack. These safe rooms are no longer luxuries. Rather, saferooms protect lives, and are part of any reasonable company's playbook.


A Siege Mentality?

The Security Management  article, Security Lies Beneath: The Case for Corporate Safe Rooms by Jordan Frankel, appears to be an expansion of a similar piece, Corporate Safe Rooms: What Lies Beneath?, published at  I had some discomfort with Frankel's approach to executive safe rooms when I saw it there. The primary difference in this version of his article is the inclusion of examples that purport to demonstrate the value of safe rooms for executives.

 “Consider these chilling events, as reported by Human Resource Executive Magazine. Eight oil workers in Ecuador were held hostage for 141 days by Colombian guerillas. One of the hostages was killed when the oil company refused to pay $80 million in ransom. Afterward, the company was told if the kidnappers' demands weren't met within 15 days, another oil worker would be murdered. After lengthy negotiations, the company dropped $13.5 million in $100 bills in a specified area on a riverbank, then flew into the jungle and picked up the hostages.”

 The oil workers in this case were seized at a remote drilling camp by 35-40 heavily armed guerillas. A safe room might have helped, but only if the workers never stepped outside it.

 “Think, also, of the late Paul Tatum who was gunned down in Moscow. Tatum, a founding partner of the Radisson Hotel in Moscow, was the victim of political violence.”

 Tatum was killed in a train station. A safe room would not have helped.

 “Or remember Mamoru Konno of Sanyo Video Components, who was kidnapped while leaving a company baseball game in Mexico. (Sanyo later paid $2 million in ransom for Konno’s return).”

Konno was kidnapped in public. A safe room would not have helped.

 “And then there is Marshall Wais, owner of Marway Steel, who was abducted in San Francisco by armed gunmen;”

 Wais was kidnapped from his bed when his housekeeper was seized as she took out the garbage. A safe room might have helped, but only if he slept inside it every night.

 “Or Sidney Reso of Exxon, who was seized—his kidnappers demanded $18 million—and found 12 days later in a 14-foot hole in the ground.”

 Reso was kidnapped at the end of his driveway when he got out of his car to get the newspaper. A safe room would not have helped.

 “But let this statistic be the final word about the need for increased corporate security: the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that homicide was the second leading cause of job related deaths.”

 Frankel fails to mention that BLS statistics demonstrate that 75% of these murders occurred during robberies of retail and service establishments, usually operated by a lone clerk late at night; not the sort of crimes to which your executive clients are likely to fall prey.

 Frankel make other bold pronouncements throughout his article…

 “These safe rooms are no longer luxuries. Rather, safe rooms protect lives, and are part of any reasonable company's playbook.”

Perhaps this sort of perk is popular with royalty and oligarchs, who are spending their own money, but what board of directors of a publicly traded U.S. company is spending the sort of money this solution requires instead of implementing precautions that protect the entire workforce?

 “A corporate safe room is an example of common sense and basic intelligence, a way to protect a brand's most valuable assets: its executives.”

 It may come as a surprise to many shareholders, clients, and employees that the occupants of the "C suite" are the asset prized above all others across the entire enterprise. While there are a few firms whose fortunes rise or fall on the physical and emotional well-being of the current CEO, in most cases we should be careful not to confuse rock star salaries with the actual value or mission criticality of any one ego.

 “Failure to build a safe room is almost a form of negligence, willful blindness in a dangerous world of criminals and terrorists.”

 Is a safe room really the very best security solution an executive can implement? What if a firm chooses to spend its resources protecting the entire facility and all its employees, starting with the receptionist, and ending with the CEO? Will failure to always include a safe room in every security plan constitute negligence?

 “The good news is that a safe room—the propriety [sic] kind designed by global security experts who recognize the enormity of this issue—can help guard against outside threats. As a haven from the unexpected and unforeseen, a corporate safe room is the best investment executives can make.”

 As the saying goes “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." Frankel's firm, Global Security Experts, Inc., describes itself as “a leading designer of corporate safe rooms.” Its hammer is the safe room so it does not surprise me the problem it proposes to solve is an attack on an executive with time to run to his bunker. But a safe room will only be one element of a balanced executive protection effort, which in turn is only one element in a balanced corporate security plan, which is best integrated into a enterprise risk management program. The professional security consultant will use every tool at his or her disposal, not just the hammer.  A real business leader will make appropriate arrangements to look after every member of his or her company in a balanced manner, whether they work in the lobby or the boardroom.

 At its best Security Lies Beneath: The Case for Corporate Safe Rooms uses hyperbole to pitch high-priced perks to Enron-sized egos.  At its worst it represents an appeal to FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt; an approach we have seen far too much of these past ten years.

Michael Brady, CPP


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