Nine years after 9/11, business owners are still trying to figure out how ensure safety

September will mark nine years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Many lessons have been learned since Sept. 11, 2001, and there have been major changes in attitudes toward security in every facet of American life, including the workplace.

Behind the Invisible Shield Nine years after 9/11, businesses are learning how to protect themselves — and their country — from future acts of terrorism. By Triston V. Sanders Originally published in the Aug/Sep 2010 issue of 850 Magazine

September will mark nine years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Many lessons have been learned since Sept. 11, 2001, and there have been major changes in attitudes toward security in every facet of American life, including the workplace.

Since that tragic day, businesses vulnerable to cyberattack or physical dangers have had to take unprecedented precautions to protect themselves. Indeed, the private sector is building its own arsenal and has joined the battle alongside government to prevent another strike.

High-risk targets for acts of terrorism include military and civilian government facilities, international airports, large cities and high-profile landmarks. Experts believe terrorists also might target large public gatherings, water and food supplies, utilities and corporate centers.

Pensacola-based Gulf Power Company places an emphasis on security because of the potential appeal a utility company has to terrorists.

“Security risks have become very complex for a corporation, especially a utility like Gulf Power,” says Bentina Terry, the company’s vice president of external affairs and corporate services. “Keeping employees, company information and physical assets secure is critical to the operation of our company.”

Part of the job is raising awareness of the importance of security and educating the company’s 1,300 employees on how they can help make Gulf Power a safe and secure place to work. The man charged with leading that effort is George R. Schenck, the company’s security manager. He says many lessons were learned from the fateful day that terrorists struck on American soil.

“We became more cognizant of the fact that there are organized groups and individuals that are focused on doing us harm or destroying our operations,” says Schenck, who retired from the Federal Bureau of Investigation after 32 years with the agency. “This is especially true for a power company because of the devastating impact it could have on the community or region, both emotionally and financially. We also learned that good communication and coordination is essential for effective security, wherever or whoever you are.”

And companies have changed how they address security issues.

“It shifted the focus away from routine security matters like theft and vandalism — local matters — to concern about terrorism on a more regional and global perspective,” Schenck says. “We now coordinate more within the industry and with outside entities such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.”

International Paper, also in Pensacola, has 463 employees and about 100 contractors. Human resources manager Stan Shaw says the company analyzed workplace security after Sept. 11 and “learned that at any point in time, things can happen that you don’t expect, so we should prepare for the unexpected to protect life and property.

“We’re a lot more conscious about domestic and international travel updates, information and traveler status,” he says. “We also increased security assessments to focus more on perimeter protection and identify any areas of vulnerability.”

Shaw says the company has taken measures to close security gaps and monitor security processes at least annually. There also is annual training to remind employees of what steps to take if they identify a strange person, package or activity in their area.

Following the terrorist attacks, Florida established seven Regional Domestic Security Task Forces to prevent, investigate and respond to terrorist attacks. Each task force includes partners from law enforcement, emergency management, fire/rescue, health and education, along with communication officials and representatives from the private sector.

The North Florida task force specifically designed a localized domestic security program for the private sector called the “Business Owners Against Terrorism” (BOAT) program, which encourages businesses to be proactive in making sure they are secure. The task force adopted some of the New York City Police Department’s domestic security concepts and created BOAT for the specific needs of the region, which includes Leon, Columbia, Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla counties.

The BOAT program was designed to educate business owners in the region about the threats of terrorism that they may encounter every day and to engage them in the fight against terrorism. To enhance the task force’s community outreach, a DVD video series was created for major business categories that may be targeted by terrorists. These categories include vehicles, hospitals, weapons, property and chemicals.

In May 2008, Florida companies got some reinforcement from the state through a first-in-the-nation program created by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Called BusinesSafe, it is a free, Web-based program designed to better connect the public with FDLE’s Office of Domestic Security.

“Business owners and employees are encouraged to sign up for this service to receive breaking news, time-sensitive security information and tips for protecting assets,” says BusinesSafe’s administrator, FDLE Inspector Leisha Fordham. “BusinesSafe offers more than 70 industry-specific fact sheets that educate businesses on how to identify suspicious activity and how to report it to law enforcement through the online reporting form.

“By creating a dialogue between businesses and the FDLE Office of Domestic Security, we are able to better inform businesses about security issues that could potentially affect their personal safety and business security,” Fordham says. “Any business of any size can access the website. We especially encourage executives, risk management officials, human resource professionals and security personnel to sign up.”

Approximately 3,450 businesses now are receiving alerts through BusinesSafe.

“Many other states have various local mechanisms to communicate with businesses,” Fordham says. “But we are unaware of other states that have a statewide e-mail alert system accessible to all private enterprises.”

As is the case with BusinesSafe, there are many security measures that cost nothing. As Fordham points out, “Awareness is the best tool. Knowing how to recognize suspicious activity and identifying potentially harmful products and services aids law enforcement and businesses in better protecting communities.”

This partnership between law enforcement and business is powerful. It helps to address potential threats, enhance awareness and better protect assets.

“Security is much like insurance,” says Schenck, of Gulf Power. “However, in today’s environment, the loss might not be some copper wire, tools or vandalism; it could be destruction of a power plant or a corporate headquarters and many employees. Security today takes on an entirely new dimension and magnitude … I would use that argument to convince a reluctant company of the importance of a robust security operation.”

Businesses can get creative and do what Schenck did for Gulf Power Company.

“We coordinated with the local police department and corporate management to conduct a ‘hostile intruder exercise,’ ” he says. “We engaged all areas of our operation with a scenario-driven tabletop exercise and utilized the advice and expertise of the local SWAT to assist us in testing, guiding and modifying our existing response plans to more effectively plan and hopefully deal with such a situation if it occurs.”

Another way to bolster a company’s defenses is to reach out to an expert such as Joseph A. LaSorsa, an independent consultant with 32 years in the investigative and security fields.

“Companies have increasingly become more proactive and aggressive in security-awareness training mediums and prevention techniques since 9/11,” LaSorsa says. “Many more companies are looking toward experts like me to tailor programs specifically adapted to their company’s environment and culture. They are realizing that prevention and awareness are main ingredients in the prescriptive arsenal of security countermeasures.”

Workplace security since Sept. 11, 2001, has taken on new meaning. It’s about protecting employees, the community and the country — and that is a business investment that’s hard to put a price on.