Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hired To Provide Insecurity

There was a suicide bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan last week. The senseless act on 20 Sep definitely brought an eerie déjà vu of the Sep 11 terrorist attack in 2001. So far, the death toll has gone up to 60. Although the incident at the Marriott paled next to the 911 mega episode, it gives me a rude reminder on how unsafe we can be.

If you watched the released footage on the incident, you might have noticed that a large truck rammed the front security gates of the hotel. A suicide bomber then detonated a small first explosion that sent the security guards fleeing momentarily.

A small fire raged in the cab of the truck for three to four minutes while guards bravely but ineffectually sprayed the truck with a small fire-extinguisher. The footage, however, did not show the moment when 600kg of military explosives in the rear of the truck finally detonated. I do not wish to see that.

I have a question: Are these people equipped with the right skills to handle threats of such a scale?

Perhaps not.

What about the day-to-day security situations during peace time? Can the security guards around us fulfill their roles?

I have my doubts.

My encounters with security guards in my every day life are typical - those at the estate where I am living and those at the building where I am working. I have some issues with both.

Like every other private housing estates, our estate pays a handsome amount collectively to hire security guards. I would expect them to at least ensure that unauthorized access to the estate is scrutinized. This is usually not the case. I have seen non-resident drivers zipping into the estate without any resistance let alone checks. As a non-resident in other estates, I find it generally easy to drive into their compound too.

I suspect their job manual probably says "Push the green button when you see a car approaching and lift the barricade. Don't forget to smile.'

Good job! (Sorry for the sarcasm).

At my work place, their presence is prominent at the security/information booth. Most of the time, the guards behind the counter appear to be preoccupied by the administrative task of issuing visitor passes. I suppose other guards would be scheduled to patrol the building at one time or another. It all seems well until some personal encounters suggest otherwise.

It was a few months ago when I needed a little help from them....It was approaching midnight and I had to retrieve my car from the already-shut carpark. The security guard on night duty was helpful enough to guide me to the carpark via a 'so called' alternative route. I felt my confidence in him waned as I was brought on a building tour with no 'alternative access' in sight.

He tried every other access which did not lead us to the basement carpark. Interestingly, he maintained his confidence throughout our 'tour' while mine dissipated by the minute. I suggested to him that we should just use the usual route via the carpark lift. He thought otherwise and advised that the lift would no longer be in service at that hour.

My 'fate' was temporarily in his hands and he was as helpless or should I say, more helpless than me. After a few rounds of aimless search for the 'probably-non-existent' access, I insisted that we should just use the carpark lift.

Tada! I went down to the basement carpark using the very lift that was supposed to be 'no longer in service'!
So, what can I expect from these ladies and gentlemen, tasked to 'guard' our office building, in the event of an emergency?

Yes. I can expect them to pray for me and the rest of my colleagues (sorry for the sarcasm, again!).

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