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TII security

Prevention is better than cure

Why investing in ‘hard target’ security measures is money well spent


By Dave Robinson

President and chief executive of Tactical Intelligence International, LLC, based in Clermont, Florida


Time and time again we witness failures in the system because an organization is unwilling to implement recommended security measures and practices in a bid to save upfront costs. This typically leads to much higher costs in the long run. Dave Robinson looks at basic security elements that can make ships and facilities harder targets, while recommending new technologies to deal with potential threats.

Security threats – whether theft, terrorism or other criminal act – require the same basic elements in order to be carried out, namely, intent, access and opportunity. Similar to putting out fire, removing just one of these basic elements can mitigate the risk, greatly enhancing an organization’s security posture.


Intent to commit a crime or terrorist act can be removed if it is determined that the act itself is too risky. Target selection is a major factor in the planning phase and criminals generally conduct a simple cost-benefit analysis.

So what determines whether you are a soft or hard target? Obviously, physical security equipment and procedures are a major factor, but one area often overlooked is the knowledge, professionalism and capability of the local guard force or shipboard security personnel. Ask yourself how many times you’ve walked into a bank or a shopping mall and been confident that the guard on duty could handle an extreme situation.

The level of professionalism – or even appearance of professionalism – of your security personnel is a major factor in threat mitigation. This begins at the hiring process and continues with an established training program, including drills and exercises. Maritime industry authorities, including recent US Coast Guard Directives, MARAD, the IMO and the International Maritime Bureau, all agree that one of the key deterrents to criminal acts in ships and ports is consistent staff training. Tactical Intelligence International (TII) recommends that full-time and part-time personnel, including contractors, must be trained in:

(a) Relevant provisions of the Facility Security Plan (FSP)

(b) Meaning and requirements of MARSEC including emergency procedures.

The ISPS Code further requires regular staff training and the conducting of drills and exercises at each level of MARSEC.

Facility security staff should be trained to detect dangerous substances and devices; to recognize who is likely to threaten security; and to know about techniques to circumvent security measures.

Although work schedules generally preclude all-hands training events, it is recommended that specific times be set aside monthly for security and safety drills involving local law enforcement agencies and first responders.


One of the biggest challenges for a major port is access control. Tracking and monitoring hundreds of contractors each day is a daunting task. Access control measures may include security gates, perimeter walls and fencing, ID badges and background screening. Often, security resources become diluted by other duties. TII recommends an increase in security staff to take care of these collateral duties so as not to dilute core security functions.

The internal threat to any large-scale operation, vessel or facility is a constant concern. How do you stop a bad guy who has been given authorized access? It is impossible to detect all theft, but increased surveillance, screening, inventory control measures, incentives for staff and watch standing at vulnerable areas should be carefully planned and implemented. Security officers should be stationed at primary access points and should randomly screen vehicles and contractor personnel. Signage should be posted indicating All Vehicles Subject to Search and security personnel should be trained and equipped to conduct thorough vehicle searches. Remember that access FROM a facility is as important to a perpetrator as access TO a facility.

All watch standers should have a back-up working in the vicinity. TII recommends the rotation of watch personnel with relief in place every four hours to help everyone stay vigilant and mentally alert. This also helps to minimize the potential of the insider threat, for example a security guard who is bribed to look the other way or not report a crime. All watch standers should be briefed on good watch standing practices because they are the first line of defense for that vessel or facility.

Early detection of potential threats is essential. The sooner information is reported to the supervisor, the sooner he or she can decide on a course of action. As we have seen in numerous piracy attacks at sea, watch standers have prevented pirate access and hijacking through early detection and warning. The appearance of a vessel or facility to be difficult to access is often enough to deter a criminal or terrorist act.


Surveillance systems are an extremely effective deterrent to theft. Cameras should be placed at all potential access points, including waterside access and remote locations that are seldom patrolled. Cameras should have overlapping fields of view and provide 24/7 coverage. Actively monitoring these cameras feeds and having a rapid response capability in place is imperative. A typical vulnerability assessment includes ‘red cell’ scenarios where we attempt to breach a facility and then see how long it takes for security personnel to respond. Typically, one or two personnel respond within 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes no one responds at all.

So, how is this possible in today’s security-conscious environment? We have inspected numerous clients where one guard is responsible for gate access control while simultaneously trying to monitor dozens of live camera feeds. This is an impossible task. Lack of manning, for whatever reason, is a major factor in creating opportunity. Monitoring stations need to have a designated person to observe the feeds. The US Navy recommends that watch standers shall “not be assigned or assume any other duties which may distract them from their watch function”.


Clients often have a ‘fire and forget’ attitude when in comes to security equipment. Once the system is bought, paid for and installed, they are rarely checked for positioning, coverage and functionality. We have been in many command posts where monitors are showing no camera feeds or the picture is obscured. Often, Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) cameras are ineffective in a marine environment, especially in the Caribbean, due to the small temperature differential between the water and the heat signature of the human body. Night vision cameras positioned too closely to lighted areas also hinder surveillance.

Cameras have a shelf life and need to be on a regular maintenance schedule. Even with a fully functioning camera, factors such as poor weather, low light or glare can greatly reduce detection. There are several ‘plug and play’ systems now available that can enhance video imagery in real time, providing an all-weather, day and night capability without having to upgrade your entire surveillance system. These systems essentially remove the darkness or poor conditions from the video image, allowing watchers to detect finer details such as facial features and license plates.

Lighting provides another deterrent and minimizes opportunities for intruders and thieves to come and go undetected. Ample lighting should be provided in all areas containing equipment and inventory as well as potential access points and locations.

Last, opportunity can be created through predictability. All too often, security guards develop a routine. If an intruder knows it takes 20 minutes for a guard to complete his patrol circuit, he can plan for a 20-minute window where he is virtually guaranteed not to be observed. Roving patrols should be instructed to vary their patterns to maintain an element of unpredictability.

Look through the eyes of a thief and try to determine whether you are a hard or a soft target. Conduct a review of security personnel, procedures and equipment and make an honest assessment of what could be improved. Walk the property day and night and see if you can identify any weaknesses.

Adhering to recommended security protocols will help remove criminal intent, access and opportunity, providing a safer work environment while saving long-term costs to your organization.