Of Shortsightedness and Security

The July sun had just gotten to that point in the sky when morning drivers began praying for rain, when no matter how you adjust your sun visor or tilt your head, the sun is just going to be in your eyes. Helios’ mythological chariot of light was simultaneously warming the earth and relegating hundreds of thousands of commuters to drive with their right hand in front of their eyes, barely peaking out between their pinkies and ring fingers.

That same sun was pouring its rays on a patch of aging concrete on the east side of town, just past Raylene’s Kountry Kitchen, but before you get to the Sanderson’s place – the one that had the crop circles a few years back. The last vestiges of yellow paint could barely be seen on the sun bleached lot, and if you looked hard enough, you could see that this yellow paint originally defined a very nice and orderly parking lot, with bold arrows directing traffic and two entrances and one exit clearly marked.

Paul Masterson commissioned the construction of this patch of concrete in the winter of 1975, and by the summer of 1976, his vision had taken physical form. On September 1st, the first temporary resident of this patch of concrete arrived – a brand new 1977 Triumph TR7. Lime green. By September 15th the lot was filled to its yellow lined capacity. A thrilling mix of 37 Triumphs, Peugeots, Renaults, and Volkswagens glistened between those bold yellow lines. On January 1st, 1977, the same 37 cars continued to glisten. On March 1st, 1977, Paul Masterson took his old Louisville Slugger, signed by Arlo Brunsberg, out of its resting spot in the closet, and walked outside. The lot was devoid of life. The two salesmen he had hired had quit long ago. The sound of the wind rustling the shiny red and blue streamers that were strung between the light poles was suddenly interrupted by the sound of the only known Arlo Brunsberg Louisville Slugger whooshing through the crisp spring air towards the windshield of a lime green 1977 Triumph TR7. This Louisville Slugger, in accordance with Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion, continued on its intended trajectory, passing through the subpar safety glass, and finally coming to rest against the textured plastic dashboard of the aforementioned Triumph. After completing this macabre dance with the 36 remaining unsold imports, Mr. Masterson called the police, and reported an unspeakable act of vandalism. When his insurance check cleared 7 days later, Paul Masterson cut his losses, and went in to the aluminum siding business.

Today, the patch of concrete that held the sum of Paul Masterson’s hopes and dreams now holds reasonably priced import and domestic automobiles. These automobiles are primarily oriented towards your average middle class consumers, with a few upscale models thrown in to keep the mix interesting. The sun that is blinding commuters and bleaching yellow paint to oblivion is slowly raising the core body temperature of two men who are standing near a late model sedan with “lo miles” and “no $ down” written in yellow and orange tempura paint across the windshield, causing the first of many beads of sweat to begin to form on their sun-leathered foreheads. They talk about their weekends and the local sports teams and lunch plans as they savor the first cup of coffee and the third cigarette of the day.

It may have been a subtle shifting of the wind, or a slight decrescendo in the hum of passing traffic, or possibly some vestigial Paleolithic instinct that made the men halt their conversation to peer at the wheezing 1977 Chevrolet Chevette as it entered their domain. The car ground to a halt at the end of the first row of cars, almost sideswiping a minivan emblazoned with the moniker “Soccer Mom’s Dream!” A Timex enrobed arm snaked out the driver’s side window, clasped the outside door handle, and yanked. After a few grunted pulls, the door fell open, and out stepped Kyle Manger.

Kyle was a large man, with a growing family. His wife, Antonia, was 7 months pregnant with triplets, and they needed a more appropriate set of wheels. He glanced over at the two men standing by the late model sedan, and waved them over.

“My family is more than doubling in size, and it’s going to keep growing. I need a vehicle that will allow me to get around safely. I’d like to look at this van”

Mitch had put out his cigarette before he walked over to Kyle, but the smell of cigarettes, sweat, Axe cologne, and desperation permeated his body. He held out his yellowed hand and grasped Kyle’s in a limp handshake.

“Well, this here van is a great choice. It’s got all the latest and greatest features, and it will meet your needs for years to come. It’s safe, and it has room for your family to grow. It ain’t the cheapest car on the lot, but it’s one of the few that meet your needs.” Mitch was pretty sure this was a slam dunk sale.

“I like it. I want to buy it, but it’s going to be a few days. I’ll get back with you.” Kyle shook Mitch’s hand, looked him in the eye, and got back in his Chevette. Mitch called his boss, and told him that the sale was in the bag.

…Two days later…

“I’m sorry Mitch, but I’ve made up my mind. I’ve found a different car, and even though it’s not as good as your van, it’s significantly cheaper.” Kyle was just signing the paperwork on his new car when Mitch called him on his cell.

Mitch was shocked. “What kind of car are you getting? An SUV, a different van, maybe a station wagon?”

“None of the above. I found a vehicle that is really cheap. A 1977 Triumph TR7, Lime Green, Salvage Title.” You could hear the pride beaming from Kyle’s voice and he regaled Mitch with the glory of his decision.

“Um…Kyle…I hate to break it to you, but you’re a blooming idiot. That car is unreliable, it won’t fit your family, and it’s dangerous. What are you thinking?”

“Mitch, the car is only $500, and that’s good enough for me.”

“Kyle, you’re making a huge mistake. Call me after that heap of junk dies.” With that, Mitch hung up the phone, and walked back out to the lot.


I would like to believe that no one would ever make a decision this foolish, but I know that they must. I talk to security managers every day that make decisions identical to this one. Only there is one HUGE difference – if you buy a ridiculous car, only you suffer. If you skimp on your security solutions, you are putting lives and property at risk.

Let’s look at a bit of a case study.

Problem: You are the security director for a small suburban town located very closely to a large, rapidly expanding metro area. In 2000, your population was about 1500, in 2008 your population is 20,000 and growing by 20% per year. Unfortunately, not everyone that moved in to town is what you would call a “model citizen”. Lately, there has been increased vandalism at several of your parks, with repair costs of $50k per year. Not only that, but some of the graffiti has been tags of some fairly large gangs that run in your neighboring city. Finally, there have been several break-ins at the community pool, and you have no idea who is getting in. They are committing petty vandalism, but you’re much more concerned about the risk of someone being injured or worse.

Proposed Solution: Using a high quality physical security platform, begin to deploy video, motion detection, and analytics in your most vulnerable areas – the pool and the problematic parks.

�· This solution should be accessible by Law Enforcement, Security Management, First Responders, and any other department as needed. Why is this level of access required? Simple, a surveillance system is only as good as the people that use it, and having a broad access methodology will allow more people to use it.

Ã?· The solution should be designed to allow for unlimited growth, and be able to grow quickly. Your city is growing at an unprecedented rate, and you are wasting your time and your taxpayer’s money if the system has some sort of artificial ceiling.

Ã?· The solution should also be designed in a way that it is future proof and easily upgraded as technology progressed. Today’s Hi-Tech is tomorrow’s old news, so it needs to be able to evolve with new technology.

�· Finally, the solution must be rock solid reliable with manufacturer onsite support and system monitoring. If it dies six months after you buy it, you better have your resume ready.

Ã?· Cost – about $35k.

Actual solution: Make it up as you go along!

�· Get your third cousin to buy some cameras off the internet. A camera is just a camera, right? Who cares about manufacturer support? Who cares about build quality? Who cares about image quality?

Ã?· Buy the cheapest power supplies you can find and wire those puppies up with some old coax you found in the garage. All this talk about “professional quality” is just a bunch of hoohaa, isn’t it?

Ã?· Pick up a no name VHS DVR from a pawn shop. Just because every major VHS tape manufacturer has declared End of Life on VHS tapes doesn’t mean it’s not a perfect solution.

Ã?· Give your third cousin a case of beer in exchange for installing the cameras. Professional installers can cost some real money. Who cares if they’ve done this hundreds of times?

�· Bask in your intelligence!

Ã?· Cost – depends on the quality of the beer.

Does this really happen? Yes, every single day. Security managers on both the private and public sectors are making these decisions all the time. Why? Because they are short sighted. Because they get rewarded for saving money, not for providing good solutions. Because they buy on price, not on value. Because they really aren’t all that bright. Because tiny blurry images at one frame a second is good enough. Because a fake camera box on the wall is just as good as a real one, right? Maybe they believe that reactive video surveillance with poor image quality and unreliable recording technology is a good thing. Maybe it was just easier, and they’re lazy. Who knows?

There is one thing I do know, and it’s this: our noble security director did not provide a real solution, but he’s probably getting high fives for saving the money. When the vandalism increases, he can blame the police. When the gangs increase, he can blame the parents and the school. When someone drowns at the pool, he can blame the parks department. He did his job, by golly. He put in the best darn video surveillance system that $500 could buy! And when a new police chief gets elected, one who understands that a city wide security solution is an integral part of his operations, our security director will hand him the keys to that decrepit solution, and the security director can wash his hands of it.

What does the Chief of Police do with this piece of junk? Well, that all depends on the policies of the city. He may just yank it out and chuck it, but then he is running the risk of appearing to be wasteful. He may try to integrate it into a better solution, but this is usually just as expensive as starting over. He might just leave it there to die and replace it when it does, but that is not going to help him in his real mission, which is protecting the city. If he’s smart, he’ll give the security director’s third cousin, the guy who installed this junk in the first place, a case of beer to go down there with a ball peen hammer and destroy the system, and use the “crime” as a stump to justify a new system. In reality, he will probably leave the system there for the sake of “cost savings”, and those areas will remain vulnerable.

Let me lay it out for you: physical security is not an instant gratification product. Physical security is something that needs to be carefully considered, and the future needs to be an integral part of these considerations. Are you really going to depend on a Sam’s Club Special to protect your facilities? Some of you are thinking “sure, it’s good enough”. Yet, I don’t see you piling your family into 1977 Triumph TR7s or the latest SUV from China or Southern India, even though it’s cheap. Why not? Simple – you pay for what you care about. You care about your family and their safety, and about your status symbol of choice. You carefully consider the decisions that you care about. You make sure that your new car is safe, reliable, and will meet your needs for years to come. In stark contrast, you really don’t care about the safety of the people using your facilities, or the security of the facilities themselves, you just want to look like you care. You know that you can put some cheap garbage on the wall, and still get a raise.

It’s time to change the way that we look at physical security. I think there needs to be a fundamental shift from price based purchasing to value based purchasing. Yes, I understand that it takes more work to figure out what the best value is, and it might just cost more, but sometimes, you get what you pay for. You might even need to (gasp!) justify your decision making process! If you can’t justify your own decisions, then I would suggest you give your two week notice and get a job digging ditches. If you’re job is to protect me and my family, than butch up, little Sally.

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