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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Terror Concerns Shift Focus of Security Business

Since it opened in 1992, Chameleon Group did what most private investigation firms did supplied security guards, tracked down deadbeats and errant spouses and assisted attorneys as they built their cases. Then terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and all of a sudden Chameleon was fielding a whole different set of questions. “I saw an uneducated market that was on the hysterical edge, and they didn’t know what to do,” said Muky Cohen, Chameleon’s owner. “The first reaction was, do you think I need more guards? That’s basically what drove us into this market.” The consulting work that began to flow in after 9/11 soon led to a new division that provides training to corporations and government agencies in how to spot and respond to terrorism, and the unit, Chameleon Associates LLC, has overtaken the original company in size. This year, the company opened an office in Singapore to field requests from Asia. Canoga Park-based Chameleon is not alone. Since 9/11 most other traditional security companies have shifted at least some of their business to issues that revolve around the threat of terrorism. “What happened to us, and by the way we weren’t singled out, there was an immediate increase in the amount of work that we were getting to assess security for our clients,” said Dave Aggleton, president and principal consultant at Aggleton & Associates in New York, and immediate past president of the International Association of Professional Security Consultants, an industry trade group. Most of the corporate concerns are still limited to defense-related businesses and those consumer-focused companies that have achieved some sort of icon status. But even companies that are not likely to be front and center on terrorist radar screens, have begun to look at how vulnerable they might be, either because of a location near a potential target or because their goods or employees travel to risky locations. “Most of my clients are concerned about a secondary impact,” said Paul B. Gibson, vice president at Scanlon, Guerra, Jacobsen & Burke, insurance brokers in Woodland Hills. “They’re asking, what if we can’t get goods out of the ports? How can we ship? And there’s concern if executives get caught if they’re overseas. Those are the kinds of questions they’re asking.” The initial rush to seek out services waned quickly as the economy faltered in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. “In fact, six months after 9/11 a number of companies that had grown considerably to accommodate the bubble actually had started laying people off,” said Aggleton. But in the past year, as the economy has strengthened, companies are once again turning their attention to assessment, training, establishing contingency plans and, in case the worst should happen, buying insurance. Since its first training session in 2002, Chameleon has held eight such events, each attracting between 30 and 50 Fortune 500 companies and myriad government agencies from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to local police and sheriff’s departments. Big-name clients The company’s client list includes such predictable corporations as Boeing and Northrop Grumman, but it also includes Target Corp., Amgen, Marriott Hotels and Mall of America. “The core method is predictive profiling,” said Amotz Brandes, Chameleon’s director of marketing and business development. With that methodology, we do training on how to profile cargo, how to use explosive detection equipment, how to profile for human resources.” What the Chameleon executives realized early on was that most American companies treated these issues the way they did crimes like theft the objective was to catch the thief in the act. But their own training, and their lives growing up in Israel taught them that the best defense was to spot potential terrorist threats well before they become terrorist acts. “The terrorist will collect information from one to five years, so you need to catch it then and have the ability to analyze what you see,” said Cohen. Because the company’s approach emphasizes pre-emptive analysis, the training is suited not just for security personnel, but for a range of employees within the organization. In addition to its two- to five-day training sessions, Chameleon has developed a number of video-based programs and an online program called “Demystifying Terrorism.” “They don’t come in like Navy SEALs or a S.W.A.T. team,” said Phillip Wright, vice president for West Coast operations at Zim American Integrated Shipping Services Co. Inc., which operates out of the Port of L.A. in Long Beach and has been using Chameleon since well before 9/11. “They’re very professional, and they’re effective in their communication to the average person and they’re very cognizant of the fact that counter-terrorism is often just observation.” To illustrate the way their training works, Chameleon executives use an everyday example: Your spouse comes home late one evening, her hair mussed, her clothing rumpled and smelling of men’s cologne. The implication seems obvious, until they propose a different scenario. The hapless wife had a flat tire while returning home, and after trying unsuccessfully to repair it, began walking in the rain to get help when she fell and broke the bottle of cologne she was carrying in her purse as a gift for her husband. The point? “It doesn’t make a difference if you’re in a government position or just a citizen,” said Cohen. “The methods of the terrorist are not known here.” Security experts point out that companies often want to know whether they are in danger of becoming the next target, but those are not questions the experts can answer. “I think a lot of people are waiting for the next shoe to drop,” said Aggleton. “The main question is, is the firm or the location that it’s in likely to be a target, and that is something that is incredibly difficult to predict.” Instead, approaches are focusing on crisis management and establishing contingency plans along with training to maintain vigilance. Contingency planning Aggleton does a lot of work with the owners of high-rise buildings, beefing up access controls and, in some cases, even putting in structural reinforcements. “In some cases, it’s contingency planning,” he said. “If we were to be attacked, how can we continue our business elsewhere? So the business model for security is quite often continuity, not when it will happen, but if it were to happen, would this wipe my business out? Therefore I have to have backup facilities elsewhere.” The direct threat for most businesses, security experts concede, is minimal, unless they are near another, high-risk location. But even those businesses can suffer a loss of earnings if a catastrophic event were to occur, and business owners have begun exploring those issues. Gibson said his insurance firm has been getting calls more frequently lately, and with good reason. “When the Port of L.A. went on strike, that caused a lot of heartache, and the concern is that even an event happening on the East Coast could have a ripple effect on the West Coast,” Gibson said. The Department of Homeland Security could decide to shut all ports down if one port is attacked. A business located near an incident could be affected if civil authorities decide to cordon off a wider area. Executives traveling overseas may be unable to return home, or they, themselves, could be targets for kidnappers. “Those are some of the areas being explored, and there’s no magic bullet,” said Gibson. Insurance companies have long offered business interruption clauses, usually with property insurance, but they often exclude acts of terrorism. More recently insurers have begun to offer coverage for these types of contingencies, but, in the event of a real, catastrophic event, the coverage, which typically maxes out at about $5 million, would never cover the lost revenues. “What we tell our clients is start with a disaster plan,” Gibson said. “You can buy a lot of insurance, but there are a lot of unknowns.”

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