GIVEN the recent repeated and specific threats against Australia by terrorist organisation Islamic State, security managers, security system designers and electronic security integrators should get themselves well and truly onto the front foot. 

They need to be honest about what security systems can and can’t do, they need to ensure the systems they install are fit for purpose. They need to ensure our solutions are prepared.

The wider community is still struggling to come to terms with the ethical and social ramifications that surround its collective response to Islamic State’s threats. These have included multiple direct exhortations to its local supporters to harm Australia and Australians in any way possible. And while nothing major has happened yet, incidents in Queensland and Victoria, including the attempted murder of 2 police officers attacked in a stabbing frenzy by a man carrying an IS flag, sheet directly home to IS. 

Unsurprisingly, this debate has polarised society on political lines, with conservatives demanding strong action while the left advocates an inclusive response. Both sides are broadly right but that muddy debate should not distract electronic security people from intensifying their focus and getting eyeball-to-eyeball with the Eaten by Wolves Factor. 

The Eaten by Wolves Factor, posited by Computer Scientist Professor Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon University, is all about preparing for a worst case scenario – it’s about “having a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose”. 

I’ve spent decades in the security industry and have seen many electronic security systems and I can fairly observe that such specific preparations are rare. Perhaps most disappointingly, it’s at a time when our technologies are at their most capable and their costs are at their most affordable that we continue to see the application of systems hamstrung by the lack of budget. 

Too many systems are being installed based on the most threadbare of risk analysis. Others might function within very narrow constraints but lack the flexibility to provide support in worst case scenarios. This applies to high risk corporations but it applies most of all to public surveillance systems, systems that monitor iconic locations and systems that assist security teams looking after vast numbers of patrons. 

While at the BGWT confab on cruise ship Pacific Dawn last month, I took the opportunity to ask security integrators about the impact of budget constraints on system quality and their response was universally scathing. One integrator said these days he always included an adjacent quote for a low-end solution that would be barely adequate. This low-ball quote was often taken, despite persistent warnings about system performance, reliability and longevity. 

It’s fair to observe that before a major security incident takes place it seems utterly improbable. Yet afterwards, the ability of security and law enforcement to respond to such events comes under the most intense public scrutiny. Time and again we see terror attacks occurring on city streets, airports, train stations, buses, trams, schools, nightclubs, shopping centres – in the most mundane of places. 

Serious consideration now needs to be given to the ability of our systems to detect potential threats in advance, to respond to threats as they unfold and to share information with first responders. Given everything that has been learned overseas, the time to discover our vulnerabilities is not after a terror attack. And as dramatic as that sentence might sound, it is this industry’s responsibility to consider such things, to detect such things and to record such things for investigation.   

In the ebb and flow of our isolated nation’s life, it's easy to forget about or discount threats to private and public property, to ignore events that are tearing distant societies apart. But events overseas show such threats are credible. We need to prepare our systems to defend against and react to the worst possibilities. Because no matter which side of the political divide you sit on, the wolves are real. ♦ 

By John Adams