The security week that was: 08/06/10 (General Honoré)

Crisis management and security lessons from Gen. Honoré

New Orleans, Aug 2010 -- Lt. General Russel Honoré knows a thing or two about crises. Before retiring from the U.S. Army, Honoré was highly decorated , and served as a commander of U.S. military operations in Iraq and elsewhere around the globe. Known as "The Ragin' Cajun", he commanded the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea. The national spotlight shined on his leadership when in 2005 he took command of Task Force Katrina to oversee hurricane and flood relief efforts in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He is author of the book "Survival: How a culture of preparedness can save you and your family from disasters"; it's a book that deeply taps his experience in New Orleans after Katrina.

On the afternoon of Wednesday Aug. 4, Honoré spoke to the attendees of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety & Security Conference in New Orleans. His speech to the attendees focused on leadership and crisis management, and he dropped jewels of wisdom for the crowd of sports security leaders. I've picked a few of his most potent quotes from that address to share with's readers.

"You have to have the different teams and agencies train together. Unfortunately, the first time most of these people exchange business cards is after an incident has already happened."

It's a basic tenet of the U.S. military and law enforcement that you should train like you will fight. If teams are going to be working together, they have to train together. Too often, we hear stories of communications failures and jurisdictional squabbles when a major crisis or security incident occurs. Maybe that's police that don't communicate with the fire department, or squabbles between the security team and local police over how to handle a situation. Or it could be internal corporate battles between the corporate security team and the business managers. A consistent message from stadium security leaders is that they and their peers need to reach out to their partners in local fire departments, the DHS critical infrastructure program and area law enforcement, so that if a major incident occurs, they have the relationships in place to get things done. It sounds basic, most speakers noted, but you'd be surprised at how rarely that simply step is being taken.

"The lowest paid person on your security staff, the guy watching the cars in your parking lot, is likely going to be the first person to see a threat."

General Honoré makes a great point here. This employee would be the one to see the potential car bomber pull up or the criminals arriving to perpetrate their injustices. If this officer is trained only in dealing with drunks, vagrants and skateboarders, what can you expect when the information isn't reported properly and a situation dealt with directly? Even if this officer is making barely above minimum wage and perhaps only moonlighting in security, they have to be trained like the best of your staff and there has to be team building so that these security officers feel like they truly are the front line of security, rather than feeling that their duty is to be a warm body with a flashlight and a notepad.

"'That's never happened before' is our biggest mindset problem."

Failure of the New Orleans levees, well, that's never happened before. A terror attack on our stadium, well that's never happened before. I think Honoré's point here is that we must not fail to imagine the possibilities of threats,and we have to plan for contingencies we have never seen. "That's never happened before" can never be used to dismiss a potential problem. One of the duties of a security leader is to think outside of the box about potential threats. Otherwise, we'd just be practicing the same security program that was set up 10 years ago by a predecessor – even though threats change daily!

"We often plan for the worst-case scenario, but we resource for the best-case scenario."

Lack of follow-through to deal with worst-case scenarios can cripple you, said Honoré. New Orleans citizens always had in the back of the mind that things could go south quickly if a hurricane hit the city directly and the levees failed. But while the city knew such a scenario could occur, they never fully prepared the resources to deal with that actual crisis situation. And then it happened. The Superdome was commandeered for those who lost their homes. Looting hit the street because desperate people were without a cent in their pockets and without daily food. Things went to hell in the proverbial hand basket, and the nation watched it unfold on the network news outlets.

"We are not ready to deal with a nuclear, biological or chemical threat. The bottom line is that we are not ready."

As security managers and national leaders, we have the technology and manpower to deal with physical attacks and intrusions. We have the video surveillance systems, the guards with guns, the DHS-coordinated manpower for natural disasters, but what we generally don't have are fully functional plans for detecting and dealing with attacks that come from radiation, chemicals or biological agents. This, it seems, is what keeps Gen. Honoré up at night. He pointed to our response to the ricin and anthrax attacks and even fake attacks that used the US Postal Service as a delivery method. Almost 10 years after these events, he says we are no better prepared today than we were then. Widespread detection systems need to be in place, but also we need full functional plans on containment of and response to such attacks.

"A good leader does the routine things well, and a good leader isn't afraid to take on the impossible."

When he was installed just a few days after Katrina to take over the response effort in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, times were bleak. Rioting. Dead bodies. Failure of police and city command. Starvation. Lack of basic services. It was the kind of situation that lesser men would look at, throw up their hands and say, "Well, it's impossible to fix." But Honoré was instrumental in re-establishing order and setting up basic services to take a decimated region and give it the life blood of "routine" services that humans need and expect. Approached as routine items (fresh water, food, shelter, law enforcement), the problems were surmountable. He took the impossible and separated the problems into the routine. The lesson for anyone is to approach all major problems this way – and to do the daily, routine security checks and processes well, so that those security efforts aren't forgotten, but are sustained when stress levels rise and when crises occur.

[Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also spoke at the conference. Listen to her address the conference about public-private partnerships related to sports venue security.]

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