Last week's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which targeted two of the city's top business hotels, are again confronting chief executives and human resource managers with the questions they have wrestled with for some time: Can their companies react with speed and precision to minimize casualties and limit damage in situations such as these?
The answer is mostly no, as a team of Mint reporters who worked on this story found.
As terrorists strike Indian cities from Bangalore to New Delhi, Ahmedabad to Jaipur and, most recently, Mumbai, with alarming frequency and impunity, what is becoming evident is that a workplace such as yours could be the next target.
But most Indian firms (as also places with large public concentrations such as shopping malls, hospitals or even schools) just don't have the systems in place to deal with attacks that rank high on sophistication and planning, as last week's strikes in south Mumbai.
Awareness of the need for security and preparedness is highest among local units of multinational entities and sectors such as information technology, in which companies have security clauses written into their contracts with overseas clients, says Chiranjit Banerjee, general partner at Peopleplus Consulting, a Bangalore-based human resources firm.
The mindset, according to one urban security expert, is otherwise still thrifty towards security and related processes, limiting such efforts to X-ray frames or physical inspections of vehicles.
Hotels, for instance, "are more receptive to buying luxury cars for visitors but (even today) make token investments by opting for metal detectors instead of explosive vapour detection systems," says Diwan Rahul Nanda, global chairman and managing director of Tops Security and Services Group. "Metal detectors cannot detect chemical or plastic explosives that terrorists these days use."
The cost of such vapour detection systems begins at Rs4 lakh and ranges up to Rs40 lakh. Sticker prices on sophisticated trace detection or backscatter X-ray equipment, both of which can detect chemicals even if they are present only in ion-level quantities or produce a skin-level body image, can run into millions of dollars, which explains why their use is mostly restricted to airports or border crossings.
To be sure, some companies have begun opening the purse-strings. At Gurgaon's Ambience Mall, says Deepak Kapur, general manager of mall operations, three ?non-linear junction detectors? or devices that detect material even if they do not have embedded electronics (such as timers or triggers) were installed three months ago at a cost of Rs12 lakh.
To scan underneath cars and other vehicles, Ambience Developers and Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd, the company that owns the mall, has devices with cameras mounted at the end, instead of mirrors, that transmit pictures to a hand-held monitor.
DLF Ltd, India's biggest real estate company by revenues, says it too goes beyond just checking the bags of employees and visitors at its offices. "For instance, we have CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras around the offices and inside," says Rajiv Talwar, group executive director at the realty company. DLF consults international and Indian security firms regularly, he added, declining to name the firms.
Still, such measures, said most of the some two dozen executives and experts interviewed for this story, are not fool-proof in an age of suicide terrorists and human bombers. Harsh Vardhan, chief executive of TerraForce Security Services Pvt. Ltd, part of the DLF Group, lays emphasis equally on systems within companies to deal with the aftermath of an attack or a natural disaster.
Even in instances where employers have so-called disaster mitigation and business continuity plans, ?in most cases it's just advisories and messages sent to the employees to stay away from a particular area or avoid a particular situation?, says A.S. Bedi, a vice-president at Wal-Mart's joint venture with Bharti Enterprises Ltd, who handles asset protection and security.