Security at Latin American critical infrastructure facilities.
BY JUAN A GARCIA
As a security manager working in the Latin American critical infrastructure sector, do you ever ask yourself, “How good is my security force”? Does your company’s Web site or the Web site of the private security company providing your protective services describe how your security force is highly selected, highly trained, and highly professional? Have you ever truly evaluated your security force to validate if it can competently and efficiently perform the multitude of tasks that you say they can?
Throughout Latin America security force training and qualification standards is not yet where it should be. Latin America is a continent rich in natural resources such as oil and natural gas. The United States imports more than one-fourth of its oil from Latin America. This dependence is not going to decrease anytime soon, only increase. As other superpowers such as China, Russia, and India continue to invest in Latin America, asset protection will take on a greater priority. Facilities that produce, store, and export valuable resources such as oil and gas require professionally trained security forces.
When I visited critical infrastructure facilities in several Latin American countries what I observed of the security personnel in terms of knowledge, skills, and abilities was below average. The security performance capabilities both visually and operationally needs to improve. Even if the site is protected by police or military forces the level of basic and advanced training and performance is usually average at best.
Why is this? Simply, it is usually due to a lack of technical expertise and / or proper funding for an initial and continual sustainment training program. Security tactics are a perishable skill. If you do not initially train to a high standard you are already behind the curve. Along with a good initial training program there has to be reinforcement of job skill-sets through consistent and effective sustainment training. This training has to have both classroom and performance-based attributes. Too often it seems that security is treated like just a normal trivial job, not a profession!
LATIN AMERICA SHOULD LOOK AT U.S. NUCLEAR SECURITY STANDARDS
In the United States, facilities such as nuclear generating stations that produce commercial electricity are heavily regulated by the federal government. These sites are inspected by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to assess compliance to regulatory requirements. Force-on-force exercises are conducted to demonstrate that security organizations can successfully defend their facilities against an adversary / terrorist attack. In addition to force-on-force exercises each site undergoes various physical security inspections to ensure that training and qualification standards are maintained.
Security force members are properly vetted, selected, trained, and qualified. Throughout the year security force members receive a required amount of unarmed and armed training to maintain their proficiency skill-sets. As Latin American countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela continue to grow as energy producers and exporters, security requirements should be carefully evaluated and increased.
The U.S. nuclear security model is a good place to start, and it can be accomplished while maintaining a cost-savings. Latin American maritime terminals and ports, petro-chemical sites, airports, and electrical facilities can conduct their own evaluations and exercises to ensure that their assets are being properly protected. These exercises can be as small, or as large-scale as fiscally acceptable. They can also be targeted for specific areas, for example one exercise for entry control, another for perimeter security and response, and yet another for emergency response. The goal should be to get to a point where you are testing your entire security / emergency plan.
So what are some corrective actions that you can take to professionalize your security force? Below are some suggestions to help get you on the right track:
Bring in an outside consultant / security professional to conduct an independent review of your selection and hiring process, training criteria, and security program.
Be careful to not always bring in a company asset.
From time to time bring in an outsider with relevant security force experience
The benefit of bringing in an outside professional is that they can come in and provide unbiased feedback.
Even in the U.S. this is an accepted and widely used practice.
Look at developing and conducting performance-based proficiency challenges and training exercises on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual basis. Do something, and do it throughout the year! You will be amazed at how inexpensively you can challenge your security force.
Maintain a security training “Subject Matter Expert” (SME) on staff, or contract one to come in several times a year to evaluate your security force operations and personnel.
Create a key performance indicator matrix to trend and assess human and technical performance.
Benchmark throughout the security industry for best practices and ideas.
MAKE THE COMMITMENT
As Latin America continues to expand as a major global energy producer and exporter, security requirements to protect critical assets will become increasingly important and vital. It is a necessary evil during complex and difficult times. Regional threats from terrorist / criminal organizations such as; Colombia’s FARC and ELN, Mexico’s Los Zetas, and Peru’s Shining Path are still present and relevant. These organizations still have the capability to inflict heavy damage on critical infrastructure. Other narco and transnational criminal gangs also have the ability to attack assets if and when it suits their needs.
Evaluate the current status of your security force and then develop a course of action to improve performance gaps. When it comes to security “it is better to have and not need, than to not have and then need.” Find a balance between technology and security force training. Don’t overspend on technology alone and ignore the foot soldiers, and vice versa. Think outside the box, set expectations and stick to them. Never fall into the mental trap that, “nothing ever happens.” Be honest about your standards and performance capabilities. The Latin American continent is striving to become a global economic and political power. More than ever having professional security force capabilities will ensure that this strategic objective is achieved.
Juan Garcia is a veteran with more than 28 years of tactical and security force experience, both in the military and civilian realm. Mr. Garcia currently works within the critical infrastructure field. He is subject matter expert in physical security planning, security force training and operations, threat analysis & vulnerability assessments, and protective strategies. Mr. Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.