Nov 14, 2007

Long-Stemmed Mirrors, Metal Detectors and Popping Up Trunks: Lessons from Congress and MRT Blasts

Continuing my series on Design of Pinoy Security.

GK Chesterton once said, "The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic."

To me, this sums up the whole tragedy of security design in the Philippines and anywhere in the world. A security tragedy happens (like the bombing of Glorietta, Megamall, Congress and MRT) and authorities respond to it with very uncreative security measures.

By uncreative I am not only referring to unimaginative signs on the airport that say, "We treat all bomb jokes seriously." I also mean reactive security designs that only cause more pain to the public that they are supposed to be protecting. Here are examples:

  • Inspection of everyone entering the premises. This is the stupidest scheme I've ever encountered. Have the security bosses tried inspecting the bags and pockets of at least 10 people? Could you sustain that for the hundreds and thousands of guests in malls and at a public place like the MRT? If you were the underpaid guard on duty for 12 hours, would you have enough alertness left after the first 5 hours?

  • Opening of gift-wrapped boxes and shopping bags. Again, stupid, not only because it is highly annoying, but also because of the absence of warnings at the gate, saying that wrapped presents will be opened. As it happens, unwary commuters only learn about the rule after they already purchased their tickets.
  • Inspecting cars by popping the trunk and using those long-stemmed mirrors. Let's be honest -- after observing this security measure for a few minutes, would a determined bomber make a bomb look obvious and hide it in the trunk or under the car? Do the guards even know how a hidden car bomb would look like?
The thing is, these stupid security measures cause a false sense of security in the public perception. The public, including managers of establishments and security agencies think they can relax because an underpaid guard wields mirrors, metal detectors and looks inside car trunks of all incoming guests.

And because of this false sense of security, we drop our defences and become uncreative, while Chesterton's proverbial criminal is constantly alert, creating new ways of bypassing the system.

* * *
BTW, Glorietta's 2007 blast is supposed to have been caused by a gas leak and not a terrorist attack. But several years back, Glorietta was also bombed, so I refer to that incident, and not the recent one.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

hey benx,

did you catch bruce scheier's post on the war on the unexpected

He echoes much of your thoughts in that post and in previous posts on how ineffective public security measures really are.

I heard the G2 explosion is still suspect.

ben c. said...


yep, bruce is one of my idols when it comes to security. i think he actually has devoted more thought to this than i have hehe. thanks on this!