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One cannot overstate the degree of devastation in lower Manhattan as a result of the tragic attack of Sept. 11. According to public officials, when all is told, there may be thousands of people, good people, lost from this tragedy. I was at Ground Zero last week as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. I witnessed firsthand the magnitude of the death and destruction that has come to replace what was once a source of pride and wonder to millions of Americans. Yet, despite the huge number of deaths, it must not be overlooked that many thousands were spared. Due in large part to the evacuation procedures, the efforts of the fire department and other rescue workers, many people escaped with their lives. We must all go on living now, but we must learn from the past and be prepared.

It is natural to now ask the question: "If something like this happens again, have we done all we could to avoid catastrophe?" What can we do to protect ourselves and be as prepared and secured as possible if and when there is a next time?

The most important thing is to have a plan. The plan does not have to be elaborate or overly technical. But it must be followed and practiced. If you or your home or company do not have a physical security program or plan, start by contacting the local police precinct or an outside contractor to help review basic physical security needs from a crime prevention perspective. Once these needs have been addressed, it is time to look at physical security from an antiterrorism perspective.

Next, high-risk areas and facilities must be identified. Once identified, these areas should be analyzed in terms of immediate needs, short-term needs and long-term needs. Keep a checklist of measures to be taken. For instance, the windows without locks may be an immediate need. Having an evacuation plan may be a short-term need. Doing background checks on suspicious employees or visitors may be a long-term need.

While planning physical security improvements, remember to consider: access control systems (smart cards), vehicle parking, visitor and reception areas, labels on parking spaces and buildings (identifies potential targets), the use of barriers (natural and man-made), intrusion detection systems and trained security guards.

Finally, validate the security and integrity of your facility by conducting random inspections and surveys. Too much caution is impossible after what we have seen in the past week.

Additional information can be obtained from these sources: Risks International in Alexandria, VA, Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, CA and the Bureau of Public Affairs in Washington, DC.

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