Homeland Security or Home Security

The New York Times of Sunday, Sept. 3 reported on the Homeland Security Department’s failures in applying more efficient, cutting-edge technologies to screen U.S. airports for bombs. The report blamed “poor management for stumbles in research, turf fights, staff turnover and underfinancing. Some initiatives have also faced opposition from the airlines or been slowed by bureaucratic snarls.”

No one who has followed public interest stories for any length of time is surprised when any government – federal, state, local, or foreign – fails to accomplish its goals as quickly and efficiently as planned. Government and its Siamese twin, politics, are not designed, nor have they evolved, to follow the principles of the marketplace. Whether you applaud or fret over the government’s approach – whether you want it run “like a business” or prefer it to serve as a counterweight to “unbridled capitalism” – the fact is that the political balance of power invariably creates tensions and conflicts that keep it from operating like the ordered marketplace.

By contrast, the real marketplace, with its unending competition for customers and the search for the perfect balance of price, quality, and volume – all aimed at maximizing profits – usually operates with stunning efficiency. And once we admit there’s not much you or I can do to ensure greater security in our national transportation system, we’re free to turn our attention to the security we can control: protecting our own homes or businesses.

With the exception of bomb-detection, nearly every sort of security screening device imaginable is available to protect your family, employees, and property. Some systems, such as electronic scanners and key-card readers, have become so common they’re almost taken for granted. Others, like retina and fingerprint scanners, are not yet in widespread use but are available to those who want (and can afford) them. A third group of home security devices that were unheard of a generation ago are now common in cars: electronic locking systems, touch-key entry, and even ignition lock-down systems that register a driver’s alcohol content (using technology similar to that in police departments’ Breathalyzers.

For home security today, the most efficient access control is an electronic entry system that uses keypad coding. No one can copy a key code that’s kept in your head, and you don’t have to carry a key if you have keyless entry. It’s very simple to change your code, eliminating the need to have new keys cut to block access for someone who previously had it. It’s also a relatively simple matter, in most communities, to tie your system in to local law enforcement and fire departments, ensuring that unauthorized entry, attempted or successful, or an unexpected disaster will alert officials whether you’re home or not.

Coupled with window break-in sensors and good outdoor lighting for visual security, a keyless entry system [http://www.vertexsecurity.com/products/59/ELECTRIC_LOCKS_-_BIOMETRIC,_CARD/PROXIMITY_READERS/] offers invaluable protection for your home and family. For most families, even in vulnerable neighborhoods, it’s not only an ideal option but likely to be all that’s needed to ensure peace of mind. (For those who want an even higher level of safety, Vertex Security carries a full range of other home protection systems.)

For the office or business, among the most popular systems are those that use magnetic stripe cards. Like keypad systems, these are simple to reprogram to add new employees or deny access to departed ones, and they simplify the process of gaining entry to limited-access areas ranging from parking lots to sensitive-document storage rooms. These systems can also make it easy to track employees’ comings and goings, alerting the owner or manager of inappropriate activity. For example, by tracking key-card use through a central computer monitoring system, a business owner can identify (and take appropriate action against) an employee who consistently takes long lunch hours or slips out to do errands, pilfers from the supply room, or even is engaging in industrial espionage.

The drawback with magnetic stripe cards is that they can be used by an unauthorized person. I have used a friend’s card to “borrow” free space in his employer’s parking lot downtown; the access reader accepts the card regardless of who is driving in to park. In an office, if one employee asks another, “Would you open the supply room door for me? I need to grab a ream of paper and I left my card at my desk,” the computer will register the card owner, not the borrower, as the person who gained access.

In situations like that, higher level security systems become especially valuable. Fingerprint or retina scanners using biometric identification [http://www.vertexsecurity.com/products/127/Fingerprint_Readers/], which can’t be borrowed by an unauthorized user, are worth the investment for businesses with high security requirements.

Whether or not Nero fiddled while Rome burned, whether you roll your eyes at or give a thumbs up to Homeland Security’s fumbles, you can at least ensure that your home and business are secured against people you don’t want coming in – without forcing them to arrive two hours before an appointment or remove their shoes, jackets, and belts every time they stop by.