Dec 1, 2008

Awareness of the need for security is highest
among local units of MNCs and sectors such as IT

Satish John, Rajeshwari Sharma and Baiju Kalesh

Mumbai / New Delhi: 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.