Chicago — Protecting buildings and property more carefully can go a long way toward warding off attacks by terrorists. In the aftermath of the spate of recent embassy takeovers, most primary terrorist targets such as embassies and corporate and campaign headquarters in this country have moveds swiftly to shore up their defenses. But the former head of crime prevention at Scotland Yard warns that many of these institutions in such cities as Chicago, Los Angles, and Miami have a too-relaxed view of the need for increased security. These "softer" targets, he said in an interview here, could serve the terrorist's goal -- publicity.
Alistair Thomson, who was in Chicago for a surveillance technology conference and who still works as an adviser in the London area, argues that the British have an edge on Americans in the security field because they have adopted "a security frame of mind." He says that the technology involved is no different, since Britain imports most of it from the United States. But the British are more willing to invest in equipment and focus on preventing terrorism.
Much of the difference, he says, is due to strong British government, encouragement of preventative techniques, drawing on grassroots as well as professional suggestions for improvements. Sometimes the prod is legislative. A 1971 British law, for instance, requires bullet-resistant glass to be installed in front of almost every every bank teller's cage in the nation. Sometimes a past mistake has caused action. A string of terrorist outbreaks five years ago at the Tower of London, parliament, and Old Bailey led to security steps that have eliminated recurrences.
"There is almost never any trouble where good security systems have been installed," Mr. Thomson says.
Noting that terrorists tend to take a "dry run" of any premises before acting , Mr. Thomson stresses that, at minimum, a first line of defense be installed, including closed-circuit television and electronic devices that can detect any breaks in security and trigger alarms.
Norman Kevin, president of Norman Industries, a Chicago-based security consulting firm and sponsor of the surveillance technology conference here, notes that two of the newer possibilities available to institutions include a TV camera lens which enables viewers to see details four to five miles away (conference attendees at an airport hotel looked in on the O'Hare control tower in the demonstration), and an "electronic octupus" which is an offshoot of the space program. The latter consists of a single wire that can go around or through a building and report on such variables as smoke, noise, water flow, and unauthorized entries at 1,000 points along the way, twice every second. The device reports on dangers in priority order to a central console.
"Very few people understand why security systems have to be sophisticated," Mr. Kevin says. "It's because those trying to violate them are increasingly sophisticated."
As a backup, both Mr. Thomson and Mr. Kevin recommend that consulates, political campaign headquarters, and business institutions consider setting up internal strongrooms, stocked with ample supplies of food, weapons, and communications equipment.
Officials of companies and organizations who might be terrorist targets, Mr. Kevin says, should not only vary their driving patterns to and from work but should do away with "vanity" license plates on their cars and remove any revealing labels such as "reserved for the president" from their job parking places.