Are American Businesses More Prepared Today for a Terrorist Attack Than They Were on September 11, 2001?

Discussion
Sep 11, 2006

By George
Anderson


We’ve all heard, and perhaps even said, how 9/11 changed everything in America. But, what exactly does that mean for American businesses and, for our purposes, retailers in the U.S.?


A Boston Globe poll found 93 percent of people surveyed believe a terrorist attack in the U.S. is either very or somewhat likely in the next several years. More than half believe the risk of a terror attack has increased since the U.S. began its “war on terror” in Afghanistan five years ago.


Even with many expecting an attack at some point, most consumers have not altered their way of living. Consider, for example, the 84 percent who say they make no adjustments to their behavior when the federal government raises its color-coded threat level.


Charles Syracuse of Cambridge, Mass. sums up the feelings of many on the preparedness issue. “I haven’t made any changes. Realistically, what can you change?”


Discussion Questions: Is an attack on a so-called ‘soft
target’ in the U.S. more likely than it was five years ago? Are American retailers
more prepared today for a possible attack than they were five years ago? In
what ways have security measures changed over that time?

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15 Comments on "Are American Businesses More Prepared Today for a Terrorist Attack Than They Were on September 11, 2001?"


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Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Security, from a business perspective, is clearly not a focus. American businesses are concerned about retail survival and competing in the global environment, not securing their stores from terrorists. Stores in many other countries (like many South American or East European stores) are quite different with locking doors or even protective barriers for cashiers. Customers can still walk into any Wal-Mart megastore or similar large retailer unabated by security checks of any kind. This is not a concern, and will not change unless we have some kind of incident in a retail store. This hasn’t happened and security will not change until it does. It is great to live in America and enjoy our freedoms, including the freedom to shop!

Toni Rahlf
Guest
Toni Rahlf
14 years 9 months ago
The question is: “Are retailers more prepared…” For what should they prepare? It’s tough to be prepared for “anything,” and terrorists inherently leverage the element of surprise to terrorize. And they’re likely well aware that we’re banning chapstick from airplanes. Data archives are one important preparation. But your loyalty card database won’t be much use if there are no more loyal shoppers. What about employee safety drills? What about disaster response teams and team leaders? Or security measures to prevent people from buying 80 of the very type of cell phone terrorists would use? Perhaps I’ve missed them, but I have yet to see an article (and maybe that’s a good secret to keep from the terrorists anyway) about a retailer requiring employees to undergo security or first aid training, or evacuation and bomb threat drills as a preparation for terrorist attacks. Either they cost too much to implement, or they’re happening on the Q-T. From what I’ve witnessed, some retail employees don’t even know how to handle a shoplifter. They could use some kind… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

American retailers don’t prepare for terrorism.
Starting well before 9/11/2001, shopping malls in
certain countries used airport-style security
screening for all shoppers. No USA mall copied this.
American retailers would be terrified to perform
terrorist screening. They’d be terrified of the
backlash, not the terrorists.

Dennis Serbu
Guest
Dennis Serbu
14 years 9 months ago

It is the nature of government and business to be reactive, rather than proactive. It is simply too expensive to anticipate and provide remedies for everything. Government cannot and will not protect us. We are better prepared than in the past because of our “reaction” to past terrorist activity, and criminal activity (e.g. Tylenol tampering). We must determine both individually and as businesses in which measures we want to invest to prepare for potential catastrophe. If you wait for government to fund and/or provide direction, you are way behind the curve.

If a business does not protect their backup data from EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) or conventional explosion, is it someone else’s responsibility? Is it government’s responsibility to station troops outside a mall to prevent potential terrorist attacks? If we are not better prepared, it is because of individual choice rather than government policy. The answer is in personal responsibility and vigilance.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

“I haven’t made any changes. Realistically, what can you change?”

P-E-R-S-P-E-C-T-I-V-E is always a nice thing to have, but Americans (and everyone else, I suppose) are not very good at responding to random events: utter indifference before an “incident,” and over-reaction after seems to be the norm.

Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 9 months ago
Are the risks of attack higher is part one of the question, and the answer must, of course, be “yes”. The risks are higher because North America is no longer an island unto itself. The beauty of the shrinking world is that we get to regularly visit Europe and the Middle East to enjoy the culture and the people. The downside is that the portions of those cultures and peoples who have been using terrorism as a weapon of political, personal and perhaps religious momentum can just as easily visit us here. Nothing can change that. The only miracle is that we have a) managed to escape; b) successfully prevented (pick your political position — we’ll try to be full service here) another attack to date. Part Two is, are retailers better prepared? It strikes me that the vocabulary of “preparedness” usually focuses on “response.” As others have pointed out, we can and have implemented safeguards in areas like data recovery. What we don’t have is a policy of prevention. And as long as we… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Ken — five years ago (and, in all fairness, even before) they, i.e., the federal government, should have anticipated an attack and that’s the point! The World Trade Center had been hit once. It was clearly an iconic target for the crazies. And…the organizers had gotten away with it. Clearly, lots of people from almost every part of the political spectrum believed the WTC would be attacked again although nobody (including the attackers) could have imagined how devastating that second attack would prove to be.

My point is we aren’t very good at evaluating real threats because we keep insisting on looking at this issue through our own filters and not developing an understanding of how people in other parts of the world view us. As to the toothpaste…tell me what sense it makes to tell people they can’t take liquids on a plane and then openly publicize a list of exceptions, like four ounces of saline solution. That isn’t security — it’s the veneer of security — and veneers don’t protect anybody.

George Anderson
Guest
George Anderson
14 years 9 months ago

Soft targets such as retail stores in places such as Israel are considerably less soft than they are here and attacks take place too often to make anyone in that nation feel truly secure.

Does anyone have any confidence that retail stores or malls in this country are better equipped today to prevent a terrorist attack when you consider the people likely to carry out such senseless acts are even motivated by hatred against the U.S. than they were five years ago?

Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
14 years 9 months ago
It appears that, with the possible exception of some large retailers or retailers that deal with disaster situations (e.g. Home Depot), most retailers are unprepared for disaster situations. Some IT departments have beefed up preparations as part of their existing disaster recovery work, and some distribution systems have explored alternatives. But for the most part, exploring alternative sales systems (switching to Internet from stores), personnel issues (moving HQ activities to another location or using telecommuting) and dealing with sourcing disruption are all being ignored. There almost seems to be a fatalistic approach: “What can we do if there is massive disruption?” American businesses have faced relatively few major disruptions. The occasional small disaster (local weather event), power outage or other inconvenience (I remember the day the underground tunnels in Chicago flooded) was something that could be overcome. Unlike manufacturers and others who tend to have much more robust disaster planning systems, retailers are not into preparing. If I am correct, then the economy could face a massive hit given that retail has been a key… Read more »
David Zahn
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

One area where I have seen change and “preparation to be prepared” should it ever become necessary again is in the contingency plans for data retrieval and archiving. Rather than be vulnerable to having all data lost by virtue of a catastrophe (any catastrophe, be it a Katrina-like hurricane, an attack, or other cataclysmic event), more businesses and retailers heeded the examples and warnings that became all too apparent over the last five years and have done better to protect their data in the event of an “event.”

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 9 months ago
First off, you have to separate the real possibility of another terrorist attack (fairly high) from the Orwellian fantasies of the Bush Administration. Ironically, the Administration’s constant politicizing of an all-powerful terrorist group ready to pounce on America at any time (“Move away from that toothpaste, it might be a bomb”) has de-conditioned many of us from understanding where a real threat might be coming from and what it might look like. As was the case in the novel 1984, many of us are confused about who the enemy is and who our allies are. On 9/10/2001, the government told us Pakistan was a rogue nuclear state. By 9/12/2001, they were our allies on the war on terror. And today, we learn that our “allies” may be protecting Bin Ladin. So, is the threat greater or less? I’d say greater. We’ve made the skies safe from chapstick but our ports still aren’t secured. We walk barefoot through security but a suicide bomber could walk with impunity into any mall or busy store in this country.… Read more »
George Anderson
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

This from an article titled, “Terror: Huge changes result from attacks,” in Business Insurance magazine. “One of the insurance industry’s first responses to the attack (9/11) was to exclude terrorism from policies that had routinely covered it at no additional cost.”

The same article later goes on to say, “Al Qaeda has shown since 9/11 that it will shift its focus from highly protected targets to ‘softer’ targets that are easier to attack.”

Have to admit, I can’t help wondering how many “softer” target retail businesses in the U.S. have terrorism insurance today.

Ken Wyker
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

I’m not going to jump into the political fray here, because I think this is not the forum to engage in partisan politics. However, I do feel a need to respond to Ryan Mathews’ comments about making the “skies safe from chapstick” and “move away from the toothpaste. It might be a bomb.”

We can all disagree about political actions, but to belittle a safety measure based on a known threat seems to be off base on any forum.

In response to the question posed, I’d say the threat of an attack is greater and that retailers are also slightly better prepared to deal with one because they are more aware of the threat and its potential impact. Five years ago, they wouldn’t have been anticipating any terrorist attack at all.

Barry Wise
Guest
Barry Wise
14 years 9 months ago

As long as the terrorists are alive, and we are the strongest country in the world, they will continue to plan and attempt to carry out attacks. We are never 100% safe, and probably never will be again in our lifetimes. However, Americans are resilient and we are survivors. Businesses will continue to open and operate, and business persons will continue to adapt when and where necessary. Security has changed the way we travel and the way we gather. It’s also changed how we track certain purchases, and how they’re paid for, however, again, we’ve adapted. Business will go on, and Americans will continue to shop.

Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
14 years 9 months ago

The better question would be: Is the government more prepared than they were on 9-11? Retailers and other businesses have most probably spent for data recovery and data protection. And while the government may be better prepared, can they really prevent another attack? Perhaps because people feel that another attack is very likely, they spend rather than save.

Security measures have changed. Go into most large urban office buildings; where previously one entered unquestioned, today one must show ID and perhaps be photographed. But this is like a lock on your front door. It is to prevent honest people from entering. Do these “security measures” really protect us or are they in place to give us a sense of security?

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