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Informal Meetings Encourage Professional Networks

2014 February 22
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

Several years ago, a building in our jurisdiction received a suspicious package.  The package contained a copper tube with wires and a switch.  When received in a political office, the aid opening the mail dropped the package, screamed, and ran.  The device was on the floor of the lobby, and an emergency was declared.  The call came in as a “credible code B” – bomb.

The response included a unified command consisting of state and local law enforcement authorities.  The bomb squad was called, the package x-rayed, and removed by robot.  During the procedure, the building was partially evacuated with the first two floors evacuating and the remainder of the building sheltering in place due to the fact that upper floor stairwells emptied into the danger zone.  After a couple of hours, the issue resolved.  The device was inert.

Later that day, while everyone was calming down, we received word that the same device had been delivered earlier to another building in the same city, and that the security team there had investigated the source and interviewed the sender. They had all of the information necessary to avoid the extensive response that occurred in our building, what was missing was the urge to communicate.

Immediately following this incident, our team established a group that we call a Regional Security Network.  The purpose of the group was to ensure that all security stakeholders in our area know each other, have each other’s contact information, and therefore have reason and capability of reaching out if something comes up.  This group was to meet quarterly, and originally included representatives from seven (7) law enforcement agencies.

That was in 2005, today the group has over forty (40) members and continues to meet quarterly.  As the purpose of the group is strictly networking, there is no agenda, ever. The meetings are held for the purpose of meeting colleagues new and old, and discussing whatever is on the mind of participants.  Today, the members range from state and local law enforcement to colleges and universities.  Corporate security and risk managers mix freely with police officers, chiefs and sheriffs.  Here are five reasons these meetings are successful:

  1. The Goal is Simple and Straightforward – Keeping the goal simple, to network, ensures that all members understand clearly the purpose of meetings.  There is no question of value or purpose, which, sadly, is not the case for most meetings these people attend.
  2. The Meetings are Kept Informal – The rule is “come if you want, don’t if you can’t, and come as you are”.  The groups members work various shifts.  Some come in plain cloths, some in suits, some in shorts, some even come on their day off!  They know that no matter what, their peers will not question them since it is made clear the meetings are informal and optional.
  3. There is Good Food, Always – Nothing lubricates the talk like good food.  Nothing fancy, Panera Bagel Packs work great for early morning meetings.  Make sure there is coffee and bottled water and you have everything you need to keep your guests comfortable.  When they are comfortable they share and get to know each other.
  4. We End on Time – If everyone has had the chance to talk, and there is nothing more to say, end the meeting.  Don’t keep busy people captive.  When the value is over, so is the meeting.  Always make time for the stragglers though because those tidbits that are mentioned on the way out are sometimes most important.  “Hey, by the way…”
  5. We Use A Big Screen – Often the group discusses things that have happened or things they have seen.  They like to share pictures or news articles and discuss them.  If you can, provide a way for your guests see pictures or news articles on a screen in the room.  It encourages the discussion and helps everyone understand the issues.  You can also put up helpful documents and reports that can be shared.  The next step is to develop easy ways for guests to share from their mobile devices.  We are not there yet but hope to be soon!

That device was not a bomb, yet a notable amount of resources were deployed to respond.  Starting these meetings was a direct result and the reward has more than paid the expense of the original event.  Subsequent incidents have been more efficiently addressed or even avoided thanks to this group.

By the way, the device turned out to be a “healing device” designed to cleanse the blood using the copper and an magnetic current, similar to those golf bracelets.  It sure looked like a pipe bomb, fortunately the only explosion that resulted was in local agency cooperation.

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