Have you lately made any risqué appearances? Given speeches calling for peace with new or old enemies, offered daring toasts about the virtue of national unity, hugged your neighbor from a different sect, or made a proposal to strengthen the authority of the state, raise taxes or, unimaginably, have a new cabinet?
Luckily, one is not likely to get shot at for doing any of these things in Lebanon today. A company that sells bulletproof clothing in the Americas trumpets that this protective gear has become a must not only for “politicians in general” but also for war correspondents, traveling missionaries, university and school teachers (and students), business owners, convenience store clerks and taxi drivers.
One has to concur on high-profile politicians, business magnates and journalists in the field. When dispatching a team to Aleppo a year ago for an in-depth reportage and pictorial of the north Syrian city’s emerging devastation, Executive indeed had our team outfitted with ensembles of fetching green helmets and matching ballistic-steel vests.
But there was no sign of panic in Beirut this month that everybody ought to be wearing a bulletproof outfit due to excessive danger. When talking to university professors, industry captains, real estate tycoons, vendors of protective gear and owners of security agencies in the past weeks, the overriding impression was that no one had crossed the line into paranoia — the university professor had his driver as always, the captain of industry said he “didn’t change a thing” in his personal security, the real estate tycoon was relaxed in his office (but kept an eye on his wall-sized array of CCTV monitors), and the owner of a security agency asked in retort, “Don’t you feel safe in Lebanon?”
I had to concur that — with the exception of times of foreign invasion and recent threats of punitive but likely incendiary strikes — I have felt remarkable personal safety in Lebanon for over 15 years and still feel generally safe today.
However, there are pockets of doubt and concern — not least this week's bombing in Jnah — and I do not roam the country as freely and widely as I did five or 10 years ago. People say that there are a few areas they don’t visit anymore, or they share small stories about relatives made nervous by altercations that turn out to be nothing, and practically every taxi ride is garnished with exaggerated accounts of this vehicle that has been found with explosives or that guy who has been arrested for plotting the next terror attack.
But underneath the nervous perceptions and excited gossip is the reality that the country is more vulnerable today than in many years. A nuanced view of personal security suggests that it is time to review and possibly renew that armor of individual protection.
To support the task, here is a checklist of what the managers and operators of local security-related companies see as must-have basics and prudent options for a business executive who wants to maintain his or her personal safety at a very high level in these times, around the home, on the road, in public and at work.
Around the home
Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
Information is the key to preventive security and often the decider in whether an attack or intrusion can be repelled. CCTV systems have advanced to the point that the more powerful ones can read the license plate of a suspicious car over hundreds of meters away; thus late-generation CCTV systems provide the first line of information-based defense against terrorist or criminal threats targeting your home. Prices are flexible, as a high-end dome camera retails for $4,000 and a good basic camera is about $500. Lebanese security experts told Executive that a well functioning home system with cabling can be purchased for around $5,000 but a discerning homeowner can easily spend $35,000 to $40,000 to envelop his villa with a top-notch system. The cool tech factor: You can monitor the live feed from your driveway on your smartphone. Social factor: You can show it to your friends.
Movable barrier / road blocker
This is a must-have if the threat level for your home is such that it includes suicide car bombers. A movable barrier prevents vehicles from smashing through your driveway gates and delivering explosive payloads up to or even into the building, where their effect is worst. Advanced level protection of this type comes at prices ranging from $10,000 to $70,000. Social factor: A heavy-duty barricade enforces the fortress look of a property and while possibly attracting attention from target seekers, it will also intimidate them.
The external door is a crucial entry point to think of when protecting your home. An armored door will withstand most attempts at breaking it down. Wood look-alike or veneered entrance doors with reinforced core provide resistance to violent intrusions for a cost of $2,500 to $3,500. Social factor: The unobtrusive appearance means most armored specimens look as uninspired as any manufactured door.
Sophisticated lock and key, and intrusion alarm systems are a baseline of property protection for any family of moderate wealth almost everywhere in the developed world and as vital as buying the homeowner’s insurance that often enough requires the installation of such security measures. Installation of a monitored system starts at a few hundred dollars but costs add up over time when one sensibly subscribes to a security agency that responds when the alarm is triggered. Intrusion alarms can be beaten in numerous ways by determined intruders and should not be selected as the only or main security measure by anyone at risk. Social factor: The ubiquity of intrusion alarms in crime-infested modern societies means the main protective effect of a burglar alarm siren on your building often lies in directing a criminal to an easier target nearby.
Shatterproofing your windows is totally essential protection against the most common and farthest reaching impact of terrorist or accidental explosions in your neighborhood. A polyester film from a manufacturer such as 3M is affixed by a professional installer at a cost of about $15 per square meter (sqm) plus installation, making it one of the most affordable security features in the market. The safety film assures that the glass in your windows will not shatter when the blast wave from an explosion hits the building. Usefulness is not a question. Injuries from flying glass are an almost guaranteed fallout from bombs, whether targeted assassinations or terrorist attacks.
A window with bulletproof glass offers a different level of protection from the security film that every window in and around Beirut should be covered with. For the exposed individual, or the person who feels targeted by everyone, installing bulletproof windows and frames at a cost of $705 to $1,000 per sqm may be a good investment. Social factor: freedom to take a fearless look across the million-dollar vistas of Lebanon.
The piece de resistance in turning a home into a fortress is the safe room, the Hollywood-educated age’s equivalent of the keep in a medieval castle. The function is the same: enabling survival until the relief troops arrive. When constructing a safe room, it is time for putting in that bulletproof door, emergency supplies, and air purification and communications equipment. Elegance is not a priority and the cost is as serious as the strength of the ballistic steel panels embedded into the walls. A basic 6 sqm concrete safe room represents an investment of $8,000 to $10,000 but integrating a true panic room into a VIP home at time of construction will add tens of thousands of dollars in cost. Historic factor: Most keeps in European castles had a rather low success rate and the inadvertent death of at least one prominent Lebanese user of a panic room feature in his European home is established knowledge.
On the road
An armored car is no Batmobile that protects against any imaginable threat, as Patrick Aouad of Beirut-based car armoring company Yaka Group told Executive. Sadly, history has proven this to be all too true but Lebanese experience has also shown in many examples that an armored car can save your life. From a certain level of risk, an armored car is a VIP’s best bet for road security. Popular makes include Toyota for SUVs and Mercedes for sedans but armor can be installed in a wide variety of models. Prices for armoring range from $20,000 for entry-grade protection to $200,000 for the best presidential armor, which is locally available. Social factor: No wow effect whatsoever is strongly advised. Armored cars should be as inconspicuous as possible and long convoys are out, decoys are in.
A bulletproof vest is standard wear for security guards, emergency responders in conflicts and any professionals entering active conflict zones. Importation and sale to persons in Lebanon is restricted to permit holders. If you are highly exposed and make public appearances, body armor will at times be a necessity. Besides the standard body armor, some producers have specialized in providing the market with stylish protective vests and other bullet resistant fashion such as leather jackets, coats and blazers. Cost for a protective garment should be from a few hundred dollars to $1,200 and may be well below what your Saville Row tailor charges for a double-breasted. Social factor: In discussion of your clothing brand you can expect a novelty effect as the label will be known only to the very few.
In the business, commercial and public realms
For the standard office environment the first lines of protection parallel the prudent home defenses: CCTV, armored doors and intrusion alarm systems are primary choices. For manufacturing sites and buildings with parking lots, perimeter fencing and vehicle entry controls are no-brainers. Access control systems can be beefed up to protect vulnerable and high-value commercial and business sites but their general role is mainly related to internal management of employees. For representations and country offices of exposed international companies, an established security recipe is anonymity, leaving the big signs in storage and even the corporate name off the well-armored and monitored door. A further range of items come into play in the commercial and business realm but also can be indispensable in private events and homes with large visitor numbers. They include:
Walk-through and handheld scanners
Airports, upscale hotels, shopping malls, event sites and public buildings around the world are routinely equipped with walk-through and/or handheld metal detectors or their descendants using millimeter wave or x-ray technology. Their use for security has steadily expanded since the first people scanners were installed at airports in the early 1970s and any global citizen who has stepped outside her/his home in the past 30 years has walked through metal detectors. Walk-through detectors sell for $4,000 to $6,000; handheld units cost $250 to $400. Main questions on use of metal detectors in many locales, including Lebanese ones: a) Is the machine switched on/in proper working order? b) Does the operator know what he/she is doing? Cool tech factor: nil for the metal detector family which is so 20th century; recent backscatter x-ray and millimeter wave scanners are being phased in for airport screening in many countries and demand growth has been predicted despite major controversies over both effectiveness and privacy protection of the pricey units. Social factor: increasing annoyance over intrusive scanning procedures.
Explosive vapor detectors and antenna-based “scanners”
Known to be perfectly incapable of detecting explosives and notorious for having been sold fraudulently at unit prices of up to $40,000, antenna-based swivel rod detectors were still in use in parking garages at several Lebanese shopping malls last month. Described last April as representing a $20 dollar value in court proceedings against their British marketer, continued use of the rods seems to be worth creating a reward for criminal stupidity, were it not for the risks that the device represents to the entire consumer population. Real handheld explosive trace detectors can identify the presence of bomb materials from particles or vapors. They have no antennas, swivel or otherwise, and their detection cups work but not by magic, i.e. their use requires proximity and time. An even better and more reliable sniffer, however, is the one with four legs: a trained bomb detection dog. Explosive vapor detectors are offered in the market for $22,000 to $32,000 and represent a vital addition to security equipment used at entrances of at-risk sites, especially those accessed by vehicles. Social factor: Knowing how to distinguish a real from a fake bomb detector has a high conversation value these days, in addition to being helpful in deciding which shopping venues and parking structures to avoid.
The ensemble of threat detection equipment is not complete without an x-ray machine that scans handbags, etc. for weapons and suspicious objects. Advanced x-ray scanners sound their alarms for explosives as well as narcotics, in addition to weapons and items such as nail cutters and hair gels that were banned or restricted as carry-on items in 2006 because terrorists tried to conceal liquid explosives in hand luggage. With a history of being deployed in airports since 1973, x-ray machines are standard components of security checks in high-end hotels and government buildings. Although x-ray scanners are far from universally present in top Lebanese hotels and office buildings, local security experts recommend that exposed persons and establishments have them installed in their homes and businesses. Million-dollar investments into a battery of heavy-duty units are not a matter for normal corporate and event use. Chinese-manufactured x-ray scanners are offered online starting for under $10,000 for a small unit, but as with all security equipment bargain hunting is probably a false economy. It is better to get proper advice from an expert and always remember that the x-ray scanner is only as good as its human operator.
Under-vehicle inspection systems
The heightened awareness of car bomb threats this year has driven up demand for under-vehicle inspection systems. The simplest system is the inspection mirror mounted on a handle that retails for around $100, but the industry also offers portable systems that use cameras, as well as fixed solutions that are permanently embedded in a driveway. Software of advanced systems helps with identifying suspicious objects attached to the bottom of the inspected car. As always, heavy-duty equipment comes with higher expenditures, going above $1,000 for some handheld camera-based systems. Remember also, the most important part of the security system is the person holding the mirror or viewing the vehicle’s undercarriage on a screen.
Body suits and face masks
Another piece of protective gear that has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks is the full-face mask. When equipped with an adequate filter, a new full-face gas mask offers at least partial protection against chemical weapons. Sarin, the deadly nerve agent that was used near Damascus in August, can penetrate the skin and a full-body protective suit with face mask offers the most protection. But experts say that a full-face gas mask is a million times better than no protection at all. According to reports in Israeli media from May 2013, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised at the time that every citizen should be supplied with a gas mask; when people queued outside of supply centers at the end of August, government officials bemoaned that only 60 percent of the population had the equipment. Gas masks and filters degrade with time and old masks cannot offer protection. In Lebanon, which has an unknown quantity of gas masks in circulation, one can purchase a full-face mask for less than $200. If chemical warfare were to affect the country, a gas mask could be the best investment one has ever made. But it is crucial to have it handy and know how to use it.
Equipment prices cited above are based mainly on information provided by the security professionals Executive interviewed for this report, plus online references. This list was created with the intention to provide a quick overview of security instruments that can be of benefit to the Lebanese businesswoman and businessman.
To rank the items that top the list for cost-benefit, the items with the lowest unit cost — the film on the window and the gas mask under the desk — may be the most beneficial to invest in for both the wealthy among us and those of more modest means.
The list provided here is not exhaustive. For an exposed VIP it is advisable to have the services of one or more bodyguards and no technology can substitute for the skills of a qualified close protection operative.
Some of the highest priorities among the intangibles that no equipment list can cover include: A person at risk ought to rely on no single measure but on a network of measures; he or she should work with security professionals; security is positively correlated with discreet behavior; and it is paramount to never allow oneself to feel invulnerable.
The key lesson garnered from reviewing the development and setbacks of security in the past 40 years is that protection cannot be procured with cash alone. Security is an attitude.