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HRO in Times of Terror

European and American HRO differ in attitudes towards security and safety.

by Jay Whitehead

July 7, 2005, London, England. It is morning rush hour in the most public transit-dependent city on Earth. Every day, nearly three million people use the London Undergrounds 274 stations.

 

At 9:13 a.m., a “code amber alert” shut down the system, station by station. Three bombs had exploded within 50 seconds: two on the Circle Line, one on the Picadilly Line. Around 10 a.m., a suicide bomber blew up a double-decker bus near Tavistock Square. Altogether, 56 people died and 700 were injured. Nearly all, except the bombers, were employees commuting to work.

 

Within minutes of the “amber alert” notification, Scotland Yard ordered surveillance videos from all public transit locations to be analyzed. Just one year before, a project to install 500,000 video systems had been completed. The suicide attacks would test the reliability of the in-station cameras. Within 24 hours of the attacks, police released blurry photos of the now-dead bombers, which were published worldwide.

 

Fourteen days later, four young terrorist wannabes carried explosives made from the same type of acetone and other household products–a copycat plan that had different results. None of the bombs exploded, and all four clueless suspects were caught on camera as they ran for the exits. Within seven days, they were all in police custody. None succeeded in becoming “one-unders,” the relatively genteel British version of a much more indelicate New York term for a subway suicide: “track pizza.”

 

The Underground itself only has about 4,000 dedicated employees. The railroad is really run by two outsourcers, known as Public-Private Partnership (PPP) companies, Metronet (a consortium of Balfour Beatty, WS Atkins, Bombardier, EDF Energy, and RWE Thames Water) and Tube Lines. The firms have more than 50,000 employees between them. Many of the video cameras that caught the bombers were PPP-run. Outsourcing European-style has always been more security-aware than the American flavor.

HRO providers in North America and Europe are learning from the London example.

 

To date in America, workforce security has been focused less on terrorism and more on gunplay from disgruntled workers or family members. Both HRO providers and American employers with whom I talk are rethinking this position in light of both 9/11 and the London attacks.

 

Terrorism in the American workplace has been essentially ignored in favor of far-too-frequent acts of workplace violence. Truth is, American workers often “go postal” (a crude reference to several recent cases of U.S. Postal Service employees shooting up a post office). It is the workplace equivalent of “road rage.” The reason behind these grisly temper tantrums: the broad availability of guns. The American Society of Safety Engineers reports that on-the-job shootings are the third-leading cause of on-the-job fatalities. In the nine months following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, www.workplaceviolence911.com reported that 34 people died from workplace gunplay. Three quarters of the acts were committed by current or former employees, and one quarter were domestic violence that spilled onto the job.

 

Ironically, the fact that Americans fear being shot at work much more than they fear terrorists goes back to citizens’ legal right to bear arms–a holdover from the frontier days when we had to fight off thieves, animals, or the British. Today, our cops control crooks, we have domesticated all the animals, and the British are our allies. That is why it seems overwhelmingly stupid that 44 million Americans own 192 million firearms, 65 million of which are handguns.

 

For employers, electronic background checks seem to be today’s weapon of choice against violent employees. But they give precious little insight into who will “go postal.” Video surveillance gets closer to the heart of protecting employees–from both a rogue rifleman and acts of mass terror. And it brings the $59 billion HRO market closer in alliance with the $95 billion worldwide private security industry. It seems to me that these two industries need to get to know each other better. Oh yeah, and Americans need to start getting rid of their guns.

Tags: RPO & Staffing, Talent Acquisition

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