I can see the newspapers now. "Car Bomb in Rural Oklahoma. Jack Rabbits Outrun the Blast!" I know that people are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. I know the Super Bowl is a high-profile target capable of producing a large body count. I know airplanes from Oklahoma City or Tulsa can be diverted to sensitive areas. They are over 90 minutes from me. Why did I have to spend precious dollars to improve security in my low-risk mail area?

     

    It was expensive to buy uniforms, ID badges, establish visitor logs and build counters to restrict work area access. My wife always has to go through the pat down routine at the airport because of her pacemaker. We smile and board because we see the threat and feel more secure. My staff appears to feel more inconvenienced than secure as a result of the changes. The security money could have been used to hire more mail sorting people.

     

    The student staff has turned over. They no longer remember the express box coated with white powder that we received from southern New Jersey at the same time Congress received the anthrax letters. They do not know we had to dispense Cipro until we discovered that the airplane carried a punctured can of soap additive that dried to a white powder. We did a good job of sterilizing that soap. All the students know is being sent home for an ID badge they forgot to wear.

     

    The key questions are: "What self respecting terrorist is going to drive 90 minutes to disrupt rural Oklahoma?" "Why would USA Today even report that story on the back page?" "Why not make the high-risk areas secure and ignore the rest?"

     

    The Department of Transportation (DOT) decided to influence part of that answer. They required that all "hazmat employees" receive the Security Awareness Training. Remember, a "hazmat employee" does such tasks as typing shipping papers, buying the shipping boxes and taping the boxes shut. In addition, the DOT required that all hazmat shippers who ship a placardable amount of any type of hazmat and/or a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or Animal Health Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) controlled Select Agent develop and implement a full security plan. All employees affected by the plan must be trained about the plan.

     

    The Congress, the CDC, APHIS and the Department of Homeland Security (U.S. Patriot Act) have combined to encourage security for shippers of Select Agents as well. Now the security arrangements include hiring, shipping, research and most other operating activities. I can fully understand this. Select Agents are scary commodities. Carelessness in handling them can do a lot more than simply "sink ships." These people need to be secure!

     

    I still don't see how any of this affects a small university department isolated in rural Oklahoma that does not process chemicals or biological agents. Why should I have to spend my precious budget on security for a non-existing threat? Then I remembered an event that happened over 30 years ago.

     

    I was managing a small office for an airfreight forwarding company at the local airport. The city's airport authority had a rule that all employees in the air cargo building must park in the employee parking lot. Most of us enforced the rule. One airline, Company X, listened to its employees complain about the walk. The company rented space in the building; therefore, the employees had the right to park at the shipping dock. Local management agreed and told the employees to park there. Then local management prevented parking violation enforcement.

     

    One morning, the newspaper carried the story of an FBI agent purchasing a quarter of frozen beef across the shipping dock from an employee of Company X. The agent checked vehicle tags at the dock. Using the purchase, the agent obtained a search warrant for all the vehicles of Company X employees. Then he opened the hoods and started recovering the chrome engine parts reported as stolen over the previous six months.

     

    Some Company X employees were fired. Others were suspended. The only action I saw taken against management was the embarrassment caused by the front-page story. I have always felt that management was the major enabler for the thefts. If management had enforced the rules, theft would not have been so easy. The managers who enforced the rules did not have the problem.

     

    I owe it to my employees not to enable a fatal attack in their work place by my indifference to their security. I do not want my colleagues to remember me the way I remember Company X's management.

     

    Butch Hiatt is Manager of University Mail Services at OklahomaStateUniversity in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Call 405-744-5386 or e-mail patton@okstate.edu.

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