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Managing in an Age of Terror
Secret Weapons and Security
by Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh

 
   
 
   

The Terrorists' Secret Weapon: America's Penchant for Suing

It is frequently said that al-Qaida is fiendishly clever, and that it bases its attacks upon careful study of the culture being targeted. It would be damning, indeed, if the terrorists factor into their plans the American propensity for litigation, in order to "finish the job" begun by their attacks upon the national economy.

Before the smoke cleared at the site of the World Trade Center, opportunistic attorneys-veterans of successful multi-million dollar class action lawsuits against the tobacco, asbestos, and firearms industries-began to solicit the victims of 9/11. Within days thousands of family members joined in a massive tort action. United and American Airlines, already teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, now confronted the prospect of million, perhaps billion dollar, lawsuits and decades of expensive litigation. The manufacturer of the four downed jetliners, Boeing, was being sued for the "gross negligence" of not having designed an invasion-proof cockpit door. The airline terminal security companies were being sued for not having read the minds of the terrorists. The owners of the terminals were being sued for having hired the security companies. The owners of the Twin Towers were being sued, as were their architects, for not creating buildings that could withstand attack by jetliner. All in all, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damages were being sought by American citizens - not in the hopes of their attorneys actually winning the cases, but in the hopes of a settlement.

The Congress, in one of its rare moments of expediency, approved the establishment of a vast reimbursement fund for the victims of 9/11. Have you ever wondered why no similar fund was established for the victims of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing? The answer is simple: there were no businesses to protect from bankruptcy. Congress knew that if the severely wounded airline industry were to collapse, the effect upon the national economy would have been catastrophic. The terrorists' dream of plunging the world's greatest economy into chaos was about to be realized - not by the actions of fifteen box cutter wielding fanatics, per se, but by the grieving American citizens who were persuaded to jump on the bandwagon of class action lawsuits.

So Congress made a stipulation: any family member who accepted an award out of the emergency fund (at an average of $ 1.5 million per family) must drop out of any suit in progress, and agree never to join in a related class action suit. Although most of the surviving members agreed, hundreds of families rejected the reimbursement, and signed onto class action suits that, to this day, plague the above mentioned entities.

It may come as a surprise to the reader to hear that in Israel, the democracy most frequently harassed by terror, there are virtually no class action suits. Although one thousand of their fellow citizens have been killed by suicide bombers, Israelis do not blame the bus company, or the café owner, or the shopping mall management for the attacks and subsequent destruction; they blame the terrorists. They have the common cause, and the common sense, to realize that endless litigation against businesses already reeling from terrorist attacks, would only further damage their country. Every Israeli citizen understands that he or she is in a war against organized terror groups who target the national economy, and that crippling lawsuits against hapless businesses, on the chance of settlement, would only aid and abet the terrorists. There is a lot we Americans can learn from them.

Let Security Speak for Itself

Once again, the Department of Homeland Security is preparing Americans for a terrorist attack. Although we'd rather see the President warning the terrorist-sponsoring nations of an impending attack, from the American Air Force, should there be a terrorist event in the U.S., we suppose Tom Ridge had no choice but to warn us of the very great probability of another attack. One thing is clear to us: security is definitely coming out of the closet.

For decades, security has always been a touchy subject with American businesses. Reluctant to even raise the issue, for fear of causing the customer anxiety, security has traditionally been a covert undertaking - heavily influenced by the Las Vegas and Disneyland security models. Hidden cameras relayed images to hidden guards, sequestered in command centers far from the public eye. Floor security officers were often broad shouldered types, stuffed into blue blazers in an attempt to appear more like customers. Should there be an incident, such as a shoplifter caught in the act, every effort was made to escort the culprit away as quietly as possible, so that the surrounding customers remain blissfully unaware of the unpleasantness. Even the Hollywood movie versions of crime on the street always show the detective hero in a three piece suit, melding into crowds, being as inconspicuous as possible; the uniformed "Sergeant O'Malley" characters are only called in after the fact, to protect the crime scene. Only recently, after the attacks on 9/11, has the American public seen their police force on the street, armed with automatic rifles, protecting the cities during an especially high terror alert level. And, generally speaking, the public has been gratified.

After 9/11, security has come out of the closet. Should there be more terror in America, it won't be long before our companies will reassure its customers "the Israeli way." In Israel, there is no attempt to conceal security procedures. Guards are everywhere, for all to see. It is common knowledge that diners in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem will choose the restaurant with the guard at the front, over one without. Security is ostentatious, for the very good reason that a traumatized public craves to see it. And when obvious security procedures are established, the word gets around. How else has El Al, which does not even indirectly refer to its customer safety programs in its advertising, become a synonym for "security?" All El Al has to do is remind the passenger to be at the terminal three hours before the flight. The implications are clear: there will be a lot of security checkpoints for the passenger to go through. Israeli businesses do not have to advertise the precautions they have taken; over there, security speaks for itself.


       
   
 
       
   

The Authors

 

Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh have authored an insightful book revealing the leadership principles of the U.S. Marine Corps. Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way is a lively and practical 'manual' for business managers and executives to lead their department or enterprise to victory.  Visit Semper Fi Consulting for more articles and information on their highly acclaimed keynotes and seminars!

 
       
   
 
       
   
Many more articles in Mission Ready in The CEO Refresher Archives
 
       
   
 
       
   
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Copyright 2004 by Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh. All rights reserved.

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