SA must be ready for a new threat

July 2003 News

As I write this, most front pages of the local newspapers are filled up with the story of an extortion campaign targeting Pick 'n Pay.

At the time of going to press, the supermarket group had withdrawn all products that might contain poison at stores nationwide and had markedly stepped up security and surveillance measures at all stores. This included installing more cameras at store entrances and conducting searches of customers' parcels.

Personally, I think that the supermarket group should be applauded for the manner in which it has handled the blackmail campaign for two reasons ie: by going public, it has dealt a hefty blow to the extortionist/s plan to force the company to stay silent and pay up and, it has also shown that the lives of its customers are more important than that of its profit margins. However, assuming the guilty party is caught, will this be the end of the first known case of consumer terrorism in South Africa?

The experts believe it will not and fear that this could be the beginning of a new phenomenon. Speaking to, Dr Mark Welman, director of the Centre for Crime Prevention at Rhodes University, South Africa is vulnerable and not adequately prepared for extortion attempts on corporations or threats of poisoned products.

This type of thing has happened in Europe and the United States before. The most notable incident took place in 1982 when seven people in the Chicago area died of cyanide poisoning between 29 September and 1 October, after taking extra-strength Tylenol pain killer capsules. No one was charged with the murders, but James Lewis was convicted of trying to extort $1 million from Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson immediately alerted consumers not to consume any type of Tylenol product. They recalled about 310 million bottles of Tylenol with a sales value of more than $100 million. Of course, there is also the issue of a brand name being seriously damaged by such an act as well as the loss of millions of rands because contaminated products have to be destroyed.

Welman predicts that consumer terrorism is something that will start occurring more frequently here. "South Africa is not prepared for this. We are still in the infant stage of understanding risk management," he explained. I agree.

We at Hi-Tech Security Solutions have always stressed the need for companies to adopt and implement an effective risk management strategy - one that protects the company, its profits and its people. Now that the King II Report has recommended that risk management policies be implemented at board level and in light of this new threat that is upon us, let us hope that companies give serious thought to their security and risk management policies.

It must also be said that a security solution cannot simply comprise a surveillance operation and the presence of security personnel. Rather, a holistic approach - that includes a carefully thought out security policy, the use of technology and well-trained staff - is required to ensure business continuity.

Focus on surveillance

Included in this issue is a special cut-out of CCTV terms and definitions which should be a handy resource for those in the surveillance industry.

Finally, great news for all those in the surveillance industry. Technews, publisher of Hi-Tech Security Solutions and The International Security Education Council (ISEC) will be hosting a conference on 'Defining International CCTV Best Practice' on 7-8 September 2003.

Speakers will include US CCTV guru, Charlie Pierce, who has been to South Africa previously, internationally renowned Mike Tennent of Tavcom Training in the UK, who has conducted training worldwide, and local representative of ISEC and Hi-Tech Security Solutions' consulting editor, Craig Donald.

Gerard Peter - Editor

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