Security Lessons From The White House Turning Off Perimeter Alarm

On the bright side, you are not alone turning off your faulty, nuisance generating alarm system.

On the other hand, the White House got breached for the exact same reason.

As the Washington Post explains:

"An alarm box near the front entrance of the White House designed to alert guards to an intruder had been muted at what officers believed was a request of the usher’s office"

The alarm had apparently been regularly generating false alerts, annoying staff.

A NYC airport had a similar publicized situation: False Alarms are Through the Roof

These events underscore how much of an emotional burden false alarms are even to maximum security facilities.

Ok John, to whom do I need to make send an offer?.........;))

Joking...... (well, maybe not that much.....;))....)



Last time I heard, ADT was servicing the White House and the Penagon, at least that what the sales guy told me.

Lol, that sales guy must be back tracking hard now. Wait, what, I didn't say that... No, no, we just do the interior. The perimeter is handled by TycoIS. Yeah....

The White House incident reminds us all how destructive false alarms are to a security organization. The Secret Service, with their unlimited budget, had no excuse for not fixing the problem. Most of us who live in the real world don’t always have the luxury of throwing money at a problem.

No organization should tolerate high false alarm rates, and they should do all they can to reduce false alarms to as close to zero as possible. We all know what happened to the boy who called wolf too often. Another problem of false alarms is what I call adversarial testing. This is the practice of an advisory will test an alarm system, to gauge the response. A prison warden once told me that they always respond to alarms from their fence monitoring system, because he found that prisoners would periodically test system sensitivity and guard response. Since the prisoners, if you will excuse the pun, had time on their hands, would spread their testing out over weeks and months. One time might be throwing a ball at the fence, the next time might be an “accidental” bumping into the fence.

You should assume that your security system will from time to time be tested by advisories, if a high false alarm rate causes the monitoring staff, not to see the threat, then that is a problem. The worst case is the monitoring staff assuming an actual penetration is just another false alarm, you will soon find out, like the Secret Service director did, how costly your false alarm problem is.

Rob, good feedback, great anecdote about the prison.

As for organization's reducing false alarms to as close to zero as possible, it certainly is the ideal. However, the White House incident shows how difficult this can be and how fragile / frustrating this can be even for maximum security users.

From time to time, manufacturers try to downplay the problems of false alerts - "It's better than nothing," etc. This incident shows how problematic false alarms are for end users. If the White House will turn it off, what hope do you have the average commercial / industrial customer?

This guy should have never reached the front door. By that time it could have very well been too late (what if the bad guy was a suicide bomber?). Whatever the technology used, detection should have occurred during the initial breech of the fence and a “big red button” should be available to electrically secure the doors durning the threat verification process. The 4 Ds of security need be in place here, but early DETECTION (the third “D”) is the key as it allows the security operation to marshal forces necessary to repel the threat. Talk about a basic miss. ...

To be sure, exterior alarm detection is a challenge, and I am unaware of any technology in this field that does not have a “nuisance alarm problem”. That said, there are ways to reduce the alarms, and drive towards the 0 nuisance alarm goal. It all starts with using the appropriate technology for the application, not all technologies fit all applications. The next is having a strong assessment tool. That would be the video surveillance system that automatically displays video of the area of detection, so that the monitoring staff can quickly discriminate between ole Joe the maintenance worker, and an intruder.

A fence is a surmountable barrier, whose job, among other things, to slow down an intruder, and give the security force time to react. In a high profile, high threat environment like the WH, the fence needs to be fitted with the best, appropriately applied perimeter detection systems (and yes - you may need 2 or more technolgies), and then augmented with a strong video assessment system.

However, these systems are just force multipliers, the security system’s most important asset is a well-trained and motivated staff, operating the systems based on well thought out policies and procedures. These security principles are not new, and I suspect are well known by the security professionals on staff at the Secret Service. My guess… somebody asked why these principles were not deployed, and that is why there is now a top job opening at the SS.

As Jim says above, if you can’t stop a half crazed nut-ball with a knife, how do you stand a chance against a team of well trained and committed jihadies?

In a high profile, high threat environment like the WH, the fence needs to be fitted with the best, appropriately applied perimeter detection systems (and yes - you may need 2 or more technolgies), and then augmented with a strong video assessment system.

or bicycle racks?

George, thanks for sharing that.

Here's the picture of the new perimeter 'security' measures:

Obviously, the US government could easily afford putting up a more secure perimeter - taller, barb wire, razor blades, electrified, etc., etc.

This shows the importance of aesthetics, even at a maximum security facility.

So, sure, they could turn it into a war front military base style perimeter but this would freak people out. Obviously, the government has decided its more important to make the White House pretty than maximally secure.

The last thing they want to do is scare off the secret service hookers.

Rob. Couple of othe critical path issues are design and ongoing testing and reevaluation (I wonder if they do red team exercises?)

I see that Southwest Microwave is back. This time the portable units.

Hi Jim,

Where did you see that? Do you mean these units?

Yes, they are visible in the picture that you posted: right inside the fence..........

Mobile microwaves, resting on soft grassland....... No comment....

So, exactely as I wrote before.............

Yup. Good product (albeit a bit pricy) but they need to be overlapped so there are no dead zones. Cannot tell that from the pic. Just saw these at ASIS in fact.

funny they couldn't upsell their buried cable system (or did they)? looks like this one was even designed specifically for gabled white houses.

Wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and say to yourself:

"Security is a process, not a product."