A Leaner Security Force could have saved Lives in Mumbai

A report in Times of India, suggests that it took 09 hours for National Security Guards to reach the sight of operation. Here are the reasons why it took them this long:

  • By the time the Chief Minister [equivalent to Federal State Governer] grasped the enormity of the situation, 90 minutes had gone by
  • He then has to call the Home Minister [equivalent to Secretary of State] who in turn calls the National Security Guard Chief [sort of FBI chief]
  • The chief would have then sounded off one or more batallions who would then contact the NSG commandos who are woken up from sleep and get ready with their kits
  • It is discovered that the only plane that can take 200 men, the IL 76, is not in Delhi but Chandigarh [this is where I live]
  • The IL 76 pilot is woken, the plane refuelled. It reaches Delhi at 2am. By the time the commandos get in and the plane takes off, four-and-a-half hours have elapsed.
  • It takes the aircraft almost three hours to land at Mumbai airport. Unlike the Boeing and Airbus, IL 76 is a slow plane. By the time the NSG commandos board the waiting buses it is 5.25am.
  • The buses take another 40 minutes to reach the designated place in south Mumbai where the commandos are briefed, divided into different groups and sent out on their mission.
  • By the time they start their operation, it is 7am — in other words, nine-and-a-half hours after the terror strike.
Compare this to the time that experts give NSG like security agencies in this situation : 30 minutes. That is a full 09 hours less. The difference is not just 09 hours but a lot longer battle, more collateral damage and many lives saved.
A teror strike is a lot like software projects, and probably even more dynamic:
  • You dont know what market will throw at you in software projects, and similarly you dont know when terror will strike and where.
  • All you can do are two things:
  1. Learn from experience and keep improving fast, iteratively and incrementally. Don’t let same style of attack repeat anywhere. It does not mean that only the mechanism part improves but the overall system improves.
  2. React – and react well. If you are able to do so, you would save a lot of lives.
I personally think that systematic issues as per the report are:
  1. Centralized decision making – Why has the CM got to take the call even when he is away from the state? Why is a NSG like person not there already in Mumbai who can take over the troubled areas of the city immediately and summon the forces directly from Mumbai? Cut out the politicians from the decision making during these times. Its long and only delays matters. This was also the lesson during countless other troubled times including Mumbai riots of 1992.
  2. You won’t be able to protect all the places all the time. Probably, you can – if you can control the influx of foreign terrorists [assuming you don’t have home grown terrorists]. Hence, a major percentage of your budget should go in guarding your borders. This is similar to knowing what to prioritize in your operations.
  3. Have kits ready which commandos can pick and move fast [no time wasted there].
  4. Just like all Agile and Lean projects, involve everyone – and this includes the minority communities. Have Muslim Security Personnels only fight the so called Islamic terrorists. Break any support or moral ground these people have altogether.
  5. Have everything and anything these commandos need ready Just-in-ime ; helicopters, guns, ammunition etc.
  6. Let the NSG meet at the end of each of these strikes and improve – improve more.
Apart from this, some other thoughts:
  1. Security budget should be a factor in budget of all families and government. Have automatic, full proof systems in all crowded places – housing societies, hotels, malls, airports, railways etc.
  2. The design of malls, hotels, airports etc should be such that once terror has struck one part, other parts can be isolated and cut off – it could mean automatic iron barricades separate these parts, electricity to affected parts is cut off or some sort of gas is let loose on these parts.
  3. Like you train your guests for air crash in aeroplanes, train the people who visit crowded places on how to handle terrorists. I am sure if 500 people throng on 5 people, terror can never win.
  4. Prevent metal of any kind from being carried by individuals at hotels, airports etc. Put it in your baggage which should be screened separately.
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