It was the spring of 1961, and President John F. Kennedy had a problem in real time.
An armed brigade of anti-Communist exiles, sponsored by the CIA, had just invaded Cuba to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. During the ill-fated “Bay of Pigs" operation, Kennedy discovered that his ability to receive and respond to military field reports was slow and untrustworthy. Within days, the Cuban military captured or killed the entire brigade, causing a major public embarrassment for the administration.
In response, JFK created the world's most famous global security operations center (GSOC), the White House Situation Room. With over 5,000 square feet of office space, it receives data from various agencies, offers a secure location for classified meetings and phone calls, and prepares briefings for the president and his staff. The Situation Room proved to be a vital security and decision-making center throughout the 20th century.
The government continued to upgrade its ability to analyze and respond to threats, particularly after 9/11. For instance, in 2003 the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) opened a new operations center, where the mantra “communicate, collaborate and coordinate" guides its staff.
Four years later, the Department of Homeland Security's operations center was challenged in providing President Bush with up-to-date flood reports during Hurricane Katrina - once again demonstrating, a critical need for better central management. This need was further tested during the recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma, when numerous federal, state, and local operation centers worked around the clock to coordinate relief efforts.
The same holds true for the private sector. While each organization has a unique set of threats to manage, certain universal needs prove the vitality of GSOCs.
1. Team Integration
In many organizations, threat management is divided between several separate departments. For instance, Loss Protection guards against theft, Executive Protection protects critical personnel, I.T. firewalls digital information, Communications handles public relations problems, and Maintenance preserves physical assets. Each department is staffed by people with different training, access to different data sets, and even different temperaments. A unified response center places representatives of all stakeholders into the same room where they can share both data and experience.
2. Diverse Response
Modern corporate culture promotes hiring employees that generally reflect the customers, suppliers, and demographic environment within which it operates. A GSOC is no different. Staffed with employees from a wide variety of career and personal background, a GSOC will offer multiple cultural perspectives with which to analyze corporate security issues on multidimensional levels. A security center without these perspectives runs the risk of miscommunication in situations where it is vital that everyone have a mutual understanding of the facts on the ground. But a GSOC that delivers on its name and pulls from a global audience will increase understanding and appropriate responses. For instance, during then-Vice President Richard Nixon's trip to Brazil in 1957, he inadvertently offended the audience by flashing what Americans universally use as an "OK sign", which has an entirely different meaning in the local culture — it's considered a rude gesture in Brazil.
3. Real-time Data in Real Time
During the failed 1991 coup by hardliners against the liberalized government of the Soviet Union, the popular resistance communicated with the free world via a then-high tech form of data communications: the fax machine. Fast forward to the 21st century, where social media now provides the richest source of live event data. Ask yourself: During the most recent hurricanes, how many posts did you read from friends, family or colleagues who lived or knew someone who lived in an affected area? A well-managed operations center can aggregate those and all other relevant posts as soon as they hit the Internet.
4. Analysis in Real Time
A GSOC serves as a funnel through which real-time information can be quickly received, digested, and turned into actionable knowledge. By live-streaming social media posts, weather reports, stock market shifts, and other information into a central location, all data is available instantly for algorithm software and human analysts to review 24/7. Predictive data and trend forecasting can then be used to inform future strategy.
5. Global Response
With a decentralized threat management team, there is no guarantee that corporate security officers at your Paris offices will have the latest updates on an intrusion incident across the border at your Berlin warehouse, including whether or not they too may be at risk. A central facility can oversee any intrusion worldwide via live video feeds, text reports from field officers, and contacts with local law enforcement. Having a “big picture" view of events and potential events on a global scale—plus the ability to communicate directly with all local security offices—allows you to declare facility lock downs, move employees to safe locations, and place critical assets under guard.
6. Consolidation of Facility Costs
Without a GSOC, it's likely that an organization with an international presence will have, at most, a loose network of local SOCs, with each one responsible only for its own geographic territory. This unnecessarily duplicates personnel and equipment expenses.
Security operations don't normally generate direct revenue, so it is always challenging to convince a budget-conscious organization to spend money to prevent a disaster that hasn't yet happened. Closing regional or local SOCs and moving their most critical assets into one building will reduce overhead expenses and make it easier to control costs. It can also free up funds to upgrade software, hire more field officers, provide them with better equipment, or otherwise improve your mission capabilities.
Your team members don't have to fly blindly into unknown territory. Through integrated security departments, a diverse staff, and real-time data at the ready, you can anticipate and respond to threats in locations where you have no current presence. Let your GSOC equip you for the future.