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October 25, 2012

Former FBI Agent Virginia Curry on Cultural Security, Fire and Safety, and “Utility” of stolen art

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Virginia Curry, a licensed security consultant, was the FBI Agent responsible for the facilities security and personnel security for 35 locations in greater Los Angeles subsequent to the events of 9-11.  Ms. Curry provided perspective on the trade-off between protecting buildings against theft and protecting people in the event of an emergency. Prior to becoming an FBI Special Agent, Ms. Curry surveyed and approved casino security measures in Atlantic City as a New Jersey state investigator.  I followed up via email with Ms. Curry recently to ask her professional opinion regarding the thieves breaking into the Kunsthal Rotterdam on October 16:
This is about safety and risk management.  Fire and safety codes always ensure that, in the event of an emergency, all doors must release from the inside to allow someone inside during an emergency to exit to safety. The preservation of human life is more important than goods or money (even in a casino).
Without going into further detail, what they did was actually more of a takeoff on the scheme of "How to Steal a Million" [the 1966 movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole] where the thieves took advantage of the weakness of a security system and the human element.  In this Rotterdam case, the human element was again the sanctity of life over the value of property. The perpetrator did not necessarily have to include a member of museum staff, but rather someone who had access to the building prior to this event.
You cannot change the default setting on the inside door releases in an emergency. As pointed out earlier by Ton Cremers, institutions need to make it harder for someone to get to what they are trying to protect. Building in physical delays such as walls and doors is like building a maze around a high value item "the cheese".
Security professionals assessing risk always determine how long it takes to breach the security measures, resolve the maze and return to safely exit the facility in a direct comparison to the primary responders. If the protocol calls for an alarm to be verified prior to the notification of the police, this delays the police response time, which is also predicated on their own law enforcement priorities.
I very much concur with Dr. Tom Flynn’s recent assessment that stolen art has “utility”. The power of “utility” in economic theory is not necessarily always measured in a cash value.