As I stand in an office high above the streets, looking out the window on a beautiful sunlit day, I see a jail transport vehicle on the street below, in heavy traffic, moving inmates from one place to another. I don’t know the men inside. I don’t know the crimes for which the inmates were sentenced, and I don’t know about the bravery and courage of the guards.  That bothers me, more and more. I focus on law enforcement and the prevention of crime, the detection of crime, and the identification of perpetrators. I focus on the prosecution of those identified, and the procedures in court hearings.  And then I tend to tell myself, “Well done, another one in jail. What’s next?”

In late July 2013, there were a series of prison breaks in nine INTERPOL member nations, including Iraq, Syria and Libya. In one break out in Iraq, more than five hundred prisoners escaped custody. A number of guards were killed and wounded in the mortar and rifle attack on the compounds.  According to INTERPOL, it appears that the breaks may have been part of a coordinated effort. Other media reporting available through Internet searches indicate that the breakouts may be part of an Al-Qaeda sponsored project called “Breaking the Walls.” The breakout operations appear to have been carefully planned, and carefully executed. Media reporting indicates that the investigations have shown that the breakouts were planned for months.

In spite of the in-depth planning, and in spite of the massive number of people involved, including people inside the prisons – both inmates and staff – there doesn’t appear to have been any real foreknowledge of the events. Of course, we don’t know of attacks that were planned but prevented. We don’t know of the intervention steps that intelligence gathering agencies conducted that stopped a break from happening in some places. We only know of those places where escapes happened.

A couple of points come to my mind, and jolt me. One is that we as security practitioners need to ensure that we never lose focus of the entire chain of events that affects our businesses, our clients, and our society. We can never, really, wash our hands and say, “Well, that’s done.” Protecting our clients and society is a challenge that is never done. We can never relax. Even when criminals are in jail, we must continue to be vigilant. Developing and passing along information and reporting on possible threats to the security  of jails, the inmates, and staff is critical, even if we are not in that field. We must still be alert.

Another point that jolts me is the apparent failure to monitor the institutions, inside and out. The importance of a good “audit” or internal watch program to ensure that we are doing everything possible to reduce the risk to an “insider” attack is critical. In any business and operation, the people with inside access are the most at risk. We must develop ways to ensure that we hire and assign only honest and credible people, and then monitor them to ensure their continuing reliability and trustworthiness.  We also must ensure that the staff receives training and equipment that enables them to reduce risks, and respond to any events that do occur.

How many of us are surprised at reading this information, and are saying, “Wow! I hadn’t heard about this!” Part of our continuing professional education, albeit self-conducted, should be to keep track of events around the world. We must analyze these events, and figure out if it shows a trend that may impact our business, our clients, and our staff. We must analyze and figure out if it will impact our nation.

There is much work to be done.