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US firms sleep on new terror drills

New York, March 21 (Reuters): US businesses lack solid emergency plans and are generally unprepared for another domestic attack, even as American forces are invading Iraq and the national terror alert is at its second-highest level, according to a survey released on Friday.

More than half the respondents reported their companies were doing nothing to prepare for what could happen over the next several weeks, according to the survey by market research firm Penn, Schoen and Berland.

The study, commissioned by the New York security services firm Guardsmark LLC, included interviews with more than 800 Americans, including 601 members of the general public and 203 US security professionals between March 7 and 12.

“Complacency is the key word,” Guardsmark chairman and president Ira Lipman said. “Security professionals and the public are acknowledging that new threats are out there, but they widely agree that their companies are too complacent with their own security.”

Lipman said the US-led war on Iraq, launched late Wednesday night US time, increased the possibility of an attack on the United States. Survey participants agreed with this, with 96 per cent calling the threat serious. Still, businesses are not prepared for that threat, Lipman said.

According to security professionals in the survey, the shortcomings include: 55 per cent of companies are not creating backup facilities at other sites; 45 per cent are not conducting emergency drills; 44 per cent are not backing up key files and documents at distant locations.

Based on the study’s findings, Guardsmark created a security index by which security professionals rated US businesses’ security readiness at 52 on a scale of 100. Members of the general public rated readiness at 36.

The survey found that only 41 per cent of participants felt their workplace was very safe, and even fewer — just 33 per cent — felt their loved ones’ workplaces were safe. About 58 per cent of security professionals and 66 per cent of the general public respondents said security in the workplace was too loose.

More than 60 per cent of those surveyed said changes by the government to the colour-coded assessment of security threat did not lead to a change in policies or actions at their companies. The nation’s terror alert level was raised to ‘orange’ or high, earlier this week ahead of the start of the Iraq war.

Fewer than one-third of respondents said they took the Homeland Security warning very seriously, indicating a widespread belief that the government warning system was less than ideal, the survey said.

About 21 per cent of security professionals said that steps taken immediately after the September 11 attacks were no longer in place or said they were unaware that the steps are in place.

About 60 per cent of ordinary Americans in the study said security has become too loose and relaxed. By a margin of 10 to one, the general public feels safer at home than in the workplace. Security professionals are only somewhat more confident of their safety in the workplace — they feel safer at home by a margin of eight to one.

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