Quaker Food and Beverage: Fighting Terrorism Through Training

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed the way Americans view security. Our long-held sense of invincibility is gone, and companies are searching for new ways to increase security measures without spending a fortune or infringing on employees’ ability to do

Locks and Fences No Longer Enough

Bio-terrorism delivered through the contamination of a well-known food product would devastate a company and its employees and throw the entire country into a panic, said Jim Brooks, vice president at Control Risks Group (CRG), an international business risk consultancy. The likelihood that terrorists are planning to target food manufacturers is real, he said, pointing to the recent arrest in London of terrorists in possession of the deadly food contaminant, ricin. This discovery caused the FBI to issue a warning to law enforcement agencies about the potential for bio-terrorism and the World Health Organization (WHO) to release a guide, called “Terrorist Threats to Food: Guidance for Establishing and Strengthening Prevention and Response Systems,” to help governments minimize potential terrorist acts against food supplies.

The result of such an attack would be catastrophic, Brooks said, and manufacturers need to realize that today’s security measures were not designed to prevent them. “Traditional plant security focuses on loss prevention and personal safety, not on defending against terrorists,” he explained.

Acknowledging the need for change, in December 2001 Quaker executives put together an anti-terrorism task force with the goal of evaluating and updating the security needs of each of its 11 facilities.

“We didn’t know how to protect our plants from professional criminals who weren’t afraid to lose their lives,” said Steve Brunner, a former Quaker Oats executive who was a member of the facilities and distribution center anti-terrorism task force. “The threat was different from anything we’d dealt with before.”

With the help of security analysts from CRG, the task force met with a designated security team at each plant. “We took a hard look at our operations to determine where we might be vulnerable and where we could make upgrades to enhance security,” Brunner said.

At the company’s largest plant, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which produces such well-known brands as Life Cereal and Cap’n Crunch, plans were put in place to make physical upgrades, such as reducing the number of access points, moving parking further from the building and instituting electronic badges to control movement into and around the building, said Dan Wombold, senior manager of HR and community relations for the Iowa plant. But within a short amount of time it became clear that increased physical security measures would not be enough to combat terrorism.

“We determined that the only way to make our total security plan successful was to harness the eyes, ears, minds, spirit and support of every employee,” said Wombold.

Management and workers agreed that engaging employees in the security process was the best and most cost-effective solution, said Al Hartl, president of Retail Wholesale Department Store Union (RWDSU) Local 110, whose members make up roughly 875 of the plant’s 1,300 workers. “Employees are the first and best line of defense,” he said. “They know who belongs and who doesn’t.”

Security Training for Everyone

Plant employees have unique knowledge and access to all areas of the plant, but they don’t always know how to handle unusual circumstances, explained Stacy Jabri, an instant grits processor at the plant and a volunteer trainer. For example, an employee may notice a stranger walking around the plant, but they don’t know how to confront them. “It could be a supervisor or an engineer or a vendor,” Jabri said. “It’s awkward to question people.”

To overcome that awkwardness and make best use of employees’ access and expertise, the company began a rollout of a new training and change management program, called Commitment Based Security (CBS), in late 2002.

CBS, developed by CRG and The Belgard Group, a training and change management consultancy in Portland, Ore., teaches employees how to identify and deal with security breaches through management support, customized training workshops and site challenges. They learn what constitutes a threat, how to address people or objects that don’t belong and that no matter what their concerns are, management will take them seriously, said Jim Armstrong, vice president at The Belgard Group. “CBS requires a change in behavior from everyone” he said. “Employees and leadership have to embrace security as an integral part of their jobs for this to be successful.”

Before rolling the training out to staff, Wombold’s team invited 35 management and union representatives from the plant and headquarters to attend a preliminary CBS workshop. “We wanted to test the content and tweak it specifically for our audience,” he said. They also wanted to build support for the initiative among the leadership and to get people excited about the program. The initial session had 100 percent attendance, which showed the program had the support necessary to make it a success, Wombold said.

A few weeks later, the plant began rolling the training out to the first wave of salaried employees and will continue to deliver the training to small groups of salaried and hourly employees on all three shifts until all of the 1,300 employees complete the course in mid-2003.

Request for Feedback Builds Buy-In

In the four-hour session, employees are taught the fundamentals of safety, what a security threat looks like and how to contend with potential threats appropriately. But it’s more than just a training session, Armstrong said. From the beginning of the class, employees are asked to brainstorm ideas on how to improve security and to point out potential security weaknesses that only they see. For example, through workshop exercises, employees are asked to “think like terrorists” to find weaknesses in the layout of a generic plant’s security methods and to come up with ways to smuggle 25 pounds of explosives into a building without being caught.

The request for their ideas isn’t just a feel-good measure, it serves several purposes, Brooks said. “Front-line employees know better than anyone how best to get around the system that governs every plant.” For example, even though all the doors in a plant are locked, some employees may know how to prop them open for smoke breaks without setting off alarms. “They have intimate knowledge about the entire facility and we want to tap into that,” Brooks explained. All of the ideas generated in workshops are given to the security steering committee to be incorporated into the overall improvement plan for the company.

Asking employees for feedback also reinforces the importance of the role they play in keeping the plant secure, and it shows them that their opinions are valued, Brooks said. “It gives them a sense of the gravity of the issue at hand,” he added.

And, most importantly, it communicates to them that new security measures are designed to protect everyone in the company from outside elements—not as a way to monitor their comings and goings. “Increases in security always make people wonder,” Hartl said. “Are they doing this to protect me or is this a control issue?” Showing employees that they are a valuable part of the corporation and that the goal is to maintain product integrity is critical to get their buy-in, he said.

Empowerment Is Key to Defense

In the workshop, employees also learn that they are authorized and expected to defend the facility and to question anyone or anything that is out of place, Wombold said. From stopping strangers who aren’t wearing the correct badge to alerting the primary security staff to unusual objects or situations, Quaker employees will be expected to take charge of securing the premises.

It’s this empowerment that makes employee-based security work, but it’s the most challenging element of the program to deliver. Teaching employees about security only shows them what they can do. They have to be given the support and the encouragement to use that knowledge whenever the need arises, Wombold said. That support is communicated in workshops through managers invited to talk about their expectations and the support they will give to employees who point out security concerns. Employees are also given the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all the members of the security steering committee and are encouraged to make contact with them whenever a question arises.

Visible support from leadership is critical for the success of this program, Jabri said. “CBS is a great idea and it makes sense, but employees are always skeptical of new initiatives.” Making employees believe that management will support them is the biggest hurdle she sees in winning their buy-in.

The only way it won’t work is if managers don’t take employees seriously, she said. “If I report a suspicious situation to a manager and he blows me off, I’m not going to go to him again when I see a problem.”

Wombold and the rest of the executive team agree and are making every effort to prove their commitment. “Everyone has to be as concerned as the next person for CBS to succeed,” he said. “It’s a culture change effort.”

To convey management’s dedication to CBS and to keep it fresh in employees’ minds, the security team plans to conduct random audits by putting objects or people inside the plant that don’t belong, then timing how long it takes for them to be identified. The results of these audits will be broadcast to the whole company, and Wombold will celebrate those who react quickly and appropriately. “This is going to be a never-ending process,” he said. “We need to keep people focused on security.”

Once CBS is rolled out at the Cedar Rapids plant, Quaker hopes to offer it to employees at other facilities. “If it works here, it will work at any of the plants,” Wombold said. “It’s very portable.”

In the meantime, he looks forward to the day when employees instinctively see security as part of their jobs. “The human side of security is the most important element,” he said. “Instead of relying solely on security guards, we will have 1,300 Americans who are committed, observant, alert and will know how to handle any dangerous situation.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a free-lance business journalist who has covered the training industry for the past eight years. She is based in Minneapolis.

May 2003 Table of Contents