In response to the growing threat of terrorist attacks via food manufacturing, The Quaker Oats plant in Cedar Rapids, IA, is embarking on a revolutionary new approach to security. Called Commitment Based Security (CBS), the strategy combines strong physical defense measures with a robust change management effort that taps into employee patriotism and expertise. Through workshops and support employees are taught how to identify and defend against terrorists threats, ensuring the security of the company, the customers and their livelihoods.

Security has always been a priority for Quaker Oats, one of several subsidiary companies of PepsiCo. Each of Quaker's 11 facilities has a team of security guards, cameras and other physical barriers to protect their premises, as well as a staff of employees who informally monitor the comings and goings of people in the plant, says Al Hartl, president of the RWDSU Local 110 at Quaker's Cedar Rapids plant. But after September 11, that sense of safety and invincibility deteriorated. Bioterrorism—once the stuff of James Bond movies--became a credible concern for American food manufacturers, causing Quaker executives and employees to reevaluate the way they think about security. "We started asking what else we could do to protect ourselves," Hartl says.

Cost-Effective Solutions for High-Level Security
The threat of bioterrorism through consumer products is real and manufacturers need to acknowledge that they are vulnerable, says Jim Brooks, vice president at Control Risks Group (CRG), an international business risk consultancy. "Biological and chemical attacks would most likely be spread through the contamination of food or pharmaceutical products and manufacturers need to understand the devastating consequences of not protecting themselves. If terrorists were able to gain access to a processing plant and contaminate even one batch of a product the results would be catastrophic. Even if no one was harmed, the contamination would destroy consumers' faith in that product resulting in the probable destruction of the brand and potentially the company."

Recognizing the immediacy of this risk Quaker executives put together a "facilities and distribution center anti-terrorism task force" in December 2001 to evaluate the security procedures in place at each of the company's sites. "We had to make sure that none of our brands would be used to distribute bioterrorism," says Steve Brunner, a former Quaker executive who was a member of the task force.

His team knew security improvements at all of the plants were necessary but they were unsure where to begin. "Traditional plant security focuses on loss prevention and personal safety, not on defending against terrorists," Brunner says. "We didn't know how to protect our plants from professional criminals who weren't afraid to lose their lives. We had never encountered that before."

Enlisting the help of CRG, the task force met with a designated security team at each plant. "We took a hard look at all of our operations to determine where we might be vulnerable and where we could make upgrades to enhance security," he says. The team was looking for a cost-effective solution that would offer the highest level of security but wouldn't infringe on employees' ability to do their jobs.

They began at Quaker's largest plant, in the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids, where 1,300 employees work three shifts in the 22-building facility, which covers 45 acres of floor space. Working with the plant's security team, headed by Dan Wombold, senior manager of HR and community relations, they started making plans for physical improvements, 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 plant. But within a short amount of time it became clear that physical security upgrades would not be enough to combat terrorism.

"If someone wants to climb a fence or sneak into a building badly enough they will find a way," Brooks says. "Video cameras are great for seeing what happened after the fact, but they don't do an effective job of preventing assaults."

It's impossible for a limited number of security guards to monitor every inch of a facility 24 hours a day, Wombold adds, but if all of the employees are watching out for intruders it becomes almost impossible for an intruder to go unnoticed. "We realized that the way to make our total security plan successful was to harness the eyes, ears, minds, spirit and support of our people."

Security Training for Everyone
Management and workers agreed that engaging the plant's 1,300 employees in securing the facility was the best and most cost-effective solution. "Employees are the first and best line of defense." Hartl says. "There is a lot of expertise on the floor and we wanted to tap into that." The average senior person on his team has been with the company for more than 25 years and there is minimum turnover, which means employees can easily identify a stranger in their midst. "Our people know who belongs here and who doesn't."

The only problem is that employee don't always know how to deal with these situations, says 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 doesn't know how to confront him. "It could be a supervisor, or an engineer, or a vendor," she says. "It's awkward to question people."

To overcome that awkwardness and to make the best use of employees' access and expertise the company began implementing Commitment Based Security in late 2002. CBS, developed by CRG and The Belgard Group, a training and change management consultancy in Portland, OR, 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 management will take them seriously, says Jim Armstrong, vice president at The Belgard Group. "CBS requires a change in behavior from everyone. 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 Quaker headquarters to attend a preliminary CBS workshop. "We wanted to test the content and tweak it specifically for our audience," he says. They also wanted to build support for the initiative among Quaker's leadership and to get people excited about the program­which they did. The initial session had 100-percent attendance which showed that they had the support necessary to make the program work, Wombold says.

A few weeks later, they rolled the training out to the first wave of the plant's salaried staff and will continue training of small groups of hourly workers on all three shifts until all 1,300 employees have completed the workshop 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 appropriately contend with potential threats. But it's more than just a training session, Wombold says. 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 criminals" to find weaknesses in the layout of a generic plant's security methods, and to come up with ways to smuggle 25 lbs. of explosives into a building without being caught.

The request for their ideas isn't just a feel-good measure, it serves several purposes, Armstrong says. "Frontline employees know better than anyone how best to get around the system that governs a plant." For example, even though all the doors in a building are locked, some employees may know how to prop them open for smoke breaks without setting off alarms. "Employees have intimate knowledge of the entire facility and we want to access that," he says. All of the ideas generated in workshops are given to the security steering committee to be incorporated into the overall improvement plan for the plant.

Asking employee 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 says. "It shows them the gravity of the issue at hand." 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 workers' comings and goings. "Increases in security always make people wonder," Hartl says. "'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.

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

It's this empowerment that will make Commitment Based Security work at the plant, but it's also the most challenging element of the program to deliver, Wombold says. Teaching employees about security only shows them what they can do, they have to be given the support and the encouragement from management to use that knowledge whenever the need arises.

Visible support from leadership is critical for the success of this program, Jabri says. "CBS is a great idea and it makes financial sense to take advantage of employees' knowledge, but people 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 adds. "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 recognize this concern and are making every effort to prove their dedication to this process. "Everyone has to be as concerned as the next person for CBS to succeed," he says. "This is a culture change effort that involves the entire company."

Management commitment is communicated first in workshops by managers invited to talk about their expectations and the support they will give to employees who point out security concerns. At that time employees are also given the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all the members of the security steering committee and encouraged to make contact with them whenever a question arises. "They are doing a good job so far," Jabri says of the managers who have spoken at CBS workshops. "If they follow through and call people back the employees will see that they are committed."

To further convey their support of 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 employees to identify them. The results of these audits will be broadcast to the whole company and Wombold will celebrate the people who react quickly and appropriately. "This is going to be a never-ending process," Wombold says. "We intend to keep people focused on security."

Once CBS is completely rolled out at the Cedar Rapids plant, Quaker executives hope to offer it to employees at its other facilities. "If it works here it will work at any of the plants," Wombold says. "It's a very portable process."

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 says. "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 that arises."

Sarah Fister Gale is a freelance journalist with experience as feature writer, columnist and managing editor of publications such as Workforce Magazine (Crain Communications), Training Magazine (Lakewood Publications) and Inc. Magazine.