Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How to Protect Buildings and Structures From a Terror Attack

Make a list of all buildings, structures and public places in the city that are potential terror targets. For a big city such as Mumbai (which incidently witnesed a major terror attack on 26/11/2008), this list could run into at least a 100 structures and could go as high as 300 to 500.For each building, structure or public area in this list, secure the structure using the following attack threat-counter-measure guidelines:

Type of Threat:

Terrorists on foot barging into the premises of the structure, firing bullets from assault rifles, exploding hand grenades, and timer activated bags of explosives:


  • Build a 12-14 foot high compound wall if possible around the permiter of the structure. Install a a wire fence on the top of the wall. Plug all gaps or holes in an existing wall if any.

  • Install heavy, roller mounted metal gates at all entraces through the compound wall that can be closed shut very quickly in the event of an attack.

  • Secure each gate with at least two private security guards or government security officials armed with assault rifles and semiautomatics and trained to use them.

  • Cover the entire structure's premises with highly conspicious CCTV cameras, infrared or motion sensing cameras and monitor their feeds in a control room within the structure which is staffed on a 24 x 7 basis by trained security personnel.

Type of Threat:

Terrorists raming a vehicle full of explosives into the structure and detonating the explosives.


  • Place several traingular, reinforced concrete barriers (similar to ones used as road dividers) at regularly spaced intervals either immediately outside or immediately inside the compound wall of the structure.

  • If the structure does not or cannot have a compound wall, place the barriers along the perimeter of the structure. If the structure has a compound wall, also place a second line of barriers immediately sorrounding the walls of the structure. Position the barriers so that a vehicle will not be able to reach the entrance or the walls of the structure.

  • Note that concrete barrier based security will not work for structues where it is required for vehicles to pull up near the entrance of the structure such as hospitals, airport arrival and departure areas and hotel foyers.

Type of Threat:

Terrorists sneaking into the premises by climbing over the boundary wall of the structure or generally sneaking in under the cover of darkness.


  • Well lit premises.

  • Adequate CCTV camera coverage, optional infrared cameras and motion sensors where required and a 24 x 7 staffed control room.

Type of Threat:

Terrorists sneaking into the premises in garb of ordinary visitors.


  • Implement airport class visitor scanning measures at all entry points into the premises. This will include:

  • Scanning all bags carried by the visitor using sensitive and accurate baggage scanning machines.

  • Operation of those machines by trained baggage scanning staff.

  • Authority to open and search any item of baggage that is found to be suspicious, authority to confisticate any item found to be suspicious.

  • Requiring all visitors to go through a body scanner after emptying pockets and removing other metallic items such as belts on person.

  • Additional body frisking by male and female security personnel using hand held scanners.

  • Basically all passenger security measures that are employed at an airport's security checkpoint.

  • Note that if these operatiotions are carried out as efficiently as they are in modern airports, handling visitor volume ought not to be an issue.

Type of Threat:

Terrorists quietly leaving behind timer activated explosives within the premises of the protected structure.


  • Well lit premises.
  • Adequate CCTV camera coverage, optional infrared cameras and motion sensors where required and a 24 x 7 staffed control room. Visitor scanning measures described above.

Note that all countermeasures that are employed should be implemented so as to be as visible as possible to the potential attacker.

The primary goal is to deter the potential attacker and not to trap them.

There are several other forms of attack such as lobbing explosives and grenades into the premises of the structure from a distance or ramming highjacked planes full of fuel into the structure (9/11 style) and so on which can be prevented only by increasing the security of the overall country or region.

However, the measures described above should adequately fortify the structure against most common forms of attacks.

If the attackers manage to enter the premises, there are several things you can do to reduce the scale, intensity and duration of the attack:

  • CCTV control rooms will detect the intrusion as soon as it happens and radio the on-site security personnel and the city police for help.

  • If it is determined that the attackers have not entered the building, all building doors will be quickly closed and locked.

  • The onsite security personnel will quickly engage the attackers.

  • Concrete barriers installed at various points around the premises will prevent the attackers' vehicles from coming very close to the actual structure to be protected.

  • There is one more very effective defense against a rogue vehicle that can be installed which is metallic spikes that can be activated to emerge from the surface of the street. Such a device should be installed at all entry and exit roads lying inside the structure's premises and which lead up to and lead from the main entrances of the building. An example is the small access roads that lead up to and from the foyer of hotels and convention halls.

Some things to remember in general:

  • CCTV / infrared / motion detecting sensors aren't of much use if they do not adequately cover the premises of the structure.

  • Any amount of sophisticated CCTV or infrared/motion detecting camera/sensor network, even if it adequately covers the premises is useless if the feeds from this network aren't monitored in real time on a 24 x 7 basis by trained personnel.

  • Continuous monitoring of camera footage and immediate detection of intrusion is in turn not of much use by itself, if there are sufficient number of security personnel available on the premises who are equipped with modern weaponary and who have been trained to use it to quickly engage any sort of intruder from a harmless tresspasser to a burgler to terrorist.Not all security measures described above will be appropriate for protecting a given structure depending. While deciding how to protect a structure, onr may pick and choose from the techniques described to form a strategy for deterence and defence.

In summary, note that the following set of countermeasures will make the structure to be protected very unattractive to terrorists:

  • Full coverage of the premises by CCTV cameras / infrared camera and motion sensors.

  • Continuous monitoring of camera and sensor feeds in a control room sraffed on a 24 x 7 basis by trained personnel.

  • Adequate number of security personnel armed with and trained in the use of modern weaponry deployed within the structure at all times.

  • A high compound wall around the structure, if possible. Heavy, roller mounted gates at all entrances through the wall.

  • Airport class visitor scanning procedures at all entrances into the structure.

  • Main building having doors/shutters that can be quickly closed in the event of an attack.

  • Reinforced concrete placed suitably all around the structure to prevent an attacker's vehicle from coming close to the structure.

  • Mechanically operated road spikes in access ways leading to and from the entrances of the structure.

  • Well lit pemises.

  • Highly conspicious security measures.

Remember that terrorists prefer soft targets. Deterence is the best form of defence.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Economic Growth

This is my first article in what I am hoping would be a series of articles on economic growth.

Read this article to know why a high growth rate is essential for lifting poor countries out of powerty.

A poor country is, to state the obvious, inhabited by a lot of poor people. A very significant proportion of it's population is poor. Poor people do not earn enough money to afford the basic necessities of life, namely: nutritous food, adequate clothing, a decent house in a clean and safe neighborhood, decent quality health care and money to put their kids through at least school, if not college.
Now consider the example of a country that has 100 million poor or low income people. Let's assume that this country also has 10 million people who are middle class, upper middle class or rich. These 10 million people generate a lot of demand for food, clothing, consumer goods, automobiles, luxury goods, air travel, services such as health care, electricity, telephones, mobile phone services, high speed internet access, fast and reliable courier services and so on and so forth. Indeed this list goes on and on. Moreover, since this class of people is able to afford good education for it's children, their children go on to become well educated. When the children grow up, they land reasonably well-paying jobs. So they earn well and generate more demand for all of the above items. Thus demand for various goods and services generated from this class of 10 million people increases each year.
Unfortunately, a significant chunk of this demand is virtual, potential demand. The real demand, in terms of what people want and/or need and actually go out and buy, is much smaller. The problem is that the farms, factories and the service sectors of this country are able to satisfy only a fraction of the potential demand. The reason this is so is because, in our example country, there are price controls in effect over several items. Furthermore, the manufacturing of several items is reserved for the small scale sector, which means that they cannot be manufactured on a large scale; there are caps on the manufacturing capacity of factories, there are high import tarrifs on several goods, and several sectors of the economy are not open for private investment - domestic and/or foreign. There is also a huge disinterest within the government in providing good road, rail, airport and seaport links and on providing adequate electricity, water and telephone access. The combined effect of these policies is that the farms, factories and the service sectors of this country is either unable or unwilling (owing to a lack of sufficient incentive) to fully satisfy the demand for goods and services generated by the population of the country. Not only is the base demand not satisfied, but whatever increase in manufacturing takes place every year falls far short of the yearly increase in potential demand, leading to a ever increasing gap between what the people of this country are wishing to buy and what can be supplied. In case of essential goods this situation leads to rationing. In case of non-essential goods and services like, owning a modern car, buying a cellular phone, having Kellogs cereals for breakfast, flying rather than having to take an overnight train to the vacation destination, people have no choice but to put their disposal incomes in the bank such facilities are either completely unavailable or available in such small quantities that they are mostly not affordable for the middle class. In this situation, one would think that inflation would spiral because of a demand-supply mismatch, but it doesn't. This country experiences reasonably moderate inflation in prices. The reason for this is that, when people realize that they cannot get the goods and services that they want, they simply have no choice but to put money in the bank. An unfortunate consequence of this type of stiffling of demand is that the actual demand for goods and services grows very slowly. Consequently the year-over-year output of the factories and the service sectors of this country also grows very slowly, which in turn means that the businesses are able to hire only a small number of new employees each year. Remember the pool of 100 million poor or low income people living in this country ? Well, a large fraction of these people are eminently employable. Upon being trained, they can work in a factory, construction site or a low to moderate skill service related activity. However, with business not able to hire more than say a few thousand new people from this pool each year, powerty and unemployment fall very slowly in the best case and rise in average case because of growing population.The only way for this country to reduce powerty and increase prosperity is by creating conditions for rapidly pulling people out of the poor and low income pool by providing them with a steady source of income a.k.a. a job.This is possible if the economy of the country is able to add a significant number of new jobs each year, thereby employing a significant number of new people each year. This in turn is possible if the output of factories and service oriented industries grows by a significant amount each year - in other words - if the country experiences a high rate of growth.
Note also that as the growing economy starts absorbing available labour in the poor or low income group, these people start earning and spending and thereby adding to the demand for goods, which, in the presence of business friendly laws and regulations, will cause the factories and the service sectors to want to further increase output, which in turn will absorb more labour.
The above set of arguments also show how implementing a correct set of economic policies tailored towards creating a business friendly environment can act as a trigger for high levels of economic growth and rapid powerty alleviation.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Street side Air Pollution in India

How to protect yourself and your family from air pollution in India.

If you use the following guidelines, you and your family will inhale significantly less amounts of air-pollutants during the course of everyday life in India:

  1. While buying or renting a flat, choose one on a side street, or even better: a side street off of a side street. As long as your flat is a decent distance away from any main street AND the street on which your flat lies does not have much traffic, you and your family will experience dramatically less amounts of air-pollution inside your house.

  2. While choosing a school for your children, choose the closest good school to your house. You will be saving your kids from heaps of pollution and allergies as they comute to and from this school everyday for a decade or more. From this perspective, it makes sense to look for a house near a good school.

  3. While commuting by autorickshaw (or when you are sitting next to a window in a bus), cover your, and your kids' noses and mouths with a hankerchief. This very simple and effective technique will save you from inhaling a lot of pollutants.

  4. Do Pranayam for 10 minutes everyday to maintain lung health.

Read on to know some interesting facts about street side air pollution in India and how it affects you and your family.

There are two main kinds of air pollution on India's streets:
  1. Visible pollution comprising smoke and dust, and
  2. Invisible pollution consisting of:
    • Invisible vehicular exhaust
    • Gasses emanating from areas containing untreated sewage.

I contend that most public need NOT worry so much about the second type of pollution, especially invisible vehicular tailpipe pollution. The reason being that there has been in the past decade, (and there will be in the years to come) a dramatic improvement in the quality of vehicle engines on our streets. This, together with progressively stricter emission standards AND compliance with these standards by vehicle manufactures and owners, has meant that levels of invisible tailpipe pollution are going to keep going down at a pretty fast clip in the towns and cities across India.

The type of pollution we should really, really worry about, and guard ourselves and our kids from is the visible smoke and dust based pollution.

In the towns and cities across India, most of the visible smoke based pollution is coming from the tailpipes of lakhs of oil burning two stroke auto rickshaws and also to a large extent, from ill-maintained two-stroke two wheelers.
The emission controls that make our cars and buses run cleaner do not seem to apply at all to auto rickshaws and 2-wheelers.

The other serious kind of visible air pollution affecting us is dust based pollution. Most of this dust is construction dust coming out of numerous construction projects going on everywhere. Even within this category the worst creators of dust pollution are roadside construction works carried out by municipalities and other civic bodies. The shoddy nature of work done by the contractors on these projects leaves behind huge quantities of debris, dust and dirt, all of which is then swept up by wind and carried everywhere.

Fortunately, visible smoke and dust based pollutant have certain properties which help in protecting ourselves from these pollutants.

Both vehicular smoke and dust are heavy which restricts how rapidly they can spread away from streets and into peoples' homes, offices and schools.
These pollutants will mostly rise up and out from a busy polluted street. You can expect air quality to be very bad in your flat if it's inside a building that's on a busy, dusty street. Also, expect your kids to experience allergies and chronic bronchial ailments if they go to a school that 's on a big busy street.
Heavy pollutants such as vehicular smoke and construction dust don't exhibit a lot of quick lateral movement. Because of this reason you can expect air quality to improve dramatically, the moment you turn into a small side street of a busy main street.

Granted that with time, these pollutants will rise up and spread over a very wide area and reduce the ambient air quality of the suburban area, town or city. Unfortunately there is not much you can do about this.
What you can do very effectively is to limit the continuous and persistently damaging effect of air pollution generated in your locality on you and your children.

To achieve this, follow the guidelines mentioned at the top of this article.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Nano and the Rickshaw

Read this article to know why it will make sense to replace every autorickshaw on India's streets with the TATA Nano.

There are the following things wrong with autorickshaws on India's streets:

  1. They are very polluting. The ones with the two stroke engines are the bigger culprit. Sure, they all run on CNG these days, but the 2-stroke engines require engine oil to be fed externally and the 2-stroke autorickshaw's engine literally burns this oil to keep running. Consequently, these rickshaws produce a tremendous amount of visible air pollution in the form of oil smoke. It is possible to minimize these emissions but that requires buying expensive oil. Unfortunately engine oils are available all the way from Rs. 40 to Rs. 140 per can, and I can see why the poor rickshaw drivers will be tempted to buy cheap low quality oil, which gives off even more fumes when burnt. The cheap oil also damages the engine but repairing a 2-stroke rickshaw engine is usually not very costly (compared to a 4-stroke engine) and I suspect rickshaw drivers have calculated that there is a cost advantage in letting their rickshaws run on cheap oil and in then repairing the engine as and when necessary. Rickshaw drivers also tend to change the factory setting for how much oil the engine takes in, since the perception is that the more oil the engine burns, the more smoothly it will run and the lesser the maintenance costs. In short, the 2-stroke autorickshaw the engine as and when necessary. the engine as and when necessary.

    I would contend that in the suburbs of a city like Mumbai, most of the visible smoke pollution is coming from the tailpipes of two stroke rickshaws.

  2. Autorickshaws are very unsafe. They lack seat-belts, they have an almost open body structure and have practically no safety measures built into the body, frame or chassis. Add to this driving style combined with the inherently unsafe nature of the 3-wheel platform and its not hard to see why the autorickshaw is one of the most hazardous vehicle on our streets for both people in it and people around it.

  3. They create a lot of noise pollution. Indeed many of them sound like a rattling tin can. The worst offenders are the ones with two stroke engines. If you listen carefully at where the noise is coming from on a busy road or intesection, you'll find that a significant portion is contributed by autorickshaws. Once again, the cheaper the engine oil used, the more the noise.

  4. Autorickshaws are not very comfortable to ride in AND to drive. Autorickshaw drivers tell me that in spite of their open frame structure, the driver's half of the rickshaw receives hardly any wind, while receiving the maximum sunshine. Imagine having to drive this vehicle for 8 hours a day in 40-45 degree Celsius weather.

  5. And now here's the real kicker: You would think that a vehicle that has so many serious drawbacks would at least be quite cheap to buy. Well you would be very wrong !

    A new 2-stroke engine rickshaw costs almost 1.7 Lakhs, while the 4-stroke version costs almost 2 Lakhs.

I should mention that autorickshaws do have plus points. Indeed, a platform with such serious drawbacks needs to have at something very big going for it, for it to proliferate so successfully. Well, what they have going for them is very simple:

Autorickshaws provide an extremely accessible and relatively cheap means of motorized transport to millions of people.

The accessibility comes from the sheer numbers of them on our streets. There is almost always one around when you need it.
The low cost of ridership comes from low maintenance costs (the autorickshaw is much more rugged than one might think), and the relatively low fuel consumption.

And then there is the distinction of transporting people while occupying one of the smallest amount of space on our congested streets.

Clearly, we need autorickshaws. The question is, is there a solution to the many ills they come with ?

There is, and the name of that solution is the TATA NANO.

Let me tell you why it makes sense to replace autorickshaws with Nanos:

  1. The Nano is supposed to cost 1 Lakh Rupees. The TATAs could be persuaded to manufacture a CNG or LNG version costing no more than 10 to 15 thousand more. The prospect of replacing each one of the lakhs of rickshaws on our streets with Nanos should make this persuasion very simple.

    Indeed they can be persuaded to sell the CNG or LNG version for 1 Lakh or even less.
    Compare this price with the price of a new autorickshaw.

    City and state governments could facilitate the replacement of autorickshaws with Nanos by offering to buy back autorickshaws from their owners and sell them a Nano at a reduced price. They could further offer a zero interest loan for the remaining amount that the buyer will have to pay for the Nano. State and/or the Federal government would also need to add teeth to the 'Nano-fication' of autorickshaws by requiring that all autorickshaws - or at the 2-stroke versions - be exchanged for Nanos within a 5 year timeframe.

  2. A Nano is much less polluting than an autorickshaw.

  3. Replacing autorickshaws with Nanos will bring down pollution levels in our towns and cities in a way that almost no other government law or regulation would be able to accomplish .

  4. A Nano is a much safer vehicle than an autorickshaw. It has seat belts! The government would be able to require the wearing of seat belts by occupants of the 'nano-autorickshaw' similar to the law that exists for cars in Mumbai. Besides, the Nano will come with all the other safety features built into the body and the frame of the vehicle. Let me point out here that these safety features have long been considered standard in cars but we can only dream of enjoying them in the present day autorickshaw.

  5. A Nano will be much, much less noisy than an autorickshaw.

  6. A Nano will be roomier than an autorickshaw.

  7. A Nano will provide a much, much more comfortable ride than an autorickshaw for both the passengers AND the driver. This increased comfort would be especially useful for senior citizens and for people with back problems.

  8. And finally, the brilliant engineers at TATA can be coaxed into making the nano much more fuel efficient than an autorickshaw and at least as rugged as an autorickshaw. I feel this is possible because of the fundamentally superior engine, design and construction of the Nano.

Full Disclosure: I am not (and never was) a TATA employee or close relative, friend or business associate of any TATA employee that I know of.

My observations are based purely from what I know about the TATA Nano platform. If another company were to make a Nano like, but superior, vehicle available in India I would consider endorsing it as a replacement of the present day autorickshaw on India's streets.