Securing an icon,risk management,Crest Advisory Africa Nico Snyman

Securing an icon

[Transport Industry, Risk & Project Management]

CEO of Crest advisory Africa, Nico Snyman was interviewed by Andrew Seldon of TechNews for the below article. It was first published in HighTech Security Solutions Magazine.
When the idea of the Gautrain was first proposed, the optimists were cautiously optimistic about the idea, while most people cringed. How could South Africa, given the then state of its public transport systems, ever hope to deliver a rail system that compared to the best in the world?

The fear was not only that building such a massive project would be fraught with problems, but that running and maintaining such a system efficiently would be impossible – a quick look at the other means of public transport in South Africa would confirm that fear. Despite the many misgivings, the project was launched, legislation was passed to allow the Gautrain to manage its own infrastructure and security and the tenders were awarded.

Looking back at the early years of this century, it’s hard to believe the Gautrain was a success and is still an icon, beating so many people’s expectations. In its construction phase, it was the largest construction project in the southern hemisphere, and arguably, in the world. And while the scope and cost of the project was and is one for South Africa’s record books, a critical factor in the project, from the initial breaking of soil and continuing today, was security.

Nico Snyman headed the Gautrain’s security team from its start in 2007 until July 2013. Snyman says the security aspect of the whole project was crucial since no matter how good or modern the system was, or how well it was run, if it was not secure, people would not use it and the whole project would be a failure.

He gives the example of the standards the system had to adhere to. There were 25 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) governing the public transport sector, such as a 99.5% availability rate for the trains and a 95% rate of keeping to the published schedules (punctuality). These are international standards that the project had to adhere to.

Similarly, the busses supporting the trains had to meet the same availability and departure time rates. In terms of the Concession Agreement (CA), these standards would cover approximately 140 busses, 36 routes and over 800 bus stops. Snyman says that while these were tough goals, they were achievable with the right preparation, such as training drivers and so forth. With the correct planning, therefore, the Gautrain could be a public transport system that met and exceeded international standards.

When it comes to security, however, the picture changes because there are simply too many variables to cater for. In other words, while you can make contingency plans for electricity failures, for example, you can never know what plans the criminal mind will come up with next, making securing a project of this size and scope an almost impossible task. Nevertheless, Snyman and his team had to come up with a security plan that would work. It is worth repeating that if the security plans failed, the project as a whole would fail.

A moving target

The Concession Agreement, signed between all the relevant parties to the Gautrain stipulated two critical KPIs for the security team to meet. The effect of not meeting these targets would mean a 20% penalty on the operating fee. The two were focused on Physical Security of Passengers (15% penalty) and the Safety of Passengers Property (5% penalty). The standards set for these two performance indicators were three Physical Security of Passengers incidents per 1 million passengers per month, and seven Safety of Passengers Property incidents per one million passengers per month – an impossibly low level of incidents for South African public transport.

To make things even more difficult for the security team, the standards would be reassessed every six months and a new standard set that was equal to the average over that time period. Snyman notes that when he left the company, the standard was one Physical Security of Passengers incident per 1 million passengers per month, and 1.7 Safety of Passengers Property incidents per 1 million passengers per month. This is far lower than international standards and beats the KPIs by a significant margin. This then became the new standard for the Gautrain.

Any person who has had even the slightest experience with public transport in South Africa will understand what a mammoth task it was to achieve these numbers – and they apply to all the Gautrain premises, the rail, station environment with approximately 10 000 parking bays as well as the bus routes. To understand how Snyman and his team managed the impossible, Hi-Tech Security Solutions will be running a series of articles over the coming months with the help of Snyman, looking at the various aspects involved in securing the Gautrain so effectively.

We can naturally not give away anything that may help the criminally inclined, but will examine the processes Snyman used to create such a safe transport system that can stand up to anything the world has to offer. This includes setting standard operating procedures, service level agreements, supplier management and the actual implementation of security measures, among many other aspects we will examine.

A clean slate

Taking on the task of securing the Gautrain project, from the initial construction phase where work was being done on multiple sites simultaneously, protecting the expensive assets as well as the expensive human resources sourced from around the world, through to the daily running of the finished operation was a challenge. Nothing remotely like this project had been done in South Africa before, which meant there were no examples or best practices to follow. At the same time, it meant the security team had a clean slate and could (or had to) develop a unique solution.

As an example, cable theft has been the cause of a number of outages for the Gautrain. Could these have been prevented, or are the cable vulnerabilities necessary to allow technicians access to systems and to protect other systems? Similarly, given the large area of land the Gautrain and its operations cover, what was the best way to protect the premises from vagrants and criminals? It would be impossible to have guards covering every corner of the property.

In future issues, we will deal with these and more questions, looking at the approach Snyman and his team took to ultimately create the most secure mode of transport in the country and on the continent.