Close to one year on the September 11 it is hardly any secret that commercial flights are still not that safe. Several journalists have proved that it remains possible to smuggle dangerous articles on board without is neither metal detectors nor security personnel notices anything. However, this is probably not where the real danger lies.
“The highest security risk involves air freight and courier mail,” says one of the leading Danish experts in this field, Henrik Hansen, MPA Security in Bangkok.
“The passenger risk is reasonable under control I believe. Freight and courier mail, however…”
When you look at him in disbelief, asking if not all parcels and all mail is screened and X-ray’d, he elaborates:
“X-ray, oh well.. actually I am more concerned with the human factor. We all know how fast it has to go. Most people expect their courier mail to reach the recipient within 24 hours.”
Some airlines have adopted a rule that they will only carry mail from trusted courier companies they know well. But these are typically the larger and well respected companies guaranteeing speedy delivery and there is no guarantee that they will check themselves that the content is in fact what their customer has specified in the papers.
As for ordinary suitcases, security personnel has in average seven seconds to screen each item.
Bomb among the sandwiches
Henrik Hansen is not trying to frighten his clients into buying. It is on the contrary his job to make them feel safe – especially if they follow his directions and employ his guards and supervisors.
MPA Security is the second largest security company in Thailand with over 3000 employees and a further 1400 guards employed in Cambodia and 1000 guards employed in a recent department in India.
The company has grown ten times since Henrik Hansen bought it in 1984 and among his customers are both leading airlines, factories, chemical plants, as well as private individuals, embassies and retail centres.
“In the airport, it is our duty to check the interior of the aircraft to ensure that the passengers disembarking during stopovers don’t leave anything behind and see to it that the cleaning staff don’t forget anything either,” he explains.
“We also check the catering to make sure there is no bomb hidden among the sandwiches. We have of course accumulated a considerable expertise in this field, but our staff is trained in following the different airlines own security prescriptions as to how and how thoroughly they should check.”
One of the more peculiar tasks in Bangkok International Airport is to keep an eye on especially Koreans. Some of them have come to Thailand to purchase certain species of snakes either to keep them as pets or eat them for their alleged improvement of male potency.
“They will dope the snakes before going on board. But if such a snake wake up during the trip it may easily create some panic. And if all passengers huddle up together in one side or one end of the aircraft it may easily be very dangerous – although the snake in itself may be harmless.
Standing for 12 hours
MPA guards pass a rigorous training before being allowed to take up duty on their first real job. About one third of all applicants drop out during the physical training alone. The rest are trained in personal protection, fire fighting, first aid, heart massage and TOFAH, a Japanese martial art which also the regular national police force of several countries.
Having completed the training they are deployed as guards for embassies, factories or retail outlets.
“Most of the guards come from the Isaan provinces of North Eastern Thailand,” Henrik Hansen explains.
“They are in Bangkok to make money for their family and they are at the same time loyal and a high level of endurance. They may even stand up for 12 hours a day. They only sometimes complain that they must take one day off per week. That makes a cut in their income, men that’s the law.”
In average a security guard will make about 7000 Baht per month. Before receiving his training, he is checked for abuse of narcotics and it is checked if he has a clean police record.
A tip from jail in Vietnam
Funny enough, Henrik Hansen has not a completely clean police record himself. He was detained for three weeks in Vietnam in 1968 for visa overstay. And in case you should wonder, then you are quite right, 1968 was the year the war in Vietnam was at its peak.
“I went there to experience the war close up. In a historical sense wars have always been my interest and at the time it was possible to travel to Vietnam and find work there.”
Henrik Hansen worked for a company selling diamonds to American soldiers who didn’t know what else to spend their money on. He lived in the northernmost part of South Vietnam and experienced closely the famous Tet offensive in 1968.
He managed to enjoy one and a half years of action before he was arrested and put in jail.
“That was tough. We slept on a concrete floor, a hole in the floor was our toilet and we were given black, spoiled rice to eat. But I lived together with some interesting personalities, among other an army officer in the South Vietnamese army who sold weapons to the Vietcong, a Philippino specialised in faking the signature of then President Ferdinand Marcos, and a couple of Koreans selling “black” diamonds.
“I got many good tips and some interesting suggestions should I ever want to enter a criminal career.”
Henrik Hansen chose the opposite when he was released and left for Thailand. His security company has a yearly turnover of 60 mill. Danish kroner.
Among his plans for the future is to rebuild a plane, he bought, into an ambulance plane. And there are still places in the region, where he could consider establishing new departments of MPA