Bouncer or Prison Guard?
Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 08:07PM
Toby Considine in Security

Today’s Chapel Hill Herald has a front page on the value that bouncers provide to the town’s economy. It’s an amusing article written for a weekend when the Football team has a bye. It also set me to musing on security, and how building systems never seem to get it right.

Let’s contrast two beefy guys, each working in security. One works at the worst prison in the poorest state. One is a bouncer at an upscale night club.

The article discussed the many roles that bouncer’s around town play. Sure, they stop fights; the better bouncers noticing them before they happen and have a quiet word with someone's friend before they get out of hand. They check ages on the students who want to enter the bar. They spend some time just being highly visible. They prevent those already drunk from entering the bar and they escort those who, even if non-violent, have had too many out. They call cabs. In other words, they add value to the bar and restaurant experience for everyone but the troublemakers, and keep the troublemakers from getting into trouble.

When I was in college, it was popular to go clubbing in New York City (still scary in those days). The better Disco’s would always have a line. How did we know they were better—because of the large bouncers keeping people out. Beautiful people and celebrities would go right in; others would wait in lines that never moved. Even the people who waited in line somehow enjoyed the wait more, because they could watch the A-List go in, and returned to Jersey or Peoria with a story to tell.

If we wore tuxes and evening gowns, and arrived as a group with a good balance of men and women, we always got in. It was important, though, to swarm en masse out of the cab or cabs, arms linked and laughing. Somehow, the same effort that got us by the bouncer meant that we were already poised to have a good time, and to enhance the good time of others in the Club. This meant that we always had a better time when we stayed in our college town, and went out scruffy and alone to see who was in a club.

The ignored bouncer enhanced the value of the experience for everyone who entered the club. He did this by being aware of the situation and aware of the business goals of the establishment. He understands that he provides a service that enhances and enables the other services of the establishment.

Contrast this with the prison guard in the lowest penitentiary. He enforces a consistent experience on the inmates. He may prevent that prison from being an absolute hell. He does not have permission to make many choices. No one will claim that the guard enhances their time in prison. If he does not protect the inner sections of the prison, as well as the perimeter, things can get very bad in a hurry. He is a hygiene factor, necessary but not desirable.

Every time I talk security with building systems guys (or with power grid guys), they tell me “Sure we have security.” They use HTTPS so no one can read our messages. They require long complex passwords so no one can get in. They never talk about enhancing the services offered by the building. They never talk about letting the right people do the right things easily.

Embedded system security sounds just like that Prison Guard. The problem is, we need that situation aware, service oriented bouncer.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (
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