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Businesses checking security

Bad news is good news these days if you're a security consultant.

A spate of bomb threats, along with the explosion at the Olympics and the crash of TWA Flight 800, means everyone is asking the question: Are we safe?

Local interest was heightened because of bomb scares at a Publix grocery store and two restaurants.

"The number of calls I get seems to increase every month," said Tampa consultant Michael Ebeling, who has produced a video to help companies guard against bombings. "It cuts across industries and all levels of management."

Ebeling points out that:

Most bombings happen on Fridays.

Banks, office buildings, retailers and colleges are the biggest targets.

Employers should have instruction cards at each phone, so employees are ready to handle bomb threats.

"The more specific the threat," he said, "the more serious it is."

He sees the increasing number of bombings as part of a long-term trend. In 1983, there were 687 bombings in the United States, said Ebeling, president of The Information Source. By last year, the number had reached 3,163. Threats are even more prevalent.

"If they'd tell the truth, every shopping mall manager would tell you that between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25, they get a bomb threat every day," he said.

These figures show why many big companies, such as Barnett Banks Inc., continuously assess and upgrade their security.

About a year ago, for example, Barnett installed bomb detectors at major mail centers to screen suspicious packages, said Tom Slimick, director of security services for the Jacksonville bank holding company.

The move was partly a response to the Unabomber, a mail bomber who had targeted executives and academicians. A Montana recluse was recently arrested and indicted for several of those attacks.

Other companies are sure to follow Barnett in the wake of recent tragedies.

First, the TWA flight exploded nearly two weeks ago, killing 230 people. Then in Atlanta, a pipe bomb blew up in a downtown park early Saturday, killing one person and injuring 110 others. These incidents came a little more than a year after a bomb destroyed a government office building in Oklahoma City.

The Tampa Bay area has had some recent scares, too. Last week, a Publix grocery store in Pinellas Park closed for five hours after receiving a bomb threat. Over the weekend, a Bob Evans restaurant and a Perkins restaurant, both in Pasco County, also received threats.

All three incidents turned out to be hoaxes. But at least one of the companies involved, Bob Evans, is redoubling its security efforts as a result.

"We're re-emphasizing procedures that we already have in place," said Mary Cusick, a spokeswoman for the Columbus, Ohio, company.

Wall Street is responding, too. Investors on Monday bid up the stock prices of companies that make bomb-detection devices, based on the belief that more customers would now seek out their services.

Shares of InVision Technologies Inc., Barringer Technologies Inc., ICTS Holland Production BV and other makers of bomb detectors all rose, some to record highs, extending a rally that began July 18 _ the day after the TWA disaster.

Sam McWeeny, president of Corporate Risk International in Fairfax, Va., doesn't hold out much hope that the increase in bombings will soon abate.

"You can go to the library or on the Internet and get easy access to information on how to make simple bombs," he says.

His advice to business people, therefore, is simple: Be prepared. Make a plan for dealing with bombs and threats and implement it.

"Everybody's vulnerable," he says. "All it takes is someone with a grudge and the capacity to do something extreme."

_ Information from Bloomberg Business News was used in this report.