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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who You Gonna Call? KGB's James Bond

When someone discovers grandma's been locked in her apartment for four days, who do you call? When a construction worker falls off scaffolding straight down a manhole, who do you call?


One answer: Just dial retired KGB officer Alexander Shabalov's company, Security Center of Flexible Technology.


On contract to the city to provide emergency rescue services, SCFT's action teams come roaring to the rescue of Muscovites every day.


They arrive in Shabalov's spy-fantasy "multi-functional vehicles'' -- converted Land Rovers, bristling with high-tech readiness like a James Bond vehicle and emblazoned with the company's winged logo that looks like Batman's.


The rescue units are guided from Shabalov's headquarters by cellular phones, and equipped for every eventuality: rappelling devices, winches, scanners to detect listening devices in buildings, extinguishers for 11 different kinds of fires, satellite navigation systems accurate within 15 feet, and a contraption called "Diana,'' a 50-foot roadblock that accordions out from the undercarriage of the Land Rover with explosive-loaded spikes.


Many of Moscow's 1,200 private security companies are run by enterprising former KGB and military officials. And Shabalov is one of the most enterprising. He's brought spy technology to a security niche where virtually no competition exists.


It may be overkill for the stranded grandmother. But Shabalov's service beats what normally happens in Moscow emergencies. Shabalov's rescue teams routinely arrive before ambulances do. And if your emergency doesn't fall neatly into medical, fire, or police, you could fall between the cracks for hours. Or in the grandmother's case, for days. Shabalov is a stiff, tightly focused man as likely to show up for work in camouflage fatigues as a natty glen-plaid sport jacket. At 38, he is from security doors, he has guided his company, run by several former KGB colleagues and space scientists, to areas of security where no competition existed.


While unloading railroad cars with his partners to raise capital for their first big job in the early 1990s, Shabalov dreamed up a super-secure storage facility for the infant Russian banking industry's gold and currency. Later he pioneered high-tech armored cars for banks, and patented an armored car system that included a vital signs monitor like those used for cosmonauts to keep track of the driver's blood pressure and whether he is sitting upright or not.


He pitched the idea for his emergency service to Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the head of the municipal militia. And early this year, Shabalov won the city contract for a multimillion dollar monopoly on management of Moscow's emergency rescue service.


Though he is a man of few words -- especially about his past or personal life -- Shabalov can hardly keep quiet when it comes to talking about his grand plan for Moscow's emergency service.


He eagerly shows off his control room -- full of computer screens, crackling radios and eight dispatchers handling as many as 200 emergency calls per day, plus 1,800 informational calls on traffic and weather conditions.


The city of Moscow has already purchased 10 of his converted Land Rovers, and Shabalov keeps four of his own working round the clock carrying emergency action teams, each of which responds to about 10 emergencies a day.


There still is no single emergency number available for Moscow residents to reach SCFT. Shabalov's service can be called through a simple city phone call on 276-5247 or for cellular phone users, through Moscow Cellular's 007 number, B-line's 911 number. Muscovites know the number and the concept behind it because dubbed re-runs of the American television series "Rescue-911'' are a big hit here.


Despite the city contract, Shabalov calls financing "difficult.'' Bill-paying in the Russian public sector is a matter of negotiation -- no matter what is promised in the contract. So Shabalov says he has a sliding scale of payment for Muscovites who use his services -- some are billed, others aren't; it just depends on the situation, he explains cryptically.


A recent typical day for his rescue squads included three "door'' calls, like the grandmother whose family locked the steel security door to her apartment, went away for the weekend and forgot to leave her a key. This is common in Moscow, and a steel security door has to be torched open if a key is lost or forgotten.


The squads also responded that day to four car accidents, went to shoo a snake out of a building lobby and caught an angry dog that was preventing residents from entering their apartment complex.


Shabalov says the need for the new emergency system is characteristic of post-Soviet deterioration in Russian society and the lack of democratic rebirth.


"There were less accidents before, not as much pandemonium on the roads,'' he says.


He reasons that there are now many more cars on the road. It is the wealthier Russians, a type that lacks a sense of civic responsibility, that can afford a car. They speed recklessly, he says, and create more hazards on the road.


These drivers, he says, are not deterred because unlike the days when a traffic violation caused suspension of a driver's license, it now brings only a fine, which is no problem for drivers to pay and forget about.