Changing The Lexicon on Terrorism Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

A couple months ago I posted about NFPA 3000: Standard for Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response Program.  Soon after posting, I ended up purchasing a copy of the standard and, combined with other readings and discussions, am fully bought into not only this standard but a change in our lexicon for this type of incident.

NFPA3000

First off, in regard to NFPA 3000, it’s not rocket science.  There is nothing in this standard that is earth shattering or itself wholly changing to what we do or how we do it.  But that’s not the intent of NFPA standards.  NFPA technical committees compile standards based upon best practices in the field. The standards they create are just that – standards.  They are a benchmark for reference as we apply the principles contained therein.  NFPA 3000 provides solid guidance that everyone in EM/HS should be paying attention to.

What NFPA 3000 has helped me realize is that our focus has been wrong for a while.  Terrorism isn’t necessarily the thing we need to be preparing for.  Why?

First, let’s look at what is generally referenced definition of terrorism in the United States.  This comes from Title 22 Chapter 38 US Code § 2656f.  It states that terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents’.  Note that the definition focuses on motive more than action or consequence.  While motive is very important in prevention/intelligence and prosecution, it is far less important to most preparedness, response, and recovery activities.

The term ‘active shooter’ has been used quite a bit, yet it’s not a good description of what communities and responders can face when we consider that perpetrators could use means and methods instead of or in addition to firearms.  We’ve seen a wide variety of these instances that involve knives, vehicles, improvised explosives, and more.

This is why I prefer the term ‘active shooter/hostile event response’ or ASHER.  While the term has been around for a bit (a quick internet search shows references going back to at least 2013), NFPA 3000 has essentially canonized it in our lexicon.  The definition provided in NFPA 3000 is focused on the incident, rather than the motivation, and is comprehensive of any means or methods which could be used.  That definition is – Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER): An incident where one or more individuals are or have been active engaged in harming, killing, or attempting to kill people in a populated area by means such as firearms, explosives, toxic substances, vehicles, edged weapons, fire, or a combination thereof.

When it comes to preparedness, response, and recovery ASHER is the focus we need to have.  Motivations generally make little difference in how we should respond.  We should always be looking for secondary devices or other attackers – these are not features unique to terrorist attacks.  As we do with any crime scene, we should always be mindful of evidence that can lead us to the motives and potential co-conspirators of an attacker.  That’s important for investigation, prosecution, and the prevention of further attacks.  Does the term ‘terrorism’ still have a place?  Of course it does.  In our legal system, that’s an important definition.  Philosophically, we can argue that all attacks are acts of terror, but because of the legal definition that exists of terrorism, we can’t – at least in the US.

I encourage everyone to start making the move to changing the lexicon to ASHER where appropriate.  It makes sense and gives us the proper perspective.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC ™

Defining Terrorism

It seems odd that in 2017 we still need to be clear about what constitutes an act of terrorism.  For context, last night, the horrible shooting in Las Vegas occurred.  At the time of writing this, it’s already been the most fatal shooting in US history.  This is a horrible incident that, as usual, I’m not going to Monday morning quarter-back, as so much is still developing in the aftermath.

What I will comment on are statements by media outlets and ‘experts’, many of which proclaimed once it was released that the perpetrator of this crime was an older white guy local to the Las Vegas area, that this was not an act of terrorism.  So let’s clarify against stupidity, ignorance, and general bullshit.  While there are a variety of definitions of terrorism that can be found, no definition worth its salt includes any pre-determined profile based upon race, age, gender, religion, sexuality, nationality, or skin color.  Those factors alone have nothing to do with determining if an act was or was not terrorism.

The most common definition referenced in the US is what is known as the ‘FBI definition’.  This definition actually comes from a section of the US Code of Federal Regulations (28 CFR 0.85) which outlines the general functions of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  In the Code, terrorism is defined as ‘the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in the furtherance of political or social objectives’.

It seems easy in these times to decry any act of violence as terrorism or, similarly, to dismiss certain acts because they are perpetrated by some old white guy with no known agenda.  Both of these actions would be wrong without further evidence.  The FBI definition focuses on motive and intent.  While the results of the incident may certainly be intimidating or coercive, the motivation may not have been to accomplish that – it may have been, not to understate any act of violence, simply to kill people.  It may not have necessarily been motivated by any specific social, political, or religious extremism.  At this moment, there has been no publicly-released information indicating that this person acted to ‘intimidate or coerce a government, civilian population, or segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.’  But that could change at any moment.

In the hours and days ahead, more details will be uncovered on the perpetrator of this crime and their possible motives.  Some people simply want to call it terrorism so they have a label for it or because they think that the crime is somehow elevated by calling it terrorism.  Over 50 were killed and over 500 were injured.  Whatever label you apply doesn’t make the crime any better or worse.  It’s still horribly tragic.  Some people, particularly those with pre-conceived notions of what is or is not terrorism, will hold that this couldn’t possibly be terrorism because it was committed by an older, local, white guy; and not a radicalized individual from the middle east.  Assumptions either way are dangerous.

Regardless of how the investigation shakes out and what labels may be applied to this act, the loss of life and impact to families and loved ones is horrific.  Let us all take some time to consider that and what must be done to prepare for and prevent further mass shootings such as this.

No matter what the disaster is, be informed!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

FBI vs Apple – iPhone Security

The struggle over encryption and device security continues.  This time it’s more visceral, representing the most relevant case on the side of criminal justice yet.  In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, the FBI is seeking to gain access to an iPhone discovered in the vehicle where the shooters made their last stand with law enforcement.  The FBI is hoping to find additional evidence on this phone – phone records, emails, texts, etc. that might lead them to information on other conspirators of the attack, other potential targets and attackers, and anything else that might lead to prosecuting those involved in this attack or stopping future attacks.  Gaining access to this information is obviously extremely important.

The problem – the phone is locked with a passcode, and the FBI doesn’t know what that code is. While trial and error is certainly a viable methodology, Apple’s architecture limits passwords attempts to 10.  Once the tenth attempt fails, the iPhone will go into a sort of self-destruct, wiping all data from the device.  The FBI needs help, and they are seeking it from Apple.  Apple declined requests and is now being compelled by a federal judge who ordered Apple to assist the FBI in gaining access to the phone.  Apple is fighting the order – but why?

First of all, Apple states there is no ‘back door’ into their system that will allow them to bypass a security code.  On principal, they decided not to create one since if it exists, it can be exploited.  Based upon this, the FBI has requested that Apple at least disable the 10 attempt fail safe in the iOS programming, allowing the FBI to press on with many more attempts to crack the code.  Apple continues to refuse, again citing the potential for someone with criminal intent exploiting this.  Essentially, Apple feels they are protecting their customers from criminal acts and loss of personal information.  The CEO of Google recently voiced support for Apple’s stand.

This debate poses two strong arguments, each pulling at our values.  On one side, we need to support the efforts of law enforcement to prevent, protect, and prosecute.  The evidence gathered from a situation such as this can potentially lead to finding co-conspirators in these horrible shootings, and can potentially stop other crimes from occurring.

On the other side, there is also concern over preventing future criminal activity by those who would steal information.  Keeping in mind that what we have on our phones is not only a browsing history and Disney World selfies, but also private information such as bank accounts, and even access to business information; the theft of which can be devastating to individuals and entire organizations.

There are valid arguments on both sides, and consequences to action and inaction all around, with implications much broader than this one case.  I’m interested in seeing how this shakes out.

What are your thoughts?

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker

Terrorist Arrested in NYC – Bomb Plot Foiled

A 21 year old Bangladeshi national in the US, here on a student visa, was arrested two days ago for attempting to detonate a 1,000 pound bomb outside the Federal Reserve bank in Manhattan.  This was the result of a three month long sting operation by the FBI and the local Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).  Congratulations to the agents and officers of the FBI and coordinating agencies who foiled this plot, and thank you for keeping our nation safe!

Homeland Security Today provides some initial details of the plot in what is, surprisingly, not a top national news story.  I’m honestly shocked by this –   Folks, this is big news!  Based on the information provided, the detonation of a bomb this size (had it been real) would have done just as much damage as that caused by Timothy McVeigh at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.  That bomb killed 168 and injured almost 700 people.

While there have been a lot of criticisms of our nation’s intelligence functions lately (see my earlier post on Fusion Centers), this is one of the true success stories.  Let’s congratulate all of the officials involved in finding and catching this radical.  I’m sure the employees of the Manhattan Federal Reserve bank and their loved ones are truly thankful.