If you work in any facet of public safety and you aren’t thinking about how you secure public and event spaces, you haven’t been paying attention. Our complacency is the greatest gift we can give to terrorists and criminals. I certainly acknowledge that the most difficult aspect of dealing with criminal intent versus natural hazards is their determination to circumvent our own protective measures and systems, but we often make it easy for them because it’s too difficult for us to change. Is that really the excuse you want to give to the board, the media, or the families of those killed in a criminal act?
While I will never claim to be a security expert, I try to look at things with a critical eye and take the advice of those who are experts in the field. Here are a few examples of things I’ve encountered.
Several years ago I was part of a team supporting preparedness at a major sporting venue. The organization who had exclusive rights to the venue requested support in planning, training, and exercise activities. I provided incident management training and was the lead on exercises. As preparation for a tabletop exercise, I coordinated with the organization to observe security procedures during a major event. The security screeners at the entrances to the venue did a reasonable job with most patrons, although consistently faulted with one type of patron – persons in wheelchairs. Anyone who came to the door in a wheelchair was waved through ALL security screening without so much as a bag check. This became the gap that I exploited for the exercise, much to the objection of their head of security who insisted that personnel were trained in how to screen patrons in wheelchairs. While they may have been trained, it is something they consistently failed in doing and I never observed a supervisor correct the behavior. Perhaps they weren’t trained at all, or the training wasn’t effective, or it was too uncomfortable or inconvenient for them to do. Regardless, this is a significant gap that I’ve continued to see at other locations through the years.
Earlier this year I attended a large convention that drew tens of thousands of patrons in a large convention center over a long weekend. I was an attendee and not working in any official capacity. Security at the venue was laughable. Security personnel had three main activities – bag checks, credential checks, and metal detector operation. Metal detector operation was only performed the first day, utilizing walk through detectors as well as wands. The personnel clearly had no idea how to operate either (I was among dozens if not hundreds of people who were directed to go through a walk through detector – which I noticed was unplugged). On the occasion that a walk through alerted (one that was plugged in…), I observed security personnel waiving the wand around people too quickly and too far away from their bodies. For bag checks, we were asked to open all bags for security inspection. The ‘inspection’ I observed on each day usually consisted of someone saying thank you and waving you through as they looked around the room or chatted with a co-worker, certainly not actually looking into the bags. As for checking credentials, every patron was provided with a lanyard and a pass to be attached to said lanyard. Security personnel were supposed to be checking passes as people entered doors to the main exhibit hall and other areas. I noted some security personnel did this better than others – some of which didn’t check at all. I actually managed to keep my pass in my pocket through the entire event, only being challenged by security once. I was so alarmed by some of the practices that on separate occasions I introduced myself to a county sheriff’s deputy and a fire marshal to point out some of the more egregious issues.
My work has brought me to a number of secure facilities owned by various levels of government and private entities. One federal facility I’ve frequently visited through the years usually screens vehicles. As expected, this includes the opening of doors and the trunk of the car. Not once, in the many years and visits to this facility has anyone ever moved a seat or checked a bag or package.
My last anecdote comes from a few years ago spending some down time in a small park in an area of DC where there a number of embassies. One embassy seemed to have regular traffic in and out for visitors as well as some light construction work being performed on their grounds. As one guard would check identification and presumably verify the need of the visitor to be there, another guard would walk around the vehicle with an inspection mirror (the type at the end of a pole with which to inspect the underside of a vehicle). It was evident that the guard was either not trained in its proper use or the importance of this protocol, as every time he walked around a vehicle holding the mirror, but never actually putting it in position to view under the vehicle, much less ever looking down at the mirror. He simply took a casual stroll around the vehicle.
The things I’ve noted here are just a few that happened to come to mind as I crafted this article. There are dozens more, and I’m sure each of you can come up with a list of poor practices as well. Keep your eyes open when you go to a public space to see how security is handled. Look at things through the lenses of potential adversaries. How could someone gain entry? Are there recognized security patterns they can circumvent? What vulnerabilities exist? If you are responsible for security for a facility, have a security audit performed. While formal security audits are valuable, often the most meaningful ones are casual and unannounced, with someone the front-line security personnel don’t know trying to gain entrance to the facility. Are they challenged appropriately? Are they screened effectively?
The mitigation, prevention, and protection against security threats is something that many take too lightly – clearly even those whose job it is to focus on those matters. Highly effective training programs are available – but we need to ensure that people take these courses and implement what they’ve learned in accordance with documented organizational practices. Supervisors must be present and constantly maintain quality control. This is a good matter of practice, but even more important when most non-sworn security personnel have a high rate of turn over or may be part time or temporary employees, or even volunteers. For large events, proper just-in-time training must be performed for supplemental security staff who are not certified or otherwise professionally qualified security personnel.
Security is a challenging environment to work in. We must constantly be recognizing threats and trying to out-think potential adversaries. We must strive to keep passive and active security practices up to par, meeting or exceeding standards without becoming predictable to an observer. How do you assess security in your facility? What best practices have you identified?
© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP