Monday, April 22, 2013


No longer a “black swan”


According to a Global Security Newswire (GSN) release titled 'Soft Targets' Remain Vulnerable to Terrorist Attacks, “so-called soft targets -- places like malls and movie theaters, as well as sporting events -- always have been vulnerable to terrorist attack, especially given how much harder it is to attack aircraft since 9/11.” (

Now you know and the swan is slain.

“Soft targets” are. For the most part, targets that should have risk management plans in place. Those plans must, if they are to be complete, consider how to mitigate a crazy’s attack and how to respond when it happens.

I do NOT believe attacks can be prevented 100 percent. But attacks can, and must, at least be mitigated.

    Yes, there are some measures that can be taken depending on the venue and the available of trained personnel, equipment, and the funds to put all this into place, but I know that unless there are frequent attacks, we will slide into the “it can’t happen to me” mentality.

WHAT mitigation factors can be put into place depend in part on the venue.

In all venues, training staff to be aware of their surroundings and the behavior of the people at the venue is, I am convinced, the single most important and cost effective measure to implement. There is more to this “awareness” than just looking for unattended objects, although that is a critical part of the program. Awareness includes noticing unusual-for-the-venue smells, a change in lighting, and, again, human behavior.

Being a people watcher may seem to be “profiling” and the U.S. Supremes (stupidly) prohibit profiling, but in this case the profiling is not racially based nor apparel based or even age or sex based. “Profilers,” if I may use the term, are looking for actions - or perhaps inactions; is someone going against the flow? Failing to go with the flow?

I am most assuredly not a profiler, but there are people who have developed this skill and their expertise should be employed to train others.

Let’s assume that a suspicious object is discovered.

What is to be done?

Clear the area of all non-essential people.

Surround the object with material to contain an explosion.

Oops. Where is the material to contain an explosion?

Waiting for the local bomb disposal unit to arrive on scene may be too late. Translation: practitioners need to talk with bomb experts to find out what materials can be used to contain an explosion, where to acquire same, and how to store it.

    Meanwhile we are entering some murky legal morass. Who is going to risk their life to dress the potentially explosive device? Are there volunteers? Time to bring in the legal staff; remember this is risk management, not just “business continuity” and must consider risks beyond the immediate one at hand.

The GSN article correctly, I think, concludes that “The idea of placing a metal detector in every mall in the U.S is not realistic. So, what’s stopping a terrorist from going to a department store or a sporting event and causing mass casualties?”

The bottom line, according to both this scrivener and GSN “is simple and for those in Washington well-known: If you see something, say something. Homeland Security officials consistently say that everyday Americans should continue to stay vigilant and aware of their surroundings.”

However, since the average person lacks awareness training, and since the typical facility lacks the funds to monitor every corner at all times – which could be illegal and an invasion of privacy – individual awareness training of all regularly on-site personnel is the only logical defense.

In a mall environment, that means not only training guards, but training store and maintenance/cleaning personnel as well. A central clearing point – an always attended phone – must be known to all so that if anything seems amiss, the anomaly can be reported and the report acted upon (e.g., clear the area, call 9-1-1).

No one wants to think “something” might happen to him or her, but it does.

We cannot prevent all attacks, but we can reduce the risk and mitigate those that occur. It begins with awareness.

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