Acts of Violence

Violence

It was a week dominated by violence.

The February 14 school shooting in Florida was a tragic, horrific event.  And with it came the frustration that always accompanies these incidents:  what can we do to stop these things from happening?  Then, a few days later, a thousand miles away, another tragedy occurred.  A woman was killed in her home in a domestic dispute.  This death didn’t make the national news, and out of respect for her and her family’s privacy, I won’t go into detail about this crime.  But suffice it to say that due to the circumstances of her passing, I was in a position to know a lot of the details about her untimely demise.  The same question occurred to me:  what more could have been done to have prevented this from happening?

Both events occurred when a man with a troubled past chose to commit a violent act.  Both killers had displayed “red flags” in the immediate past, and both had come to the attention of local law enforcement multiple times in connection to their threats of violence.  In both circumstances, there was a chance for some sort of preventative action to have been taken, but those opportunities were missed or otherwise not taken advantage of.  One crime involved a gun, the other a knife and a man’s bare hands, but the end result to their victims were equally permanent.

Regular visitors here know that I work in the field of investigations and security consulting.  A large part of what I do is assessing security risks for offices and residences around the world, and recommending strategies to mitigate those risks.  Any violent crime, especially a mass shooting like in Florida, is often considered the worst-case scenario among my peers; the ultimate expression of what we try to prevent.

But there’s the rub.  A dirty little secret in our industry is that no measure is fool proof.  If you were ask me what technology or practice could guarantee such a violent act would never happen, I would have to tell you that no such measure exists.  There are best practices to be sure, and business and organizations have a legal and moral duty of care to take reasonable steps to provide a safe and secure environment.  But it is my grim belief that nothing can absolutely prevent a dedicated person intent on committing violence.

So what are we to do?  Throw up our hands and resign ourselves to this fate?  When children are being murdered, we cannot allow that to be an option.  I am studiously avoiding the political aspects of this subject.  I understand and appreciate the passionate feelings that people from all political stripes bring to the table.  But as a person who has worked in this arena for decades and who has twice been declared by the court an expert, I will tell you there are no easy answers.  Most of the recommendations I make in the course of my work are highly customized to the specific site, and in that approach, no blanket solution would be a fit for all circumstances.

Instead of commenting on specific strategies that have been suggested in the public arena, I thought instead I would contribute to the debate by sharing the thought process security professionals use when considering risk mitigation measures. I claim no authorship of these, as they are general principles known throughout the industry, and as such a source is difficult to cite.  But each of these principles should be a part of any security program designed to prevent or mitigate this type of violence:

  • DETER – Through design or highly visible security measures, make the site an unattractive target to the potential bad actor.  (Effective fences, rigorous access control, uniformed patrols around the perimeter, etc.)
  • DETECT – Through human or technological means, create the ability to monitor the site and provide for prompt detection of dangerous activity or other risk conditions.  (Alarms, gunshot detection, roving patrols, etc.)
  • DELAY – Once a security breach has occurred, create obstacles to slow the bad actor’s progress.  (Building design, central lockdown technology, secure, lockable doors, etc.)
  • DEFEND – Strengthen internal spaces and/or assets to better withstand attack.  (Bullet resistant safe rooms, fortified barriers, body armor, etc)
  • DESTROY – Identify and eliminate the threat

When you consider these principles, you can compare them to some of the suggestions being made in the public debate, and evaluate how they may or may not contribute to an effective reduction in risk.  As I’ve said, there is not an easy solution, nor is a “one size fits all” approach advisable.  But as a citizen, a security professional, but most of all as a father, I refuse to accept that there’s nothing we can do.  I urge our leaders to take meaningful action that will actually help prevent or at least reduce the impact of these tragedies.  Despite the fiery rhetoric from all corners, I don’t believe the person with a different opinion from mine wants innocents to be killed.  I think we can all agree that we want to do something to curtail this violence.

So let’s do something!

–Ben Keller

3 thoughts on “Acts of Violence

  1. A very thoughtful post, Ben. A while ago, before the Florida school shooting, I spoke to a group about police response to active shooter situations. People in the audience wanted a SOLUTION–a way to prevent all future acts of this sort. I told them I could devise a school security plan that would be 99% effective (nothing is 100%), but the cost and the restrictions to the freedom most citizens expect would make my plan unworkable. In the Army, I devised physical security plans for sensitive areas with double barriers (fences), armed guards, reaction forces, screened access control, and the like. But, I certainly wouldn’t want my children attending school in such a facility. I hope more people can engage in thoughtful conversations about this problem affecting our society, and do so without name calling and polarizing political rhetoric.

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    1. Thank you, Brian. You raise an excellent point. I used to say I could totally eradicate bank robbery. All the bank had to do was totally and permanently close their doors. But at that point they would cease to be what they’re supposed to be. I recall the Franklin quote about those who would trade liberty for security deserving neither. That takes on a new relevance today.

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  2. Thank you for this very thoughtful and well articulated post. I agree with both you and Brian Thiem. And having experienced a school shooting at Oikos University as a first responder I understand the long lasting impact as well as the immediate rhetoric that follows such an event. What we can hope for is that the conversation and push for workable solutions continues and doesn’t fade away as it so often does once the event leaves the news .

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