Back to School Safety and Security in 6 Steps

As schools and childcare centers across the country embark upon the new school year, it is important for owners and administrators to take a fresh look at safety and security. In the midst of a busy school year, some of these checklist items can be put on the back-burner. Schools can use the summer months to refocus and consider: What should owners and administrators review each year to make sure their facilities are safe and secure? 

  1. Revisit safety and security policies

All good safety and security starts with robust emergency plans and policy. And while most schools have something in place, rarely is it dusted off and refreshed. The summers months, without the usual day-to-day distractions, is an ideal time to review these procedures. 

High-quality safety and security policies focus on both the goals of the security plan as well as the feasibility of implementation. By starting with what needs to be accomplished — whether that’s protecting students during the day, creating a safe space for after-hours extracurriculars or making the site ready to evacuate in case of a tornado — the policies will be built to fit a purpose. This exercise also often exposed important gaps in the security posture that might require urgent fixes. For example, has summer-time construction changed evacuation plans? Do new front desk personnel have the materials they need to be successful in access control? Do new classroom configuration demand updates to teacher training and awareness?

From a feasibility perspective, policies should be honest about what is achievable. There’s no point installing hundreds of security cameras if there’s no budget to hire a security officer to monitor them. There are ways of stretching your dollar and prioritizing if budget is an issue, but don’t let your eyes be bigger than your wallet. Invest as much as you can, but be smart with how that money is allocated. In cases where money is tight, be wary of fancy new technology. Training and preventative measures will get you further than installing new security equipment. 

Successful policies are also preventative rather than reactive. They focus on addressing issues before they occur, not after. To this end, focus your policies around things like access control and staff training and certification (including how to spot issues and dangerous behavior early, while interventions are still possible). That’s not to say you can neglect the rest. Policies should address all of the major primary response protocols: lock out, lock down, shelter-in-place and evacuate. Policies should go even further and should address how parents are informed of procedures, reunification after an event and the cadence of school-wide trainings. 

The list could go on forever and will vary school to school. The key takeaway is that your policies likely need a refresh, and if you keep them comprehensive, prevention-focused and with an emphasis on training, your school will be set up for success in the coming year. 

  1. Revisit safety and security equipment

Equipment, which possibly hasn’t been used since your last drill, ought to be tested before school starts. This includes alarms, locks, cameras, and any other technology that will need to work flawlessly during an actual emergency. While we strongly emphasize policies’ importance over physical hardware, hardware is foundational in a robust physical security posture. Imagine if there’s no one trained to watch your fancy security cameras, your panic button isn’t operational or your access control mechanism doesn’t have a speaker system (you’ve just paid for a very expensive doorbell, nothing more). The physical hardware must be tested over the summer, so it’s functioning on day 1. Moreover, this is a great time to replace broken hardware or add new infrastructure to patch any gaps. 

  1. Put safety and security at the heart of staff professional development

Summer is a time for professional development for many schools, giving teachers and staff an opportunity to improve their craft. By making safety and security a core component, schools empower their staff to act during an emergency in accordance with the school’s policies. This is especially true for new staff or staff who hasn’t gone through training in a while; it should be done annually at least. Consider getting your entire staff security certified over the summer. As the Navy SEAL adage goes, “under pressure, we don’t rise to the occasion, we fall to our training.”

  1. Confirm relevant emergency information and contacts

People and roles change outside of your organization as well. Make sure you have the most up to date contact information for local first responders as well as offsite locations such as reunification sites or other security contractors. Have their hours changes? Are they still aware of your relationship if roles have changed? Are they up to date on your policies?

  1. Set a plan & schedule for drills and trainings

Schools are expected — often regulated — to conduct emergency drills throughout the year. Too often, these are squeezed in at the end of the school year to check a box. But these drills serve a critical function in ensuring everything runs as smoothly as possible during an actual emergency. Students and staff must be up to date and regularly practice these drill for them to be effective. By scheduling these before the school year starts, administrators guarantee their people are prepared at any point during the year. Be sure to front-load the first several weeks of school with at least one of each of the main drills — evacuations, shelter in place, and lockdown. 

  1. Communicate changes to parents

Parents have the right and the duty to know what to expect in terms of school safety and security. This included how to access the buildings, what types of drills or trainings their child might receive, how schools communicate during an emergency and what to expect with regard to the reunification plan in case of an evacuation. This ought to be provided to the parents near the beginning of the school year. It will save time answering questions in the long run. 

Don’t wait until you’re underwater

Safety and security has never been more important, and a well secure school helps parents, staff, and students rest easy, as well as even being a competitive value add to your business. During the summer, administrators finally have the headspace to address such critical issues that otherwise get brushes aside during the year. Don’t wait until you’re underwater. Act now. 

For more information about how SEC can help your school get prepared before school starts, visit secureed.com.

The Door Knob Dilemma

Do your classroom door handles have locks on them? Are classroom door locks permitted by the fire marshal in your area? The answer to both of these questions is far from straightforward and the answer varies from school to school and fire district to fire district. Classroom door handle inspection is a standard part of SEC’s site security assessment and we always recommend that doors do have locks that can be easily engaged by staff members from the inside of the classroom.  In our experience, many of the schools and child care centers we visit have not been allowed to place locks on their classroom doors.  When asked “why”, the most common response we receive is that their local fire marshal does not permit them.  When it comes to locks on classroom door handle, security and fire-safety ideas can clash. We advise our clients to be aware of the potential clash and advocate for a solution that fits both security and fire-safety criteria.

Choosing a door handle can seem simple enough, so how can it create so much trouble? The type of handle and lock you choose has many implications for fire-safety and security. Let’s start by looking at the implications of a lock from both perspectives:

Security Implications:

From strictly a security perspective, being able to lock a classroom door is critical to secure staff and students in an efficient and effective manner.

  • Teachers should be able to lock their classroom door from the inside, to keep their class safe from intruders. Sometimes evacuation is not an option, or not the safest option. Recently, a school shooter was stopped in his tracks and because frustrated because the teachers locked the doors so he could not access classrooms. In classrooms with small children where evacuation is much more challenging, this is especially important.
  • Teachers can lock the door from the outside, to secure the classroom during the night.
  • Teachers should be able to unlock the door from the outside so that students cannot accidentally, or purposefully lock teachers out of the classroom or get stuck in the room alone.

Fire Implications:

“Egress” is a critical element of all fire safety protocols — being able to evacuate a building as quickly and efficiently as possible. Door handles should not hinder egress in any way. Locks that you have to manually twist or unlock with a key can hinder egress by delaying your exit out of the building. All outer building doors must have locks, but some fire marshals do not allow any internal classroom door handles to have locks because it has the potential to hinder an efficient evacuation of the classroom.

Can you find a lock that satisfies the ability to evacuate the building without interference, but also has the safety features that allow you to lock the door when necessary? Yes, but it may require additional research and advocacy on your behalf.

The Solution

All schools are required to consult with a fire marshal, and SEC always advises schools to adhere to all fire codes. There currently is no national protocol on locked doors, and different fire marshals have different regulations. We have encountered schools where fire marshals have instructed that no locks are permitted on classroom doors. We recently worked with two schools in the same state in fairly close proximity who had each been given different instructions by their respective fire marshal on this issue.

We believe that there is a solution for all schools, that should satisfy the requirements of all fire marshals and adhere to all security standards. We recommend door handles with a lock button in the middle that automatically unlocks when you twist the door to leave. You twist this door handle in the same motion whether it is locked or not, so the lock does not act as a hindrance to evacuation. In our experience, some fire marshals that originally did not allow door handles with locks ended up accepting these push and twist door handles as a safe and effective option.

Oftentimes in life two “good” causes can seem to be competing. How can you choose just one? When you work to satisfy both causes – in this case, safety and fire criteria—the best results occur. Be informed of your options and advocate for yourself and your security needs when working with a fire marshal. Bring the knowledge that other schools have successfully found a solution, and share all of your priorities and concerns with fire marshals. If you need assistance, please feel free to reach out to SEC. By working together and sharing the knowledge we can create safer schools.

 

Handling Holiday Season Guests

‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations with family, friends, and schoolmates. Is your school planning any parties or plays or concerts this season? No matter how you are celebrating, your school will likely be welcoming a higher than usual number or guests. How can you keep your school secure during the chaos while maintaining the holiday cheer? Let’s break down security protocol based on the event.

Holiday guest preparation can largely be broken down into two categories – classroom events like class parties, and full school events like school concerts.

 

Class Parties

If your school invites parents to join in on class parties, there may be an influx of parents that arrive during the same time. With a little preparation, you can welcome all of these parents without compromising your entryway protocol. All parents should still enter through the main, locked door and check-in before heading to the classroom. Assigning extra staff to man the entry can keep parents moving quickly and avoid a build-up in the lobby. You might also consider asking parents in advance to indicate whether they plan to attend the party so you can prepare name tags or badges to streamline the process. It is also always helpful to remind parents of entry protocol before the event so they can arrive informed and with ample time to sign-in.

 

School-Wide Events         

Many schools will host concerts, plays, and performances after school hours. School-wide events draw more guests than class parties and it would be largely impractical to enforce your standard daytime entryway protocol. Still, there are many ways to maintain security for all those in attendance.

You can deploy permanent staff members or volunteers to man the entrances. These staff members can keep an eye out for suspicious activity and block off certain areas of the school that don’t need to be used for the event. Teachers should make sure their classroom doors are locked prior to the event.

It may useful to involve emergency personnel. If you have a Security Resource Officer at your school, consider inviting them to attend. You can call your local police station to make them aware of the event – they might send a cruiser to scan the parking lot.

At the beginning of the performance, take the time to provide a quick security briefing. Just like at the movies, identify the nearest exits and any other relevant response protocol tips.

 

All Events

The more people at a school (or any event), the higher the chance of an emergency. Ensure you have medical equipment like an AED handy. Consider that Grandparents attend many school events, and can pose health risks. If an emergency does occur, emergency response teams will need to respond, so it is essential all emergency parking areas are clear. When more people than usual are parking at the school it can be tempting to park in the emergency zones; consider having a volunteer monitor the parking lot to avoid this problem.

 

A little preparation can go a long way. Sharing your expectations with teachers, staff, and visitors will make for more secure events. If you need assistance planning for your holiday guests, we’d love to help. Best of luck to all planning and attending celebrations at schools this season. We at SEC are wishing you all a joyful holiday season!

Social Media and Emergency Management

In the event of an emergency, how do you get the word out? How do you alert key stakeholders (parents, caregivers, the community etc.) and provide timely updates? Many schools alert the news, utilize robo-call systems and send emails. Government agencies, police forces, and companies have taken to social media as an official means of communication. Can schools also benefit from using social media as an additional emergency management tool? Absolutely, provided they approach it strategically.

As social media grows, so does the opportunity for mass communication. In the California wildfires, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection notified residents of evacuations and sent updates when they contained sections of the fire. After the terror attack in Lower Manhattan in October, the city’s official emergency management account, @NYPDNews, alerted citizens of the incident, road closures, and resources for families of victims.  Social media can be an effective tool because it disseminates information directly from the source to an unlimited number of people. Succinct, factual and timely posts can be the key to useful pages.

Today, many schools have a social media presence. Some are already using it as a tool to inform stakeholders about emergency events like lockdowns or shelter-in-place. As the social-media generation becomes parents, the prominence and usefulness of social media at schools will grow. If your school chooses to use social media as an emergency management tool, quality is essential. Poorly executed social media can lead to chaos and exacerbate the impact of emergencies.

 

Guidelines for Using Social Media in an Emergency

It is useful to turn to the Department of Homeland Security as a resource. They provide useful guidelines, which can translate to the school setting. Murch Elementary School in Washington DC posted recently used social media during a shelter-in-place event. Some of their posts are used as examples below.

Develop a Strategic Plan:

  • What social medium platforms will you use? Twitter is most common for quick updates, but Facebook can be effective as well. Check with parents to see which platforms they use most often, if at all.
  • Who will post the updates? When? Does the poster need to get approval from anyone before they post?
  • What constitutes as an emergency worthy of sharing on social media?
  • How will this compliment the other emergency notification plans you have in place?

Establish a social media presence 

If you want your posts to spread news, people must know your page exists, and it must be clear your page is legitimate.

The first part is easy – let parents, teachers and members of the community know that you have a social media page and it may be used to share updates in the event of an emergency. Share your social media plan in your newsletter, and cover social media when you are discussing other emergency preparedness topics.

Making it clear that your page is legitimate is important for more distant stakeholders who may not access your page as frequently (local news, community members etc.). To lend credibility to your page, post a link to your website in your bio, and link to your social media page on your school website, and apply to become “certified.”

Distribute timely and frequent updates 

During the emergency, post updates as often as possible. It is okay to send an update saying, “We don’t have any new information at this time.” News straight from the source (you) can prevent false news from spreading. Manage expectations for posts by being clear from the onset of an emergency as to how often you will be posting. Something like, “We will send updates every half hour, or as developments occur,” can calm nerves and reduce speculation.

 Actively monitor social media content 

One wonderful thing about social media is immediate feedback. One of the biggest drawbacks about social media is the opportunity for false news to spread and cause alarm. Avoid this by monitoring any replies you get to your messages and conducting basic searches for posts relating to your emergency. You can squash any rumors that may appear, but also learn helpful information that you may be able to re-post to share with your audience. Parents, emergency management, or the news may post useful information.

Murch Elementary posted 12 updates in the span of 1 hour and 40 minutes during a recent shelter-in-place event associated with a bomb threat at a nearby facility. Their posts were clear, timely, and took into account parent feedback.

Maintaining a social media presence is a big responsibility. For those that are up to the challenge, it can, though, create an invaluable communication tool between you and key stakeholders during an emergency.

 

 

SEC on WZZM after Las Vegas Massacre

SEC’s Jason Russell recently conducted active shooter training with schools in the Mandalay Bay Area. Russell spoke with WZZM in the wake of the Las Vegas shootings.

Read and watch the full story here:

http://www.wzzm13.com/news/nation/former-secret-service-agent-breaks-down-vegas-mass-shooting/480455911

SEC ON WOOD TV 8: “Have a Plan if Something Goes Wrong”

In the wake of the tragedy in Las Vegas, SEC’s CEO Jason Russell spoke to Wood TV8 in Michigan about being prepared.

“It’s about having a plan if something goes wrong. We tell people in a situation where you’re being shot at, you need to look for two things: cover or concealment.”

Read and watch the full interview here: http://woodtv.com/2017/10/02/ex-federal-agent-have-a-plan-if-something-goes-wrong/

Is Your School Ready to Shelter-In-Place?

Officials in Baltimore, Maryland launched into emergency response mode after a chemical leak occurred in the area. Local news reported that Chlorosulfonic acid was released into the air during an incident at a chemical plant, causing immediate danger for the everyone in the area. The city responded by issuing a shelter-in-place advisory for residents within a one-mile radius of the spill.

Shelter-in-place describes the response to a non-human related threat and is distinctly different from “lockdowns” or “lockouts” which are issued when a dangerous person is in the area. Severe weather and airborne hazards spark shelter-in-place situations. Weather is the most common factor of shelter-in-place scenarios. Many schools routinely conduct shelter in place drills for weather related emergencies by having staff and students respond to the most structurally sound portion of the facility away from exterior windows and doors.

As was the case in Baltimore, schools may be required to shelter in place due to airborne hazard which are often the result of tanker truck and commercial railway spills, or accidents at factories or plants. Because the reason you may be asked to shelter in place may be very different, your school’s response needs to be tailored to each specific threat.

After the spill in Baltimore, city officials responded by quickly advising people in the surrounding areas to shelter-in-place. They activated social media accounts and the phone emergency alert systems to advise people of the danger. The alerts were effective because they were timely, concise and provided specific direction. One tweet read, “Due to @BaltimoreFire activity, residents in 21060 21225 & 21226 are being asked to shelter-in-place, close windows & limit time outside.” These alerts were crucial as they sparked emergency responses throughout the affected area.


If you learn your school is under a shelter-in-place advisory due to a hazardous release, would you be prepared? Schools should have specific shelter-in-place response protocols, customized to their building. Some general guidelines are:

Designate a location or locations with few windows that can fit staff, students and visitors.
Close all windows and doors.
Seal all cracks and vents using plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Have additional supplies including nonperishable food, water, first aid kits, battery powered radios and telephones in order to be able to communicate with concerned parents.
Shut off HVAC systems.
• Communicate to ensure everyone knows when the shelter-in-place begins and ends.

Releases of hazardous material spills can happen anywhere, so have a plan that you can efficiently execute to minimize exposure to staff and students. FEMA provides a comprehensive list that schools can reference for specific guidance. The California Department of Public Health, Know When and How to Shelter-in-Place for Schools is another good resource for schools.

Luckily, the shelter-in-place in Baltimore only lasted for an hour and there were no reported hospitalizations due to this accident. Still, it serve as a reminder that emergency situations of any type can happen at any time and school administrators and staff need to be prepared beforehand. Stay safe and have a plan. 

The Importance of Sensing Danger

SEC’s experts believe that every person follows a specific path when responding to critical incidents or emergencies:

  1. Sense Danger
  2. Evaluate Response Options
  3. Commit to action

Step One, “sensing danger” seems straightforward – you can only respond to an emergency if you know that it exists. However, when it comes down to it, there are many roadblocks that can prevent people from sensing danger as quickly as might be possible. The faster people are aware that an emergency exists, the faster they can go through the rest of the response process and find their way to safety.

The five senses can be major roadblocks in sensing danger. How many times have we heard of someone confusing gunfire for “fireworks?” Historically, people have relied on their senses to alert them to danger – the sound of a gunshot, the smell of fire, the sight of a dangerous person. However, human brains are naturally predisposed to attribute sounds and other sensory observations to things more typical of daily life. This confusion can drastically slow down your response process.

Inability to share information can be another roadblock to sensing danger. Once one person identifies that an emergency exists, they can help other people by quickly sharing that information. If someone sees a gunman but has no way to share that information with the other people in their building, everyone else is at a disadvantage because they cannot begin to execute an emergency response.

The solution to effectively sensing danger is comprehensive alert systems. Unlike relying on your senses, an alert system makes it clear that danger is present. Alert systems can also disseminate information to many people at the same time. Institutions across all industries have set up alert systems. Think about severe weather alerts, alerts to suspicious activity on our bank accounts, or engine alerts on your car.

Schools have almost perfected their fire-alert systems. Schools have fire alarms that alert building occupants of a fire and automatically alert local fire departments of the emergency. All staff and students are trained to understand the alert, so when they hear it, they immediately sense the danger and can begin to respond in carefully crafted ways. It has been years since a child has died from a fire in a school building. Fire safety in school is proof that comprehensive alert systems do work.

While schools are increasingly well prepared for violent incidents including active shooter, fire preparation is generations ahead of where we are for violent attacks. We can take many lessons from the “fire-preparation” movement to apply to active shooter situations. Efficient alerts are one key concept.

In an active-violence situation, an effective alert will clearly and quickly inform others of the violence. Schools should utilize “plain-language” alerts (i.e. “Alert – there is a shooter in the building,”) or conduct drills to train students and teachers to immediately recognize alerts sounds. When the alert goes out quickly, people can begin to respond to the danger before they are physically confronted by it.

What specific alerts do we recommend? There are some great high-tech systems on the market, but many are not widely used or available. Your alert system does not need to be too elaborate or expensive. Phone PA systems, email, or text, are common alert systems, but keep in mind that these have their limitations. Many PA systems are not accessible by all, the speakers are not loud enough, and people don’t have the immediate enough access to phones and email to make those methods useful. Organizations can take lower cost steps by utilizing tools like boat air horns, coast guard whistles, or plain language voice alerts that can quickly be spread around a facility.

The key to a good emergency alert system is having a plan that is easily accessible and understood by all. How does your school plan to alert people in the event of an active shooter situation, or other emergencies? Develop a plan and share it will all stakeholders. If you need assistance developing a strong alert system, reach out to SEC.

 

Back to School Security Checklist

If September is for fresh starts and new school years, August is for planning. A lot can change in a year. Schools hire new teachers, teachers and students move to new classrooms, school buildings undergo construction. Before the new school year begins, teachers, administrators and parents should review old emergency plans and make updates accordingly. Share the below lists with the people in your community to make this upcoming school year one of the safest and most secure years yet!

Administrators

  • Ensure emergency protocols are in place and posted in each classroom.
  • Go over basic emergency protocols with teachers and staff (i.e.: Evacuation, Shelter in Place, Lockout and Lockdown.) Answer questions when possible.
  • Review key plan elements such as alert capability, relocation sites, and transportation elements to ensure they are in place.
  • Develop a drill-schedule for early and mid-year that practices the main protocols.
  • If buses are used, schedule times for evacuation practice. Ensure evacuation is practiced from the buses at least 2 times per year.
  • Make contact with local emergency services to request they attend a drill that would elicit their response. (Fire for Evacuation and Police for Lockdown.)

Teachers

  • Review basic emergency procedures to include Evacuation, Shelter in Place, Lockout and Lockdown. Ensure you are aware of the role you must play in each situation. Ask for clarification when plans are ambiguous.
  • Check emergency supplies and ensure they are available and operating properly.
  • Ensure you have access to any mass alert capability such as PA system or any emergency response APPs used.
  • Plan a time, as early in the year as possible, to review basic emergency responses with children. Be sure to do this in an age appropriate manner.

Parents

  • When age appropriate, ensure children know parents contact information to include phone numbers, home address etc.
  • Consider a backpack emergency card with relevant phone numbers, medical allergies, and other information that could be used to help in an emergency.
  • Ask the school about their plan to deal with emergencies and make sure they have a reunification plan in place.
  • Update all emergency contacts. Consider authorizing a non-parent to pick up your child(ren) in case of emergency, and you are unable to be there.
  • Have an age appropriate conversation with the child about maintaining safety and about age appropriate situational awareness.

The Dangers on the Edge of Security Perimeters

On January 6, 2017, a shooter at the Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood Airport killed five people and injured six more, inciting mass panic at the airport. The shooting took place near baggage claim – a vulnerable location because large groups of people congregate in the space and it is just outside of the secured portion of the airport. On a recent trip to this same Fort Lauderdale airport, an SEC consultant observed the behavior of the public in the area of the attack.  As is typical in baggage claim areas, our consultant noted individuals clustered around the baggage carousel, immersed in conversations with family and friends, or scrolling through their cell phones.  Although it is a testament to the American spirit that we do not live in constant fear, it is important for people to recognize that certain locations are susceptible to threats. Security perimeters are established to protect people and buildings, but we must accept that the areas just outside of these perimeters have been the site of attacks, and unfortunately, will likely be targets for attacks in the future.

On May 22, 2017, a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured dozens more leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Like the Fort Lauderdale shooting, the bombing occurred right outside of the security perimeter for the concert. It was strategically timed at the end of the concert for when large numbers of audience members would be streaming out of the secured entryway. Manchester and Fort Lauderdale are only two examples of attacks that have occurred on the perimeter of secured areas.  As part of the coordinated November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, three suicide bombers detonated outside the Stade de France stadium during a soccer match between France and Germany. On June 28, 2016, attacks at an airport in Istanbul killed 41 and injured 230. Three bombs exploded in different spots around the airport, but all three were outside of the security perimeter. A similar attack occurred on March 22, 2016, at the Brussels airport. Two bombs exploded at the check-in areas on different sides of the airport, killing 32 people.

Certain venues, especially ones that attract large crowds and/or have cultural significance, have a greater likelihood of being attacked. Domestic and international law enforcement and security professionals have attempted mitigate the risk by deploying comprehensive security measures at likely targets such as airports, concert halls, museums, sporting events, theme parks, festivals and historic landmarks. Security officials continue to enhance and evolve the tools and tactics they utilize to protect these areas, but the problem remains – there will always be vulnerabilities associated with the spaces that are just outskirts of these perimeters. Ultimately, the security perimeter has to stop somewhere.

In recent years, security and law enforcement officials have recognized this threat and have taken a variety of actions to help mitigate the danger. One example is the practice of deploying canine units that can detect the compounds commonly found in explosive devices.  The Secret Service, for example, uses this type of unit in areas where the public gather outside the White House fence line. Many agencies and organizations with protective responsibilities have enhanced their capabilities by employing integrated technologies like smart surveillance cameras, license plate readers, radiological detectors and gunshot detector systems.

Another tactic commonly used by law enforcement entities is the injection of plain-clothed surveillance teams on the lookout for suspicious behavior. Conversely, in some cities, uniformed law enforcement officers do random surges to specific areas of their jurisdiction. The New York Police Department, for instance, has an elite counterterrorism team called the “Hercules Team,” that, on a regular basis, floods different parts of the city at unannounced times.

While law enforcements’ efforts have enhanced security in the areas beyond security perimeters, the cameras, canines, and officers cannot be everywhere at once. There are, though, concrete things everyday citizens can do to enhance their safety in these types of environments. Situational awareness is key. People must always have a strong understanding of where they are, what is going on around them, and what their evacuation options are should they need to escape. Here are a few concrete things to consider:

  • Position yourself strategically in the crowd: Don’t be like the people at the Fort Lauderdale baggage claim, crowded together looking at their phones exhibiting little or no situational awareness. Consider your position in relation to other people, to areas that could provide cover or concealment, and most importantly, to avenues of escape. Are you exposed to vulnerable glass that could become shrapnel during an explosion?  Are you in an area where you could be exposed to a vehicle assault from a high-speed avenue of approach?  Many times, just making a small difference in your position can mitigate or neutralize your vulnerability to a variety of threats.
  • Know your evacuation routes: Always think to yourself, “If I need to, how can I get out?” Understand all of your options. In emergency situations, people often reflexively try to exit the way they came entered, even though there are often better options. When people are panicked, stampedes and exit blockages can occur as it did in the 2003 Stadium nightclub fire in East Warwick, RI when 100 people tragically perished. By understanding all of your evacuation options and not just following the crowd, you can greatly enhance your ability to safely escape from an emergency situation.
  • Find cover and concealment: To find “cover” means to hide behind something that could protect you, like a brick wall. Finding “concealment” would be hiding behind something like a curtain, that shields you from view, but would not physically protect you. Doing a quick survey of your environment to identify spaces in close proximity that would provide you greater protection in the event of an attack, will facilitate getting to you to that space quicker if you need to.
  • What can you use as a weapon? In the event you come into contact with the attacker, as a last resort use whatever is around to protect yourself and others. In the recent London Bridge attacks, there were reports of restaurant patrons throwing glass, silverware, and crates when the terrorists came into the restaurant.

As we head into the summer travel season, many of us will find ourselves with friends and family at locations that have robust security perimeters.  This purpose of this post is not to try to deter people from attending sporting events and concerts, or from visiting theme parks and museums.  Our unwillingness to bend to terrorists who want to have us cowering in fear is an important part of the fabric of our country. Additionally, our intelligence, law enforcement and other security professionals do a remarkable job not only by securing these locations and events, but also disrupting plots before attacks can even occur.

As aware citizens, we can recognize that vulnerabilities exist, especially in the areas beyond the established security perimeters.  By exhibiting some situational awareness and considering response options prior to an incident, people can significantly increase the likelihood of successfully navigating an emergency situation.