How Planning and Preparedness Saved 80,000 Lives

We all watched in horror last week as Paris suffered a tremendous tragedy when terrorists targeted innocent citizens in multiple locations across the city. People lost their lives as they were caught up in the evil cast by these ruthless extremists. Could this be a warning of how our society is changing? These events were suicide missions somberly exhibited by the self-induced deaths of a number of terrorists. The radicals struck nighttime places of entertainment—restaurants, bars, a concert hall, and a sports stadium. This is the enemy and it is extremely important to understand that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for their cause.

Of all the targeted locations, the stadium was the brass ring. The planned strike entailed three suicide bombers detonating explosives vests inside the venue where 80,000 people were cheering on a soccer game between France and Germany. Authorities have speculated this site was chosen because these two countries represent Western Christianity and the venue offered the potential for a high body count. The actions that security personnel took to prevent this attack contribute to a textbook example of how security planning and emergency preparedness can save lives.

If You Can’t Control Access, You Can’t Control Anything 

You can have every bell, whistle, and the latest, greatest, cutting edge, state-of-the-art, innovative, protective security countermeasure or risk mitigation tool in the world, and none of them will be effective in protecting your venue if you cannot control access. The definitive access control strategy is a disciplined, thorough, and comprehensive approach to filtering all personnel, assets, services, and equipment seeking entry into the site. This paradigm applies to everyone and everything—from employees, part-time workers, and general public to vehicles, mail, and deliveries to drones, helicopters, and unauthorized aircraft. It all begins and ends with controlling access.

The Importance of Gatekeepers

A suicide bomber tried to enter the stadium 15 minutes after the match started. The security officer at the gate followed established protocol to conduct pat downs before allowing access. This security measure prompted the terrorist to back away from the gate and detonate a bomb wrapped with hundreds of nails. The terrorist was killed along with one passerby. About 10 minutes later, another suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest outside another gate, killing only himself. Approximately 20 minutes later, a third terrorist detonated an explosive device outside the stadium, blowing himself up but no one else. Security did its job and prevented what could have been a mind-numbing tragedy.   

Lockdown and Shelter-In-Place

Following the three explosions, the authorities responsible for securing the stadium and protecting its occupants needed to make some critical decisions under tremendous pressure. They decided to keep everyone inside the facility and not allow anyone to leave, determining that the stadium was the safest place to be considering the events in downtown Paris at the time. The people were eventually allowed to leave hours later, but the German soccer team decided to spend most of the night on the field. Mattresses were made available and the team slept inside the stadium until transportation could be arranged for travel to the airport. The site of what could have been one of the most horrific terrorist events in history ended up as a safe haven for a city under siege. 

After Action and Lessons Learned

Professionals in law enforcement, fire, emergency medical, emergency management, and security all advocate learning lessons from real world events. The best example is an After Action Report that assesses security and emergency management plans and documents what went right and what could have been done better. What was done right at the stadium:

1) Searching and screening (pat downs at the gate)

2) Access control (preventing the terrorists from entering)

3) Shelter-in-place (80,000 people kept inside the stadium out of harm’s way)

Lives were saved by the brave individuals responsible for safeguarding the stadium who demonstrated great leadership and decision making in the face of unfathomable adversity.

What Is the Best Way to Stop an Active Shooter?

Unfortunately, our country continues to be plagued by tragedies caused by individuals with unregulated access to firearms. What compounds this serious issue is the deadly consequences created by a society that allows people without the legal authority or proper mental capacity to possess weapons. There is no silver bullet or panacea to stem the tide of these horrific events that are occurring all too often, but we can take steps to create a safer environment.

An all-inclusive approach that cuts to the heart of this problem and attacks the genesis of these events is required, rather than responding to the aftermath of the event itself. Instead of focusing most of our attention, energy, and efforts on what can be done to stop an active shooter during one of these attacks, let’s step back and try to determine what caused the incident in the first place.

It All Begins at the Beginning

Your goal should be to identify individuals before they have the means, mindset, and motive to carry out their violence. These events are not spontaneous—people don’t just “snap” and set out on a killing spree. Instead they are premeditated, planned, and if you look closely enough, announced. Having your organization supported by policy is the foundation to an Active Shooter Plan. You need to have the capability to identify, assess, and control anyone exhibiting traits that can be categorized as pre-attack indicators, which without intervention could manifest into violence.

Horizontally, Vertically, and Across an Organization

“Power in numbers” is another remedial action that results in a multi-disciplinary approach with select people up, down, and parallel in your organization, designated to prevent active shooter incidents. Individuals with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and experience will come together and work collaboratively to design a plan to mitigate this threat. After forming a committee of representatives from entities such as management, law enforcement security, medical, mental health, fire, legal, HR, and training, this group will be charged with the mission to collectively develop a strategy and processes for preventing, controlling, and resolving an active shooter scenario.

Addressing Workplace Violence Protects Against an Active Shooter

Because an active shooter event is the most serious form of workplace violence, you must focus on mitigation and creating the processes that prevent any behavior deemed irregular or inappropriate from occurring. To be adequately prepared, you need to direct your attention to security, personnel, policies, procedures, systems, and physical measures. Examples are private guards (security), clinical health professionals (personnel), code of conduct (policies), employee assistance program (procedures), blast text messaging (systems), and lock-operated access points (physical measures). All of these disciplines contribute to the framework of the plan.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Because each situation is unique, knowing the signs to look for using professional judgment or outside assistance may be necessary to determine if intervention is necessary. Some of these signs are: disruptive behavior; physical injuries; absenteeism or tardiness; poor job performance; stalking a co-worker; inappropriate comments; threatening emails; and harassing phone calls. All of these signs could be an indication of a much more serious problem that may require identifying, assessing, and managing a potential violent situation.

Out With the Old and In With the New

The antiquated way to deal with a problem was to remove it. History has taught us that eliminating the source does not resolve the issue. It used to be that workplace managers fired, police officers arrested, and school principals expelled. None of these actions puts an end to the threat; they just delay it. Eventually, people get out of jail or return to the workplace or school to bring closure for themselves. Your best remedy is to have mechanisms that not only prevent, but also treat.

All of these recommended measures that I’ve presented have to be created, implemented, and when necessary, applied. Until then, a truly holistic program is not in place to protect your most valuable assets—your people—against the threat of an active shooter.

Emergency Management Is No Laughing Matter

Located in Chicago, the iconic comedy club Second City is renowned for its legendary comedians and famous alumni like John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Tina Fey. Recently, Second City was in the news, but not for comedy. A fire started in the kitchen of a restaurant that shares the building with Second City, destroying the offices. The theater in the next building was spared, but tenants were forced to relocate. Because I am a security practitioner, my first thought after learning no one was seriously injured, “Was there an emergency management plan?

An all-hazards approach prepares for all kinds of emergencies since emergency plans rarely cover everything that might be required for an incident. Because the evacuation requirements for a fire may differ significantly from those for a hazardous materials spill, the plan needs to be adaptable to circumstances, innovative, and, when necessary, improvisational. An all-hazards plan provides a basic framework for responding to a wide variety of emergencies.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure      

Simply stated, the recommended approach to preparing for an emergency begins with the plan. Your plan should address the four phases of emergency management: (1) prevention, (2) preparedness, (3) response, and (4) recovery. The first phase of the plan, prevention, includes any activities that are preventative, reduce the chance of an emergency happening, or mitigate the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies. A practical example is an emergency notification system to alert people of a security- or safety-related incident in real time.

When You’re Prepared There is No Pressure

The famous Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz, was once asked before a big game if he was nervous. Coach Holtz stated, “When you’re prepared, there is no pressure.” This mantra also applies to an emergency, and as long as you know that you have done everything you can to prepare for an incident, then you don’t need to be nervous about the outcome. The second phase, preparedness, details measures needed to prepare for an emergency. Training is at the heart of preparedness, and specific examples include a fire drill conducted to familiarize building occupants with emergency evacuation routes and the shelter-in-place stocking of items like water, food, and blankets.

Every Emergency Is an Incident, but Not Every Incident Is an Emergency

The third phase, response, has general actions including moving people to a safe room or assembly area and turning off gas lines in a fire scenario. A well-constructed plan also outlines specific roles and responsibilities for designated personnel to perform once an incident occurs and may prevent it from becoming an emergency. This orchestrated response not only mitigates danger, it also brings calm to potential chaos. If people know how to respond during an incident, it might not become an emergency. We want to be able to pour water on the fire, not gasoline; or in other words, douse the flames, not fan the fire.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

The saying “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” definitely applies to recovering from an emergency. Now that the event is over, how will you recover? How will you continue to serve and support your employees, as well as your clients? A well-crafted and thought-out plan has a recovery process to allow continuity of operations without disrupting business. Recovery from an emergency includes implementing actions to return to normal operations or to an even safer situation following an incident. Temporary housing, an alternate work site, and individual counseling are all parts of this process. Following these four phases will prepare you for all types of emergencies and may even allow you to crack a smile in the face of danger.

The Grassroots of Marijuana Security (Part Two)

This blog is the second in a three part series focusing on the connection between security and the medical and recreational cannabis industry. In Part One I talked about what was required in a security plan for the oversight of the dispensing/cultivating operations. In summary, I recommended that the plan address technology (cyber security, digital video cameras, automated access control, biometric readers, and intrusion detection alarm systems); processes (security policies, incident response, visitor management, prohibited items, and training); personnel (on-site security and transportation security); and liaison with critical third parties (state officials) and first responders (police and fire). Now, I’ll discuss a security strategy to implement during the construction (if applicable), build out, preparation, and operations planning of your business. In Part Three, I will explain the necessary ongoing security posture for sustainability.

Congratulations You Have Your License!

So you’ve cleared the first hurdle—you were issued a license by the state to run a commercial cannabis business. The good news is you have your license, and the bad news is you have your license. I’ll explain. Just because the state has authorized you to operate in this industry does not guarantee that you will succeed. In Illinois, you’ll be in a four-year pilot period for fledgling cannabis businesses. If at any point during this timeframe you experience a security- or safety-related incident or non-compliance with the Illinois Department of Agriculture or Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, your license could go up in smoke (another terrible pun, but somehow appropriate). So the key to your success after getting your license is keeping your license.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?   

I have found that to be a successful security consultant I must understand the importance of collaboration. In this specific industry I have worked with professionals who offer very diverse backgrounds and skill sets. I have sat alongside venture capitalists, builders, architects, designers, owners, investors, engineers, chemists, doctors, police, fire, and emergency medical personnel, and cyber experts, to name a few. These interactions have taught me to know my limitations and stick to my specific area of expertise. Deferring to another professional, especially when you find yourself outside of your domain, is a sign of strength not weakness—plus it’s just smart business.

Separating the Walk from the Talk

Another dynamic that comes along with the opening of a marijuana enterprise is the inundation of vendors and companies that want to sell you everything from electronic tracking devices to bulletproof glass to biometric readers. A qualified security professional can run interference and be the filter for vetting all of the necessary services. Backed by my expertise and counsel, I research, identify, and validate candidates seeking to do business with my cannabis clients, offering products and services such as security systems integrators, contract security services, safe and vault specialists, transportation vehicles, and point-of-sale software. Through due diligence, interviewing, reference checking, and proposal request and review, I am able to save (my client) thousands of dollars by ultimately finding the most suitable provider at a cost-efficient price—to deliver the best bang for the buck.

The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

This focused security strategy has been created to support the design, construction, implementation, operation, and sustainability of a cannabis cultivation center or dispensary. Because the commercial cannabis industry is fast becoming a highly competitive market, the success of most businesses in this sector is based on several critical categories, with a safe and secure environment to prevent theft, diversion, tampering, and crime at the top of the list. As the outsourced security expert, I achieve these objectives through prevention-oriented planning; continuous coordination with organizational leadership; liaison with state and local government; application of security best practices; and installation of the latest technology to deter, secure, monitor, and mitigate risk in all aspects of the business. This methodology has been developed through many years of experience in the security field and uniquely tailored to address the specific needs of this industry.

The Grassroots of Marijuana Security (Part One)

To say the medical and recreational cannabis industry is precipitously growing (pun definitely intended) could be the understatement of the century. And before jumping into this emerging multi-million dollar business (over $700 million in sales in Colorado alone last year), you need to know some important facts. First, the entire endeavor starts and potentially ends with an exhaustive application package to the state where your facility (dispensary or cultivation) will be located. This is an expensive piece to the puzzle and could cost millions. I compare the evaluation and scoring of the application package to legalized gambling. It’s an extremely competitive process, you are not guaranteed to be issued a license, and unfortunately more losers than winners emerge.

I Love When a Plan Comes Together

Every successful business venture begins with a plan and this industry is no exception. Your security plan should include procedures for the oversight of the dispensing and/or cultivating operations that ensure accurate record keeping, patient confidentiality, and a ubiquitous security posture. The plan should address technology (digital video cameras, automated access control, biometric readers, and intrusion detection alarm systems); processes (security policies, incident response, visitor management, prohibited items, and training); personnel (on-site security and transportation security); and liaison with critical third parties (state officials) and first responders (police and fire). Well, that’s the 30,000-foot view. Since the plans I have helped create are about 100 pages in length, I obviously can’t fit everything in a blog—unless you want to read “War and Peace”—but I’ll try to include the most important points.

Location, Location, Location!

As you know location trumps all and in this industry, a number of zoning restrictions will determine the location of your facility. You also need to demonstrate why the location is suitable for public and patient access, parking, handicap compliance, safe cultivation and dispensing, product handling, and storage. You’ll need to articulate how the business will support the immediate community and how your security will negate any detrimental impact. Additionally, security schematics will indicate fire and life safety systems, CCTV, card readers, burglar alarms, panic buttons, fencing, and gates, and diagrams will depict the property, boundary lines, exterior landscape, and interior layout, as well as storage and delivery areas.

How to Separate Yourself From the Competition  

Let’s start with exhibiting industry (and state) compliant labor and employment practices. You will need a safe, secure, and healthy working environment that will include background screening, emergency preparedness, workplace violence mitigation, code of conduct, and an employee assistance program. Other ways you can differentiate yourself are to show support to the local community, benefits to the socio-economic status of the residents, and coordination with the law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical personnel. Remember, you’re creating a strategy to protect a business that is (presently) in violation of federal law. It’s a cash only business that requires safes, vaults, armed guards, and armored vehicles to transport product and money.

It’s a Town Full of Losers and I’m Pulling Out of Here to Win   

Sorry, I needed to include at least one Bruce Springsteen reference. Today’s security climate offers an opportune time for a holistic safety and security approach related to the daily operations and activities of this emerging industry. The design and creation of a comprehensive security plan to mitigate risk to employees, customers, products, operations, and brand can and should be addressed directly by implementing security strategies through an integrated approach in a number of areas I have addressed. In Illinois the security plan accounted for 20% of the overall score for the application package. When applications were evaluated equally, whether or not the license was granted was ultimately determined by the strength of the security plan. Remember that your security methodology along with the competence of your security practitioner may be the tipping points to your success or failure.