Sunday, December 15, 2019

What Message Does Your Security Send – Fear or Trust?

In order to have proper physical security, mitigation strategist and those responsible must understand the types of aggressor groups, what motivates them and the tools they need in order to be successful.

Aggressors fall into four main categories: criminals (sophisticated/unsophisticated, organized/unorganized), protesters (organized/unorganized), terrorist (domestic/transnational/State sponsored) and subversives (intelligence agents [State/non-State sponsored]).

And, there are four main aggressor objectives; to inflict injury or death on people, to destroy or damage equipment, facilities or other resources, to steal equipment, material or information, and to create adverse publicity.

Tools on the other hand, don’t fall into any category and are virtually unlimited.

Unfortunately, the security industry has been approaching school security from the wrong angle.  We keep thinking, if one is good two must be better and we can harden our way to a perfect world.  We can’t.  School shootings and worse will continue, I’m sad to say, until we start eliminating the causes that promote this behavior. 

School systems have developed a variety of multi-disciplinary programs that address prevention and response to mental health issues if a student manifests behavior that might precipitate violence on a grand scale; i.e., bullying, addiction and interpersonal violence.  But this is still not enough.

Some security companies offer “social media behavioral monitoring” and are analyzing a person’s social media presence in “real time” and reporting actionable intelligence of patterns or suspicious behaviors to authorities, but this alone isn’t enough.  Using artificial intelligence, and deep learning are great but they’re just another tool.   And, just because a person manifests some type of anxiety or disruptive behavior it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll act out and it doesn’t mean that that person will become a school shooter.

I believe we need to get to the cause of the angst.  Why does a “perfectly normal kid” decide to go to a school and shoot it up?  Does the “prison look” of many schools contribute to this phenomenon?  Is it possible, that the chain-linked fence surrounding the school yard, the metal detector that everyone passes through and the roaming armed guard all contribute in some way?  Now, just because that has become the “new normal” it doesn’t mean every kid will grow up and commit a criminal act, but there is no doubt that they will carry this angst with them into adulthood.

You don’t have to look very far to see examples of the “big dog” in your face approach and the subliminal message of something bad is expected to happen.  

We can address behavior in the built environment in a non-traditional way as a substitute to the confrontational in your face kind of way.  The approach must be more subtle, in fact, the more transparent it is the more effective it will be.  

Normally, to deter crime, we put up signs that say, “Cameras in Use” and some folks get creative saying, “Smile you’re on camera”.  For access control, we usually mark our territory by placing a chain-linked fence or some other type of “barrier” on our boundary-line.  It has a limited effect because a dedicated threat will bring the tools needed to circumvent it.  Build a big fence; they’ll bring a bigger ladder.  Make it even higher and they’ll bring an even bigger ladder or tunnel under it.  Sure, there is somewhat of a deterrent, but the reality is, a dedicated “bad actor” will bring the tools needed in order to be successful.   

In the early “90’s, Crime Prevention through Environmental Design was introduced to connect these two worlds – unwanted behavior and a physical deterrent.  Research shows that the concepts of natural surveillance, natural access control, territorial reinforcement and maintenance contribute to the deterrence and reduction of criminal activity.  CPTED is not the sole reason, but it helps.

The basic concept of CPTED is if we can design the space so that it is almost always under observation “bad actors” won’t act bad.  I believe it needs to go further than that.  Not only do we need to design the space using these concepts, but we also must design the space so that “bad acting” can’t occur.  Additionally, in the off chance it does the built environment should help to reduce its effects and not contribute to its severity.  

A couple of years ago researchers in the European Union conducted a survey.  They asked elementary school kids who had emigrated from a country where there was war to draw what they considered safety or security to be.  The kids drew pictures of fencing with razor-wire and “gunships” overhead.  Then the researchers asked the same question to kids from Europe who had not be exposed to hostile environments and those kids drew houses with trees, stick families, a dog and sunshine.  Shouldn’t we be striving for the “sunshine” scenario?

The harder we make it for the “bad guy” to do things the more of a deterrent there is.  There is some truth to that but on the other hand, if security is a tax your people won’t pay it and they will figure out a way to circumvent it.  This in turn defeats its purpose.

Getting away from hardening schools after every incident by using “big dog” philosophies will take time, nonetheless, we can begin immediately.  I submit that beginning this school year, administrators should use the checklist provided by the Partner Alliance for School Safety (PASSK-12) to conduct a physical security risk assessment of their campus and whenever possible replace traditional mitigation solutions they would normally opt for with a hardscaping, landscaping or art strategy.  Creativity and student, staff and community involvement are essential.

Success in security is sloppy.  It’s entangled.  It’s very hard to distinguish where detection, assessment, policy and procedures, response and engagement begin and end.  Addressing behavior must be coupled with addressing the physical environment.  They require a different amount of time, effort and commitment to produce positive results but nonetheless are equally important.  In order for students, and later as adults, to thrive we must create environments, internal and external, that address the need for “well-being” in both the social and physical ecosystems, and if we can do that in a more aesthetically pleasing way, then why not?

More about a softer approach to security:

My Book The Solutions Matrix: A Practical Approach to Security Engineering for Architects, Engineers, Facility Managers, Planners and Security Professionals is on sale at  

Haines Security Solutions is a contributor to the Security Industry Association’s education platform, “Center of Excellence” at

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