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Part 4 Where’s the Gap? (in Physical Security)

What We Have Versus What We Need.

I still didn’t know that my experience at the Westin Hotel in New York City was ‘usual’. (Part 3 of 5) It was the active shooter incident at the Washington Navy Yard that revealed the problem. In physical security terms, this military base is a hard target: difficult to access, strong and secure entrances. And yet it took four teams 69 minutes to stop a shooter in a building with 160 cameras. One of the responders was shot and injured during the search. How could that be? How was it possible? A few weeks later the video was released. Second by second movement of the shooter through the building. Every detail. 

It wasn’t exactly a lightbulb or ‘aha’ moment. In fact the dominant feeling was frustration. The gap was glaring. All the information of the video footage should have been available to the response teams during the incident. Those video streams were exactly what the teams needed in the moment of the shooting. Had that information been available it would not have taken the 69 minutes stop the shooter. Why wasn’t it available? Where was it? 

Time is of the Essence

Becoming aware of a problem you didn’t know existed is confusing. It isn’t obvious until you see the stitched together video. There’s a glaring gap between when the full picture from the videos was needed and when it became available. The detailed movements of the shooter were not available at the time of the incident. The four teams of responders were searching for the shooter blindly. They knew which building to look in, but beyond that, they were following a set methodology, a logical search pattern: floor by floor, room by room.

This is a very dangerous way to search for someone who is actively shooting people. Why? Because  in the moment that you, as a responder, come around a corner to see the shooter, in that very same moment, the shooter sees you. Not an ideal scenario. All that can be done is to react. The entire process is reactive. And full of risk. This is how it’s done. That’s not physical security. Go back and look at active shooter incidents over the years. It’s always the same. No matter how quickly or how many police arrive on the scene, there’s typically 1-3 hours delay before anyone enters the building. 

Just reacting isn’t the best strategy for safety & security

In fact, it turned out that the operator in the control room locked himself in the room. The entire physical security infrastructure was unavailable and locked up in real time. That wasn’t the only problem. Field teams and operations are trained differently. Since learning about this problem, we have interviewed former Marines, SWAT and police officers about how they enter the scene of an active shooter, it became clear that they are reactive. This is NOT a criticism. They do everything they can to gather information and intelligence beforehand.

These are brave, dedicated and highly skilled men and women who put their lives on the line for you and I every time they are called. Guards and responders are actively looking for tools and force multipliers to make themselves more effective. They want to stop the incident and they want to do it quickly. And they also realize that adding to the casualty count, as happened in Pittsburg will not improve the situation. So why do we continue to do the same thing over and over again?