Category Archive: School security

To evacuate or not to evacuate? That is the question.

With over 150 hoax bomb threats reported, you should have already have a plan. However, the ongoing threats should serve as a reminder to review  our ongoing guidance, make use of the resources and implement the recommendations, as appropriate.

Should we be worried? At this time the experts conclude that the series of
incidents referencing threats against schools, Jewish facilities and businesses likely do not represent a credible terrorist threat for two reasons:

  1. terrorists’ rarely provide operational insight into their planning, and
  2. the fact that nearly all hoaxes in the United States are conducted by criminal actors or those instigating a nuisance prank.

What are my options? Many security experts question the wisdom of the policy of evacuation. After all, a terrorist could trigger an evacuation of a facility with a simple phone call and then attack the evacuees in multiple ways. On the other hand, someone could place 100 hoax bomb threat calls, but actually plant a bomb on the 101st. (In rebuttal, why make a warning phone call when simply planting the bomb works).

The bottom line is that there is no perfect solution, so all institutions should think about their options and consult with local law enforcement in the absence of the pressure of an actual emergency.

  • Set up a meeting with your local police to review and discuss your options.
  • There is no perfect solution. This is an issue that should be raised at a security committee or board meeting. Remember, your reputation is at stake and your decision may create liability issues.
  • Identify possible options leading to a sheltered evacuation, i.e., one that minimizes the dangers of an attack on evacuees:
    • Is your parking lot a relatively safe area? Could you evacuate there and stand an appropriate distance from your facility? Is there a sheltered path to an adjoining building? Can the local police establish a perimeter to protect the evacuees?
    • Develop appropriate protective measures based on your facility’s characteristics. For example, some facility managers have identified areas (e.g., a pool or gym) that are not cluttered and therefore, easy to check for bombs. If the architecture of the building is engineered so that the building would not likely collapse on those inside, one option is to evacuate people to these safe (or more accurately, safer) places (HT to Steve Levy of ISA).
  • Communicate, early and often. If you decide not to evacuate, some stakeholders will question your judgement and try to second-guess you. A well-planned sheltered evacuation option is easy to explain and to show that your highest priority is the safety of your stakeholders. Whatever you choose, have pre-written messages ready to go should you become a target.

No one can give you a perfect answer. Identify your options, consult with the best people possible and keep your people safe.

Hoax threats can be scary, too.

Should we be worried? At this time the experts conclude that the series of incidents referencing threats against schools, Jewish facilities and businesses likely do not represent a credible terrorist threat for two reasons:

  1. terrorists’ rarely provide operational insight into their planning, and
  2. the fact that nearly all hoaxes in the United States are conducted by criminal actors or those instigating a nuisance prank.

Due to the common occurrence of bomb threats across the country over the last few years, the experts judge malicious terrorism hoaxes such as bogus emails and phoned-in threats, including robo-calls, will almost certainly continue, diverting resources as they create disturbances and send false alarms. However, don’t become blasé. Someone might take advantage of the hoaxes to accomplish a real attack.


What should we be doing? Consider these incidents to be a teaching moment. How would your organization handle such threats.

  1. Know what you should do. Have a bomb threat plan before an incident happens.  For starters, check out DHS’ Bomb Threat Guidance and Introduction to Bomb Threat Management. Add JCRC-NY’s post, Manhattan bomb threat: lessons learned to your reading list. Now is a good time to review, or to think through your own plans. Our own Emergency Planning: Disaster and Crisis Response Systems for Jewish Organizations has a longer chapter discussing the issue.
  2. Train your phone answerers. Everyone answering the phone (including those who might answer) should be taught how to handle a phone threat with this checklist. Have copies of the bomb threat checklist posted nearby.
  3. You have to communicate.
    • First things first. Call 911. Bring in the cavalry…ASAP. Whether you think the incident is real or a hoax, contact the experts and defer to them. Have a system (with primary and backup callers) that ensures that someone calls 911 immediately. Remember, don’t use a cell phone or walkie-talkie in the area of a suspicious package … you might set it off. Get to your landline.
    • Get the word out. Even if your people know what to do (i.e., you’ve conducted bomb scare drills) you have to let them know that they have to do it. Does your building have a public address system? Do you have cell phone numbers for all of your staff so that you can text them with updates? Can you modify your fire alarm system so that it sounds a distinctive signal for a bomb scare?
    • Let your constituencies know what’s happening. Bomb scares create angst and the possibility of physical danger, but there is the potential for risk to your reputation. No one wants a parent to learn about an incident from the media. Have pre-written messages ready for distribution directly to your constituencies (e.g., by text) stressing the steps you’ve taken and that everyone is safe. Have a point of assembly where worried parents can go for additional information from your best staffers. Work with the police to direct people to the appropriate areas. Do not post specifics on social media.  Click here for resources on crisis communication.
  4. Decisions, decisions. Have someone in charge (and a backup). OK, you receive a threat, now what? Certainly, dial 911, but should you evacuate or not (might someone use a bomb threat in order to trigger an evacuation setting up an active shooter or vehicle ramming?)? In reality there is no perfect answer to this question. Someone has to give the order and there will be no time to waste.
  5. Know where to go. If you decide to evacuate out of an abundance of caution you probably don’t want to stand in the street, especially if the weather is bad. Do you have an agreement with a neighboring institution that allows you to bring people into their facility. By doing so you can keep your people warm and dry and out of harms way.
  6. Keep unused parts of your building locked. It’s good practice to have your staff check your facilities daily, looking for something that “Just Doesn’t Look Right”. As they move through the rooms they should lock the doors. Closets and other storage areas should be kept locked. If you develop such procedures and do receive a bomb threat, the bomb sweep of your building can be accomplished faster.
  7. Consult your leadership about security plans. There will always be Monday morning quarterbacks, but a review of your plans at the Board level should empower those making difficult decisions under duress. As they say, “once is not enough.” Revisit security planning and procedures on a regular basis.

How can we know if the threat is real? The intelligence firm, Stratfor, recently published an article: How to distinguish a bomb threat from a bomb warning. The experts suggest some other possible indicators of a hoax:

  • Most genuine bombers wouldn’t specify the exact timing and target of an attack (since providing that information would jeopardize the success of an event);
  • Most genuine bombers wouldn’t use threats with complex scenarios involving chemical weapons or other advanced capabilities, or cite geographically dispersed targets; and
  • Most genuine bombers wouldn’t use threats involving large numbers of operatives.

Remember, there are no guarantees in security. You will have to weigh the options and make the best decisions possible. If you’ve thought about the options and have made decisions ahead of time, the odds of making the right decision increase dramatically.

Awareness 101: When it “Just doesn’t look right”

Regularly check around your facility for anything that "Just doesn't look right"

Regularly check around your facility for anything that “Just doesn’t look right”. Shown is a car parked in a “No Parking” zone with strange wires.

Experts note that terrorist attacks don’t appear out of thin air. In virtually every situation (and that includes active shooter events) an attacker practices “pre-operational surveillance.” More mundanely, they “case the joint” or just show up to observe, orient themselves to the situation and to decide how they will act during their attack. When suspect behavior is reported (1-888-NYC-SAFE) it can be investigated and an attack can be interrupted.

Determining that it “Just doesn’t look right”

The NYPD Intelligence Bureau just released some excellent guidance. Its primary focus is to help detect suspicious signs along special event routes (e.g., parades) or areas designated for large-scale public gatherings (e.g., demonstrations, celebrations, street fairs, etc.), but can apply to houses of worship, schools, community centers and other gathering points. The following examples of activity, though not fully inclusive, may be of possible concern to law enforcement (Click here for a PDF of the NYPD Indicators of Terrorist Activity guidance):

  • The appearance of a suspicious vehicle (including bicycles with a storage basket; motorcycles; utility storage boxes, etc.) parked near the area designated for the event to take place. Items left for a protracted period of time and disregarded.
  • Actions by an individual that suggest the pre-event videotaping or still photography of the route or location (and surrounding area) for no apparent reason (i.e., no aesthetic value). Sketching of the area e.g., cross streets, access streets into and out of the area.
  • Any request to videotape from a roof or a vacant unit/apartment overlooking the event venue.
  • The sudden appearance of a new street vendor in an area adjacent to the event route, the venue’s access doors, or gathering location.
  • Unclaimed or suspicious packages/objects found along the special event route/location.
  • Individuals sitting or standing at a bus stop and not boarding a bus; Individuals sitting at a particular location (e.g., park bench) at the same time each day for numerous days.
  • The very. recent placement of a garbage can, postal mailbox, newspaper kiosk or other stationary object along the special event route/location.
  • Recent attempts by unknown individuals to gain access to your building’s roof overlooking the parade route/special event location/venue.
  • Inquiries about short-term rental of an apartment or space above your store/business – or in your residential complex — that also happens to offer a view of a parade route or special event location. (Terrorist operatives will often cohabitate to facilitate operational planning.Additionally, they may attempt to position themselves in an area that will ease their surveillance of potential targets.)
  • Large plastic drums being stored inside a building (commercial or residential space).
  • Reports of small fires or smoke conditions being reported from a particular store or apartment.
  • Suspicious inquiries by unknown individuals regarding:
    • The security measures anticipated for the event (e.g., extensive questioning as to
      the searching of backpacks, stopping of vehicles, etc.)
    • The seating of public officials, dignitaries, or other VIPs at an event.

Armed or unarmed security, what’s best?

The answer is, it depends. The question comes up at almost every one of our security training sessions. Honestly, there are both advantages and disadvantages of either option. Guns and Security: the Risks of Arming Security Officers in the December issue of Security Management (a publication of the security industry trade association, ASIS) discusses many of the issues that must be considered.

Each organization must carefully weigh the pluses and minuses themselves, as applied to their building, their constituencies and their culture. Since this decision could possibly affect your brand, your reputation and/or your liability, it is advisable to include your board of directors in the decision. If your organization is leaning towards armed security, we suggest four “best practices”:

  1. Hire any armed security guard on the basis of their experience, training and judgement rather than their weapon. If you hire e.g., an off-duty/retired law enforcement officer, you are hiring much more than their gun.
  2. Deploy armed guards as one element of a multi-layer security plan. If a determined intruder is targeting a specific institution, a solo guard (armed or not) may become the first, unfortunate target without any opportunity to even his/her weapon.
  3. Contract with an outside firm. Given the documented risks associated with armed guards (outlined in the Security Magazine article), consider contracting with an independent vendor and make sure that they are responsible for the supervision of armed guards, all aspects of the armed guard’s ongoing training and compliance with governmental training, licensing and other requirements.
  4. Discuss your decision with your insurer. Whether the armed guard is, or is not, your employee you may have some liability and/or named in any lawsuit. Make sure that your insurer knows about your decision and that your are appropriately and adequately covered. (n.b., Some institutions employ an outside security consultant to manage their employees. A discussion between the security consultant and the insurer may assuage the concerns raised by the insurer).

NYPD does have a Paid Detail Unit which provides officers to perform off-duty, uniformed security work within New York City for approximately $45/hour.  Click here for more information and contact details. Of course, the above recommendations still apply.

Quick tips: What should your guard(s) be doing?
no-potted-plantGuards should not be merely uniformed potted plants adorning your lobby. Rather, they should be an important and active component of your overall security plan.

If you have a single guard, his/her logical priority is access control (see our suggestions on how to develop an access control policy here). At the same time, don’t lose sight of other important functions, including:

  • Vigilance. While they are on duty they can observe what is going on outside your building and monitor CCTV, possibly leading to the early detection of hostile surveillance or imminent hostile acts. See our suggestions for detecting hostile surveillance here.
  • Walk-arounds. Remember the Chelsea bombs? They were hidden in a trash container and a suitcase. If someone planted a device in your garbage can would anyone find it? One best practice is to have your guard tour your facility, inside and out, looking for something that “Just doesn’t look right”.
  • Notifications.Your guard should be given defined protocol and procedures if something “Just doesn’t look right” : who to notify (e.g., senior staff, general alarm), how to act and what else to do.
  • Crisis management. A well trained guard should be able to follow the protocols and procedures defined by you. They should be able to support responses such as bomb threats, evacuations and/or sheltering-in-place.

The security management industry calls instructions for guards, “post orders” which clearly outline the duties, responsibilities, and expectations of security guards. For example, your post orders should clearly set forth your access control policies and define the areas of your property that should be included in a walk-around and their time and frequency (e.g., upon arrival and upon returning from lunch).

 

School security guards: New FAQ’s.

Posted on August 04, 2016

The New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) held its first meeting with schools yesterday. Applications for the School Security Guard Program are currently being accepted until November 1st for 2016-2017 school year. For questions related to the nonpublic school application process, it is really worth your while to check out the FAQ‘s. If you still have questions, contact Latesha Parks – lmparks@dcas.nyc.gov. We feel that DCAS has been making this process user-friendly.

Eligible schools. To be eligible to participate in the program, a school must meet the following:

  • Must be New York City nonpublic school;
  • Must be nonprofit;
  • Have 300 or more students in any combination of grades Pre-K through twelfth grades only;
  • Have been assigned a Basic Educational Date System (BEDS) code by the New York State Education Department (NYSED).

Eligible security guard companies. DCAS is working to establish a list of qualified security vendors. In order to receive reimbursements, schools will only be able to utilize firms that are on the qualified vendor list.  Once a list is available, DCAS will notify schools of its availability via email or letter.  The list will also be available on the DCAS website. Information about how security guard companies can apply to become qualified vendors can be found in the FAQ’s.

Contracts. One piece of advice. As a school you will contract directly with a qualified security vendor. You should make sure to stipulate in the contract that should the designated City funds become unavailable, that the school has the option to decide whether to continue or terminate the contract.(n.b., the law caps the expenditure at approximately $20 million, so there is a slight possibility that the funding might run out).

There will be up-dates – so check frequently with JCRC-NY and at the DCAS website.

Posted in School security