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:
- terrorists’ rarely provide operational insight into their planning, and
- 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.
Think about options
Your response should be tailored to the nature of the threat. Don’t expect people to gather information, to analyze the situation and to identify the best option in the wake of a threat. Understand the risk (use the chart to the left) and define actions that can be taken under various circumstances.
Some other ideas:
- 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.
Last week’s attack and sorting through the information overload is daunting. We regularly turn to a few knowledgeable sources to help to guide us when we’re perplexed. Here are a few examples:
Founded in 1996, the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) is one of the leading academic institutes for counter-terrorism in the world, facilitating international cooperation in the global struggle against terrorism. It is based at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya and includes some of the top experts in terrorism, counter-terrorism, homeland security, threat vulnerability, risk assessment, intelligence analysis, national security and defense policy. See their The Brussels Attacks – What do we know? & Insights from ICT Experts.
- The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism—better known as START—is a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence headquartered at the University of Maryland comprised of an international network of scholars committed to the scientific study of the causes and human consequences of terrorism in the United States and around the world. See their Terrorism in Belgium and Western Europe; Attacks against Transportation Targets; Coordinated Terrorist Attacks.
- The U.S. State Department issued a Travel Alert for Europe cautioning that terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation. The State Department also maintains a Worldwide Caution which highlights that all European countries remain vulnerable to attacks from transnational terrorist organizations.
- Stratfor is a geopolitical intelligence firm that provides strategic analysis and forecasting to individuals and organizations around the world. One of their recent analyses observes, “The Brussels blasts are a striking reminder of the difficulty of preventing attacks against soft targets. Unlike hard targets, which tend to require attackers to use large teams of operatives with elaborate attack plans or large explosive devices to breach defenses, soft targets offer militant planners an advantage in that they can frequently be attacked by a single operative or small team using a simple attack plan. In addition, attacks against transportation-related targets such as metro stations and airports allow attackers to kill large groups of people and attract significant media attention.” Alongside transportation hubs, hotels and restaurants, institutions — such as houses of worship and schools — are classic soft targets. See Brussels Blasts: The Struggle to Secure Soft Targets.
- Scott Atran is an anthropologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, Oxford University, John Jay College and the University of Michigan and author of Talking to the Enemy and In Gods We Trust. His research specialty is terrorists: how they are recruited, how they think, why are they so effective. He and his team are quite busy these days: he’s embedded with the Peshmerga outside of Mosul interviewing captured (and soon to be executed) ISIL fighters; his team is running experiments in neighborhoods like Molenbeek and around the Bataclan, and tracing out the networks of the friends, family and disciples of the Paris and Brussels terrorists. His, often raw, Facebook posts from the battlefield carry a surrealistic quality. He recently addressed the UN Security Council on The Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting Peace. We do not necessarily agree with every one of his conclusions, but he is consistently thoughtful and incisive.
I asked my colleague, “Do you know your Protective Security Advisor (PSA)?” He replied, “What?”
DHS employs PSA’s in all 50 states and many states have multiple regions. Our experience here in NY is that our PSA’s are a wonderful resource. They are hard-working, knowledgeable and professional.
- Security surveys. Subject to time constraints you can ask your PSA to conduct security surveys and assessments of your facilities. We’ve joined our PSA’s during some of these sessions and their suggestions are both sound and pragmatic.
- Training. PSA’s have access to a wide variety of training options, e.g. active shooters, suspicious packages, severe weather. Even if you don’t know your exact need, talk to them. They can open up a variety of resources for you.
- Special events planning. Let them know if you are planning a high profile event. They can advise you on security and logistical issues.
- Outreach. Get on their radar. They will invite you to various trainings and events.
Click here for more information on Protective Security Advisors. To contact your local PSA, please contact PSCDOperations@hq.dhs.gov. To contact NY PSA’s or if you have questions or need other assistance please complete the form below.
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Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the shootings in Colorado. The greatest horror is the realization that such incidents are all-too-easy to commit. How should organizations plan to protect their students, staff, congregants and others?
Recommendations (scroll down for resources)
There are no perfect solutions, but planning and training can mitigate active shooter incidents. The first step is maintaining good access control. Keeping someone who wants to do harm outside is the best way of protecting those inside.
- Evacuate: Building occupants should evacuate the facility if safe to do so; evacuees should leave behind their belongings, visualize their entire escape route before beginning to move, and avoid using elevators or escalators.
- Hide: If evacuating the facility is not possible, building occupants should hide in a secure area (preferably a designated shelter location), lock the door, blockade the door with heavy furniture, cover all windows, turn off all lights, silence any electronic devices, lie on the floor, and remain silent.
- Take Action: If neither evacuating the facility nor seeking shelter is possible, building occupants should attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by throwing objects, using aggressive force, and yelling.
- Other considerations?
- Train building occupants to call 911 as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Train building occupants on how to respond when law enforcement arrives on scene.
- follow all official instructions, remain calm, keep hands empty and visible at all times, and avoid making sudden or alarming movements.
Summer camps bring special challenges, especially when the campers are young. Planning and training may be even more critical, but the general guidance remains:
- Evacuate. Staff should know your plan and be able to evacuate to a safer area, if possible. It will be difficult to run with groups of young children.
- Hide. Summer camp structures are rarely constructed in a way to withstand an attack by a determined intruder and they rarely have heavy furniture that might be used to blockade a door. If no secure structure is available, consider designating scattered, but assigned, assembly points for each small camper group. By making an intruder search for victims (over many acres of campgrounds) this tactic buys some of the time necessary for help to respond. Staff should be prepared with “quiet activities” alternatives. This is a situation when good communication can be the difference between life and death.
- Take action. The actions available in summer camps are dependent on the ages and abilities of the groups involved.
- Active Shooter: Recommendations and Analysis for Risk Mitigation (NYPD)
- Active Shooter: How to Respond with the companion pocket card and the poster (DHS)
- Active Shooter Awareness Virtual Roundtable (DHS video)