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Are We able to Provide a Safe and Secure Environment?

As Originally published by Inside Homeland Security, Summer 2013.

By: Dr. Michael J. Fagel
Tel: 630-234-6611
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Preparation, planning, and practice are the key to survival in any incident.

At schools, campuses, sporting events, and retail facilities, those thoughts ring out day after day. We have watched with horror the increasingly more frequent news of violence at establishments we once thought "safe" from wanton violence. One has to just scan the news to see that no place is immune from any type of random act that injures or kills innocent civilians, be it a movie theater, retail mall, sporting event, school, or church. In this column, let's take a look at a few basic elements.

  • Access control measures are key elements in safety of any facility. We realize that "open access" areas, such as shopping facilities, malls, and the like, are less likely to be openly "secured" in a conventional way.
  • Look at perimeters, surveillance, and appropriately trained security/law enforcement presence.
  • External lighting and parking lot controls may be effective tools in the prevention of these types of events.
  • Look at the lessons learned from previous events and compile ways to mitigate the elements' and items of concern.
  • Access control must be thought about in a way to still allow "authorized access," and you must cooperatively, determine what is entailed in your facility's ultimate use and needs.
  • Are there students, staff, visitors, retail customers, service personnel, and/or other people that will be utilizing your facility?
  • Look towards efficient ways to control the doors at each location, and allow for funneling people in as few areas as you can.
  • Secure and make sure that the areas of concern are addressed by a multi-faceted team.
  • Vehicle access, perimeter control, and parking close to the building are all areas of concern.
  • Utilize best practices to accommodate those that need "front door" access to be in compliance with federal and state access rules, but, be aware that these areas must be monitored, as the assailant can also utilize these spaces for their close in surveillance and damage to your facility and injury to your staff. This is a double-edged sword, but must be adequately addressed.
  • Good lighting, fencing, and other access operations must be undertaken to control those areas that have minimal traffic, or are more susceptible to being utilized for uncontrolled access to the site.
  • Surveillance* is often times looked at as a "forensic tool" (after the event has occurred), BUT, if utilized appropriately, may make act as a deterrent to the casual observer or to the assailant.
  • *Surveilance cameras, were a successful tool in the identification of the perpetrators of the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing,


These are just a few of the many measures you may need to look at as you do your due diligence. The key to any successful program is preparedness, planning, and training for the eventuality. No facility is immune. Church, school, campus, factory, and retail settings are all key targets in today's ever-changing society. Adequate research into past events at facilities such as yours are a key factor in learning how to prevent future events. The preparedness that you participate in with your stakeholders is the key to a successful program. There are no shortcuts to emergency planning, and success is measured in prevention and deterrence of these types of events. Additionally, emergency and incident plans that involve the whole organization is also a key element in the safety and security of your site. Domestic, international or criminal elements that wish to cause harm to your site are being followed by those that wish to cause the greatest harm to the largest population. Remember that the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 was caused by a domestic perpetrator, and that the World Trade Center Attacks in 1995 and 2001 were caused by international elements. Your facility may be a target from any of the above sources, or somewhere in-between.

Be prepared, have a plan, look at critical interdependencies, and evaluate your response planning. Also, engage with all the stakeholders in your community that will play a part in the response and recovery operations for your site. Do not do this alone, as the response will be from many agencies. Reach out and engage them before the event happens.

Michael J. Fagel, PhD, CEM, CHS-IV, is an instructor in Homeland Security and Emergency Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Stuart School of Business, Northwestern University, and Northern Illinois University. He teaches DHS Intelligence Training Courses for the National Center for Bio Medical Research and Training at Louisiana State University. He is a Subject Matter Expert (SME) for the National Center for Security and Preparedness as well as a Senior Homeland Security SME for the Readiness Resource Group (RRG). He serves as an elected and appointed official in several public service agencies, and serves on numerous boards and has written four textbooks on emergency management, safety and homeland security. He also serves as an analyst in critical infrastructure protection at Argonne National Laboratory.

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