Visitor Management Software: Security Technology Removes Stress

Students have always faced stress in school.  

 Making friends, trying to fit in, coming to terms with who they are, taking tests, all of this is creating significant stress to students.  

And now we add the fear violence at school.

Yes, as a former violent crime detective and father of five children in K-12 and college, I balance having realistic conversations with my kids and at the same time providing comfort.  Situational awareness and preparedness can reduce stress.

However, much of the public discussion about school violence running non-stop on TV or online news feeds is full of doom and despair.  Fear sells products and there is no shortage of shark security vendors peddling fear to parents and schools all in the name of earning a dollar.

Many of our political leaders, both sides of the aisles, do not understand violence prevention any more than most parents.  Yet they parade in front of microphones daily, espousing theories, many to grab headlines but will do little to move the safety needle in the right direction.

 The added stress of feeling safe

Just two weeks into the new school year, most students across the nation have already practiced a “lockdown” drill which includes turning off the lights, locking the classroom door, covering the windows, and crouching down near the windows or under desks.  

This week, I have seen communication with parents to let them know about upcoming active shooter drills and reunification.  Asking for their help in the reunification drill, to have a live simulation. All good.

However, I quickly learned in the communication where the schools reunification site was located.  Understanding that most school shootings involved students, are we playing our cards? Should our reunification site be another school location?  Yes or no. Not easy questions to answer. Some would say yes, that it creates smoother reunification process. Some on our team who have served on presidential security details would say no.

 Why?  What if it is a coordinate attack?  Can you envision students acting in concert to pull off an active shooter event?  Columbine?

 We need to be cautious about how much information we share.  Should we use a “practice” reunification site that does not give away our strategy?  At a minimum, we should have a primary and secondary location for reunification.

 There is no doubt that school safety is a prominent concern – and it should be. Though it is good to prepare students for what to do in an emergency, it is also imperative that schools utilize the latest safety technology to help secure their buildings and bring some peace of mind to their staff, educators, and students.

 Make no mistake, security technology in schools is a key factor for our nation’s schools in helping to prevent tragedies like Newtown, Parkland, Santa Fe, and so many others from happening at all – or at least reducing the number of tragedies and threats of violence from occurring on a daily basis.

 Click here to learn more about how technology can mitigate risk at school.

 Too many of our nation’s schools are still vulnerable to intruders due to easy access to the building.  

 School safety is much more complex than active shooter.  I get headlines multiple times a day with school volunteers or employees that have molested, seduced or sexually abused a student.

 Knowing who you are allowing in your buildings is the foundation of a security program.  

 Security Technology in Schools

 Every school in our nation should have security technology in schools, like a Visitor Management System (VMS) which can:

  • Having defined access controls based on the type of visitor.

  • Integrated background checks that can be defined by the type of visitor.  

  • Have the capability to manage excluded parties and flag them if they try to enter. 

  • Must be cloud-based, as well as work on cellular or separate WiFi networks (school networks are often blocked during an event).

  • Integrate with student information systems and check-in kiosk for scan-in/scan-out and authentication verification for government ID’s 

  • Offer continuous background checks and arrest-alerts in real-time for Volunteers and Employees so if they are arrested for a prohibitive crime you will be notified in real time..

  • Offer geofencing capabilities to set parameters that control access.

  • Expedite getting students to parents/guardians quickly and ensure their release to no one other than parents/guardians. 

  • Emergency/Denial notification buttons

  • Integrations with crisis management systems to create a 360 security solution.

What is Visitor Management System?

Have you asked yourself what visitor management system should we adopt?  There are numerous companies who have developed visitor software systems and some are very simplistic and some are very complex.  So making an informed decision takes a bit more than perusing their websites.

Let’s start with asking a simple question:  Will the visitor management system be the foundation of your security program?  Or will it be a tool to relieve pressure off of the front desk and let visitors checking themselves?  Like at a doctor’s office?

That is two distinctly different use cases.  The former is risk mitigation and the latter is efficiency.

If you are looking for a security system then keep reading.  Here are a list of features you should require of a visitor management system:  

  • Cloud-based.  Critical for organizations that have multiple points of entry or locations and need to integrate their campuses.  Cloud-based systems also make it easier to deploy and maintain. Your IT team does not need to do anything when new updates are rolled out.  And administrators can access data from anywhere in the world they have internet access.

  • Background Checks.  Most visitor systems have some type of background check.  Keep in mind there is no standard definition of a background check and very few visitor management companies understand the complexity of comprehensive background checks and the  federal, state and local regulations that dictate disclosures, authorizations, reporting restrictions and handling of adverse information. Background screening and FCRA violations are a growing field of litigation.

  • Real-Time Background Checks.  Background checks are historical documents the minute they are completed.  Yes, they are critical to your onboarding process but they have limitations.  Would it be important to know that an approved vendor had an employee arrested for rape?  Or that one of your drivers was arrested for DUI on Saturday night? Real-time ArrestAlerts are critical.

  • ID Validation.  This is the foundation of a security-focused visitor management system.  How do you identify your visitors, volunteers, contractors etc.? Self reporting is not ID validation.  Properly identifying frequent visitors is complex and involves parsing government issued ID’s, using biometrics and other investigative integrations to validate.

  • Regulations.  Do you have industry specific regulations and the need to check against international watch-lists or healthcare sanctions lists?  Are certain parties excluded from your campuses?

  • Applications.  There is a distinction between a simple data form and a configurable online application that can trigger specific business requirements such as notifying a team member to sponsor and approve an application.  Do you need different applications for different classifications of visitors like vendors, volunteers, temporary workers, etc? Not all visitors are the same and you should be able to create different levels of applications, screening and access control.

  • GeoFencing.  Approved, high frequency visitors can use a mobile app that will request entry to approved buildings as they approach the facility and cross the geofence.

  • Integrations.  Is the visitor system trying to be everything for everybody.  A complex visitor system understands their expertise and stays with in their lanes. They look to partners who are best in their lanes to integrate with:

    • Access Control

    • Crisis Alert Systems

    • Emergency Communication

    • Student Information Systems

    • Reunification Systems

  • Leaders That Understand Security.  Software companies need developers who understand how to code and develop products and services.  But it takes visionary leaders who have decades of real-world security experience to develop the road map.

Would you like to learn more about a visitor management system with no strings attached?

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What Should a Visitor Management System for Schools Do?

How to define what a good visitor management system for schools should do is much like defining what a good volunteer background check should be.  For fifteen years, I have owned Safe Hiring Solutions and we conduct hundreds of thousands of background checks annually.

And for 15 years I have heard from volunteer organizations that we are conducting a “national background check.”  Please define that, I always say. Invariably, the answer will be all over the board from a cheap, instant database search (that is not a background check- there is no such thing as an instant, single source background check) to comprehensive multi-level searches that include multiple checks and balances.

A visitor management system for schools is no different.  There are many visitor management systems on the market today.  And I guess the most important question is what do you want it to do for your schools?

There are really two distinct camps that schools fall into when deciding on a visitor management system:

  • Convenience; or

  • Security

That seems odd but over and over we see schools evaluating SafeVisitor include front office personnel.  Almost always there is an immediate fear of how the visitor system will complicate their already busy job.

That is why we have seen an uptick in the number of visitor management software systems that built for speed but have nothing in the process to ensure the visitor is who they say they are and safe.

Security is inconvenient.  And successful schools are focused on security.

However, a visitor management system for schools can be both a great security system and provide efficiencies and convenience for schools.

What should you be looking for?

  • Who are the leaders of the company?  There are so many security vendors popping up these days that it serves your well to do your due diligence.   That is the former detective in me coming out. As well as the CEO of one of the fastest growing background screening companies in the U.S.  Do you entrust the security of your school to a company of software developers or former security professionals?

  • Cloud-based.  Cloud-based systems are the norm these days.  But it is not about being the “new” thing that makes this important for a visitor management system.  The cloud allows you to connect campuses, share information including high frequency visitors like volunteers AND excluded parties that are not allowed on the campus.  Plus, the cloud allows for software updates that require no labor on your part.

  • Integrated partners.  Many visitor management systems for schools are trying to do all things security.  Vision and long term thinking and development are critical. However, a great VMS will know there lane and stay in it and find the best of the best security partners to integrate with.

  • Limit exposing PII of visitors.  A comprehensive VMS will not require the use of your government ID every time you enter a building as a frequent visitor and expose your personal information to security or front office employees.  ID validation should be a core feature of the onboarding process which allows for the use of a VMS ID or biometrics.

  • Push visitors further from the front door.  A company led by security experts understands that security does not start at the front desk.  The best visitor management systems will have this as a core foundation and use a myriad of solutions from geofencing, kiosks, access control integrations and pre-registration.

  • Background checks.  Every visitor management system purports to do some level of background check.  Most are doing a low level sex offender search. Some are doing a cheap national database search.  Background checks are more complex than a cheap database. There are compliance issues. And you need to understand that in many states a sex offender is not required to register for life.  Some levels of sex offenders are not required to register at all. And the cheap database searches are not a background screening program. Many states limit the data they provide.

These are just a few of the musts when selecting a visitor management system for schools.

To learn more:

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Use and Misuse of Facial Recognition Software

There is a growing tide of public discussion on the use and misuse of facial recognition software.  Much of the negative perception is driven by countries like China using the technology to surveil and monitor their citizens at all times.

There is a big distinction between using facial recognition on citizens to know where they are and what they are doing without their permission and with permission to validate and expedite access.   

Recently, facial recognition software has taken a beating for mis-identifying people as criminals who in fact were not.  And this surveillance approach has uncovered a higher failure rate with minorities which is troubling.  

What are the causes of misidentification?  There are a myriad of things that can cause misidentification.  First, it is critical that the software have a good baseline photo from which to compare.  But this alone does not always equate to a high percentage match.  

Where are you gathering the comparison photo?  From a camera system? Can it convert the video to still images at a high quality?  Does the individual have anything, intentionally or unintentionally, to avoid detection like sunglasses, facial hair, hats or simply a poor angle that can diminish the comparison photo.

We could spend forever debating facial recognition software and its use for law enforcement and intelligence agencies.  However, facial recognition has a great applicability to creating a safe workplace. This is a much different application for facial recognition.

SafeVisitor will use facial recognition after a person has been ID validated to allow them quicker access to an organization.  Some of our larger schools have as many as 50,000 volunteers. Knowing with 100% accuracy who is entering your facility is critical  

The days of having visitors, volunteers, contractors or visiting employees sign a guest book and receive access to your building should be over.  Even visitor management systems that do not include ID validation, background checks, but issue an ID card run the risk of allowing someone in the building that should not be allowed in.  How do I know the person scanning the card is who they say they are?

Using ID validation, background checks and then adding a biometric such as facial recognition allows us to create a Safevisitor fast pass.  This is not surveillance. This is stepping up to a kiosk, scanning my SafeVisitor ID, standing in front of the camera and doing a quick comparison to verify identity. Two factor identification.   Print your ID, door opens and off you go.

Facial recognition software provides convenience.  Just like TSA is looking to deploy in airports.

Facial recognition software is not new.  Many of you use it on your phone to recognize you and unlock it.  

Any new technology can be used in a positive or negative way.  

If you would like to learn how facial recognition could be used as part of a visitor management system, we offer a couple opportunities for a demo:

SafeVisitor Weekly Demo Thursdays, 2PM EST

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Register Your Team for a 1:1 Demo


Visitor Management Kiosk

A visitor management system is the first step for an organization when implementing a security program.  If you do not know who is entering through your doors then all other security systems are ineffective.

Many schools and organizations are looking for a visitor management kiosk.  What better way to manage the flow of lots of visitors?

However, it is not so simple as to do a quick internet search and find a company that has a kiosk option.  There are a few security foundations that must be understood:

  • Not everyone views security through the same lens.  Often front office personnel are multi-taskers and they view a kiosk as taking something off of their plate.  This is absolutely true. But it must done correctly. Removing eyes from the check-in process without having an ID Validation in place is risky.

  • Security is not convenient.  Have you flown recently?  Have you gone to a concert or professional sporting event?  Need I say more?

  • Not all visitor management systems are security focused.  A lot of the visitor systems are more about convenience and allowing visitors to self-provision and check themselves in.  That may be great if you are an eye doctor. However, in a controlled environment like a school, I need to know you are who you say you are.

  • A security kiosk will be placed in a vestibule or in a secured area.  A great security program will always be moving the identification further and further from your front doors.  If the first interaction you have with a visitor is a human at a desk then that can be:

    • Dangerous.  If the person is there with intent on harming someone.

    • Awkward.  If the person checking in is on an Excluded Parties List or Sex Offender.

What should I be looking for in a visitor management kiosk?

  • ADA compliance.    You should first make sure you understand ADA compliance.  

  • How does the visitor management kiosk validate visitors?

    • Does it scan government issued ID?  At a minimum a quality visitor system will scan government issued ID’s.

    • How do you handle frequent visitors?  If you are an organization that utilizes vendors or volunteers there should be a validation process that begins long before they reach your front door.

      • Background checks.  A comprehensive background check is the foundation of a quality background check.  There is no such thing as an instant background check.

      • ID Validation.  Do you allow vendors or volunteers to self report who they are?  We can use the government issued ID, require a scan of the front and back, parse the 2d barcode and can even pull the photo, require a selfie and do a comparison.

      • 2 Factor ID.  Allowing a visitor to manually enter their information defeats the purpose of a visitor management system.  Even scanning a government issued ID or an issued ID card is not fool proof if you don’t verify the ID scanned is the person in front of the kiosk.  To completely authenticate the visitor, the use of facial recog

      • nition or a palm vein reader at the kiosk the matches against the face or pam print on file is the best method of ensuring the person entering is the approved person.

So, not all visitor management kiosks are the same.  Determine if you are looking to enhance your security or if you are looking for a convenient way of getting people in and out of your organization.

If you would like a demo of SafeVisitor, one of the most comprehensive visitor management systems with multiple kiosk options, please select one of the following to register:

1:1 Demo for your team

Or

SafeVisitor Weekly Group Demo


Visitor Management System for Schools

There is no shortage of security vendors coming out of the woods these days, peddling products that range from bullet-proof back packs to multi-million dollar school building hardware upgrades to be designated the safest school in America.  Of course the designation was made by the security company installing the system.

We hear daily from schools all across the U.S. that they have vendor fatigue.  Most of what they are been peppered with are products that do not move the safety needle and will do little to keep schools safe.

Many times we can bring a team of experts together for a simple school walk through with your administration, SRO’s, school safety specialists and principals and pinpoint dozens of items that cost nothing or very little to fix.  I told a school this week that until they had locks on doors, controll who had access to their schools and address the side and rear doors that are either unlocked or propped open that it made no sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars on sophisticated security systems.

The first step is to start with a visitor management system for schools that manages the flow of all visitors.  Until you know who is entering your schools, all other security systems are rendered useless.

It is also to keep a broad definition of school safety.  Too often these days school safety has become synonymous with active shooter response.  Truthfully, even after a week where we had active shooter events at the Southaven Walmart, El Paso Walmart and Dayton, OH, active shooter events in schools are still statistically very low.  That does NOT mean we should not be developing security plans and procedures.

However, it is statistically more likely that a child will be sexually exploited at school.  So knowing who walks through your doors is critical.

What should you look for in a visitor management system for schools?

  • Is it cloud-based so it connects the entire campus?

  • Can it flag excluded parties who have posed a danger to the school?

  • Does it integrate with other security systems to create an integrated solution?

  • Does it allow you to create comprehensive and specific screening packages for your different visitors (volunteers, contractors, community partners, etc)?

  • Does it integrate with your student information system like Skyward, PowerSchool, Infinite Campus?

  • Do you have real-time arrest monitoring?

If your answer was no to any or these questions or you don’t know and would like a demo, please click here to setup a 1:1 demo or register for our weekly group SafeVisitor demo.

Preventing “road rage” in your parking lot

It was an unusually busy day at a crowded New Jersey mall when a woman spotted an open parking space after circling the lot for the better part of a half-hour. As she stepped out of her car, another woman assaulted her, accusing the first woman of stealing her space. In the ensuing melee, the second woman nearly bit through the first woman’s finger.

We may chuckle at outrageous stories like this and laugh at social media videos that capture what happens when parking lot disputes escalate into battles. But is it funny when those things take place in one of your parking lots?

Have you ever stood near the exit of a church parking lot as a packed Sunday service lets out? The attendees may have been bathed with goodwill minutes earlier, but in the scramble to get to lunch, soccer practice, or in front of the TV before kickoff, they transform into combatants in a winner-takes-all contest to be the first out of the lot. The same people who were wishing each other peace moments ago snarl, snap, and yell.

 The same thing happens in workplaces when everyone leaves, and in the parent pick-up lanes at schools. Beyond the impact of escalating tempers, there’s also the potential for vehicle accidents, damage to the lot itself, and worst of all, pedestrians who are injured when they go unnoticed by drivers focused on making an escape. It’s also a problem when everyone competes for prime parking spaces at the start of the day or at crowded events.

 Psychologists who have studied parking lot road rage liken it to territorial disputes that are compounded by the anonymity many people feel while they’re behind the wheel. They’re centered on achieving an objective -- whether that’s finding a space or getting out quickly -- and when another driver interferes or delays them, they respond as though they’ve been threatened. If they misbehave, nobody will hold them accountable.

 Studies suggest those territorial disputes result in power struggles. Ever feel pressured to get out of a parking space so an impatient driver can move in? Penn State researchers discovered that when someone else was waiting for their space, drivers actually took more time to leave the space -- eleven seconds more, on average. And if the impatient driver honked? The departing drivers took even longer to leave. It’s a kind of “I’ll show you” mentality that often leads to yelling, obscene gestures, scratched paint and other vandalism, and the occasional bitten finger.

 Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the level of anger in your parking lots. It begins with how your lot is designed and marked. Creating clear paths for entering, exiting, and moving around the lot can help. Placing highly visible signs, such as Stop, Yield, and One Way signs, can minimize the potential for simple misunderstandings that all too easily escalate into pitched battles. If your facility is located on a busy street and drivers waiting to make left turns create delays, you may even want to reconfigure the exits so drivers can only turn right.

 It’s also important to protect pedestrian traffic in your lot, because the more vehicles and pedestrians interact, the greater the potential for injury. Clearly marked walkways and crossways with signage giving pedestrians the right of way can help, as can strategically placed refuge areas or islands where pedestrians can wait safely for a break in the traffic flow.

 You can also designate employees or volunteers to stand in key locations and direct traffic to ensure everyone has a fair shot at heading out as quickly as reasonably possible. Be sure to give them reflective safety vests, and encourage them to smile and be friendly, because their attitude can create an example for the drivers and defuse short tempers caused by impatience. A little bit of extra attention to your parking lots can go a long way to ensuring the safety of those who visit your facilities … and might just make them be a little nicer to one another.

Developing a plan for reunification after emergencies

Most companies, schools, and religious facilities have developed plans for evacuation in the event of a fire or other type of emergency. But getting people out of a building is only part of the plan. You also need to give serious thought to where all those people are going to go, as well as what their next steps will be.

First, you need to make sure everyone is in a safe location and that their presence won’t interfere with the response. As first responders arrive at the scene, they shouldn’t have to fight their way through a crowd of evacuees. The best strategy is to designate a reunification site for each emergency exit. The site should be close enough for evacuees to reach it quickly, but far enough so they’re not blocking responders and are safe from additional hazards. It should be large enough to house the largest potential group of people who would use that exit. Don’t forget to consider the needs of people who have limited mobility.

 

You also need to have alternate reunification sites in case the normal site becomes unsafe. For example, if everyone is fleeing an active shooter, they should not be brought to a site which would be within the shooter’s range. If those alternate sites are at a distance, you may need to consider how occupants would be transported. Again, people with limited mobility may require additional planning.

 

Some facilities create what’s often called a “go” kit that’s placed near the emergency exits. Items in the kit may include diagrams of evacuation sites, signage to help evacuees find their way, flashlights and extra batteries, basic first aid kits, paper and pencils, as well as other material that may be needed.

 As you develop your plan, be careful about depending too heavily on electronics for storing information or communicating. If the power fails during your incident, computer apps and cloud-based documents may be inaccessible.

 Although you may prefer that the incident not be publicized until you have regained complete control of the scene, in an era of cell phones and social media, you probably won’t have that luxury. It’s likely that parents and other family members may panic and rush to the scene, particularly if your facility is a school or other organization occupied by young people.

 If your site is likely to be visited by parents or family members who intend to pick people up, your plan should also address that process. You’re responsible for maintaining custody of children and others during the incident, and for verifying that they leave with the right people. One effective approach is to have parents and legal guardians arrive at designated locations that are away from where the evacuees are waiting. Once your personnel review their identification and verify that they are authorized to pick up evacuees, a runner heads to the reunification area to bring those evacuees to the pick-up site, at which point their parent or guardian can leave with them. Keep clear and accurate records of this process in case questions arise, such as if one parent arrives after the other has picked up the children.

If there might be a delay in reuniting evacuees with their family members, you may also need to consider whether you’ll need to arrange for temporary restroom facilities for both groups.

It’s important to maintain up-to-date contact information for parents and guardians, and to have an effective process for notifying them in emergency situations, whether that’s a phone call, a text message, or some other channel. Keep your notifications brief, with only the most important information. An example would be, “We have evacuated the school and students may be picked up at LOCATION starting at TIME. Be sure to bring your identification.”

Finally, while nobody likes to think about tragedies, your plan should include a protocol for informing family members about injuries or deaths. Ideally, those conversations should take place in a separate and quiet area.

Anonymous reporting systems enhance safety

Nearly every violent incident at a school, a workplace, or a public setting is followed by media coverage in which people point to obvious warning signs that had been ignored. It may have been a student shooter’s obsession with weaponry, a co-worker’s muttered threats, a mass killer’s propensity for harming animals … in each case, there’s something the after-the-fact experts tell us we should have noticed that maybe, just maybe would have prevented the violence.

 Assume we had taken note of the behavior in question. What were we supposed to do with our observations and suspicions?

 For a long time, society has trained us to keep our mouths shut. As children, we’re told not to be “tattletales,” and as adolescents, “telling on someone” can result in our incurring the wrath of a bully. In the adult world, the idea of sharing information is often considered to be “ratting” on someone and “whistleblowers” are typically isolated by others around them.

 After 9/11 and incidents such as the Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings, that attitude started to shift. Law enforcement and other authorities have shared the message that when we see something that makes us uneasy, we need to say something about it. If a student is making violent threats on social media, we need to alert the school’s principal. If a co-worker makes angry comments about the manager and audibly fantasizes about shooting her, we need to tell someone who can investigate.

 It makes sense, but again we go back to the question: what are we supposed to do with our observations and suspicions? We don’t want to be perceived as a tattletale or rat, nor do we want to become the target of someone who’s unstable just because we shared our concerns about that individual and his or her behavior.

 That’s where the value of some type of reporting system that allows people to make reports either anonymously or with the confidence that their names will be kept secret. People are far more likely to call attention to dangerous situations if they don’t fear any personal backlash.

 Such a system doesn’t have to be limited to threats or criminal activities, and one of the most successful examples exists in the aviation industry. Some years back, industry and government leaders collaborated to create the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which provides a way for pilots, service technicians, air traffic controllers, and others to self-report near-misses, mistakes, and other problems without fear of penalty or retribution. The goal of systems like ASRS is to gather information that can identify underlying problems and educate others, so they don’t make the same mistakes. Reporting systems can also be put into place for issues such as fraud, sexual harassment, and compliance issues.

 Many school districts are now using the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System that was developed by the violence prevention organization known as Sandy Hook Promise. The system gives students and adults a way to alert school administrators to potentially dangerous situations, so they can investigate and intervene as necessary.

 Creating an effecting voluntary reporting program includes several considerations. First, you need a clear scope and straightforward process. How will reporting take place? Who will receive those reports? Ideally, the person or people you select to play that role should be well-known and respected leaders who have demonstrated professional maturity.

 Your process should also spell out exactly what that person is expected to do with the information and how quickly they should take action. That’s especially important when you receive a report of something such as suicidal ideation, in which delays are unacceptable. How will reports and follow-up be documented? You also don’t want to establish a process that circumvents or undermines established authorities such as law enforcement or school administrators, or that puts your organization at risk for violating laws. As an example, some states require immediate reporting of suspected child abuse, so your process can’t sidestep that.

 Most of all, you must protect the confidentiality of people making reports. There’s no room for error -- a single breach of that confidentiality will destroy any trust people have placed in the system and ensure that nobody will make any reports.

Someone phoned in a bomb threat. Now what?

It’s an ordinary day, and the person at your front desk smiles as she chats with a co-worker. The phone rings, and her smile remains as she greets the caller, only to hear a nervous voice tell her there is a bomb in your building and everyone had better get out before it explodes.

 

What’s the next step? If you’ve been proactive, you’ve already developed a plan for this situation and trained the people who answer your phones about what they should do. If you don’t have a plan, the response is likely to be a panicked evacuation.

 Bomb threats are some of the most disruptive situations a school, church, business, or other facility is likely to encounter. While the overwhelming majority of such threats turns out to be pranks, the potential damage from an actual explosive device is so significant that experts recommend the threats be taken seriously.

 According to the U.S. Bomb Data Center, the federal agency responsible for tracking bomb- and arson-related incidents, there were 1,536 bomb threats reported in 2016. Of those, 529 were made to schools and 254 to businesses. The agency reported that there’s been a 33 percent increase in bomb threats to schools since 2014. Students know a bomb threat will be taken seriously and bring classes to a temporary halt, so whether someone has a gripe with the administration or really isn’t ready for that Algebra test, a threat -- whether it’s phoned in or takes the form of a note in a restroom or a comment on social media -- seems to be an effective way to cause trouble.

 The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cautions that every bomb threat is unique and has to be considered in light of the nature of the facility and who uses it. They note that law enforcement officials and facility managers are usually in the best position to determine whether the threat is credible and how to act.

 If your facilities don’t have a plan for dealing with this type of threat, it’s a good idea to develop one and share it with those who are most likely to receive the threat and those who will have to make decisions. It’s also wise to obtain the advice of local law enforcement agencies so your plan is consistent with their procedures. You can find information about developing a plan at the DHS website, and many organizations have posted their plans online. A quick Google search can provide a great starting point.

 Generally, the first step in a response is to remain calm and notify the authorities immediately. With phoned threats, DHS encourages people to stay on the line with the caller as long as possible while someone else makes the notification. Be polite and engage the caller by asking questions about the specific location of the device, when it is supposed to detonate, how it looks, and what type of explosive it contains. If the caller is willing to talk, ask whether he or she placed the bomb and why he or she did it. More information makes it easier for law enforcement to make the right response. The person taking the information should not hang up the phone even if the caller does, because it may be possible to determine where the call came from.

 If the people responsible for decisions about evacuation determine that’s the right course of action, evacuate calmly and carefully. If your facility conducts regular fire drills, sounding a fire alarm is an effective way to get everyone out of the building.

 A similar issue is what to do if someone discovers a suspicious item in your facility, such as an unusual bag or package that appears to be out of place. Here again, you should have a policy that spells out procedures to follow. Not every item is suspicious -- for example, people accidentally walk away from backpacks and purses all the time. On the other hand, if it appears someone tried to hide the object, if it has a strange smell or odd sounds coming from it, or if it’s in an unusual place, there may be reason to be concerned. People who leave bombs or other hazardous materials tend to put them in locations where they can do damage to people and important assets.

 If you do find a suspicious item, DHS recommends that you remain calm and refrain from touching or moving it. Follow your organization’s procedure, whether that involves contacting a facility manager or placing a call to law enforcement, and follow their instructions. If you can’t reach someone and are convinced that there’s an immediate danger, calmly evacuate the area. Moving farther away from an explosive device generally is the safest course of action.

 

How should you deal with concealed carry?

Few topics have created more discussion in recent months than gun violence. A couple decades ago, few school administrators, church leaders, and business managers gave thought to the possibility of a violent incident occurring in their facilities. While it’s not entirely clear whether the number of incidents has increased, the media (and social media) attention given to those incidents has stoked a great deal of fear.

Many gun owners have reacted to this perception of a growing threat by choosing to keep their weapons with them when they’re away from home. They believe carrying a concealed handgun gives them an opportunity to protect themselves and those around them; that a “good guy” with a gun is the best protection against a “bad guy” with a gun. That’s a politically charged discussion we won’t explore here.

 What is important to address is how you and the facilities you oversee deal with the growing number of people who carry concealed weapons. The Crime Prevention Research Center recently estimated that more than 17 million concealed handgun permits have been issued in the U.S., which represents a 273 percent increase since 2007. That means just over 7 percent of American adults now have concealed carry permits -- and that doesn’t include gun owners in the 14 states that don’t require such permits. Roughly a third of Americans have at least one firearm in their home.

If the adults who use your facilities are representative of those statistics, that means roughly one in thirteen visitors walks in with a concealed weapon. That number doesn’t include those who carry for other reasons, such as off-duty law enforcement officers. So if you have 500 adults at a basketball game, a Sunday morning service, or the second shift, you may have about 38 people who are armed without your knowledge.

Knowing there are attendees who have taken it upon themselves to be ready to protect others if the unthinkable happens may give you some comfort. Or it may cause you heartburn, wondering if a poorly trained gun owner could escalate a dangerous situation and create a legal liability.

Some states allow property owners to designate “gun-free” zones and deny admittance to those carrying weapons. Other states take different approaches. For example, in our home state of Indiana, property owners can ask those carrying a concealed weapon to leave. Those who fail to do so may be charged with criminal trespass.

 Whether you wish to encourage concealed carry in your facility, discourage gun owners from packing, or take some neutral stance, the best approach is to start by developing a thoughtful policy. Your first step should be conversations with your liability insurer and your attorney so that you fully understand your responsibilities, potential liabilities, and options under your state’s laws.

 Next, conduct a discussion with your leadership team to determine everyone’s comfort level with concealed carry. Think through potential situations and responses. If you know gun owners in your group, involve them in the conversation. Sit down with your local police chief or county sheriff to get their thoughts and recommendations about the issue, because they’ll end up responding to any incident.

 Proceed carefully, because this is a delicate, divisive, emotionally charged issue. Some gun owners will respond angrily if they perceive that you’re trying to limit their legal rights, while some non-owners will be terrified at the thought that someone in the next pew or cubicle is armed with a deadly weapon. Keep the discussion focused on the issues and realities, trying to keep emotions on both sides calm.

 Once you’ve developed and adopted your policy, and had it reviewed by the experts (if your policy governs employees, that should include an attorney who specializes in employment law), share it with everyone who is affected. Explain the reason you created a policy and the process you used to ensure that all viewpoints were heard and considered. You’ll probably never need to use your policy, but should an incident occur, you’ll be glad you had it in place.

Are Your After-School Events Safe Places?

You’ve done an impressive job of putting safety practices in place during the school day. After the school day starts, visitor access is limited to a single door, and all visitors must be buzzed in and check in at the front desk. You’ve been using a visitor management system that verifies people haven’t been banned by your district or aren’t on sex offender registries. An off-duty police officer walks the halls and verifies that all exterior doors are closed and locked several times throughout the day.

 Then the final bell sounds and the students and staff leave. But that doesn’t mean your building is empty. In the late afternoon and into the evening, clubs are meeting and teachers are tutoring students who are struggling to catch up. The basketball team is running layup drills in the gym, while the band director is leading one more practice before Thursday night’s concert. The evening custodians are preparing the building for the next day.

So where are your safeguards? How many people are in the school? Are you sure they all belong there? Are you sure they’re all going to leave when it’s time to go? What parts of the building are they able to access? Could a pair of students with non-educational activities in mind find a hiding place? Could someone with evil intent hide a weapon in a locker?

 The same questions could apply to churches and other organizations. The flaw in many security plans is that they’re designed solely for the facility’s primary use -- during class time, around worship services, or in the business day. Those are the busiest times of day, so they get the lion’s share of attention and protection.

But most schools, churches, and organizations see activity outside of normal hours, often with relaxed access controls. The basketball players drift in through the locker room door. The custodians prop open the door near the dumpster so they can sneak a smoke break. While the Bible study facilitator is enlightening his group, his preteen kids are running amok in the hallways. Add in after-hours events, from athletic contests, to choral concerts, to Scout meetings.

 The simple fact is that if your safety plan fails to address the other times of day, it’s inadequate. Your safety plan needs to incorporate all times in which people are in your facilities, whether that involves visitors or employees. The concern behind that approach isn’t only that someone who intends to do harm to others can access your facilities. Allowing people to roam your buildings unsupervised could create a liability issue if they were to injure themselves. In addition, what would happen if there were a fire or severe weather? Would occupants know what to do? Would first responders know where to check?

 First, take some time to do some planning. Focus on how your facilities are used and occupied during “off” hours. Look at activities and event schedules so you have a clear understanding of what’s happening and who is involved. Second, determine how people get in and out of the building after hours. Ideally, access and egress should be limited to a single entrance. Third, look for ways you can block off access to other parts of the building, such as by installing security gates. Fourth, consider how you can provide supervision of activities. If you’re expecting a big crowd for a band concert or a volleyball tournament, you may want to have security staff on hand. At the very list, administrators should be at the front doors to monitor who is entering. For activities such as after-school practices, make sure coaches know they are responsible for supervising the entire team while they’re in the building.

 Finally conduct spot checks of your facilities after hours. See if the activities match what’s supposed to be happening. Make sure the occupants belong, and that they aren’t in places where you don’t want them. Walk through empty hallways and look for unlocked rooms. Conducting such checks will not only reassure about the safety of your facilities, but they’ll also give you ideas for additional steps you can take to ensure everyone’s safety.

 

Wait -- is Code Yellow a shooter or a bus problem?

“Attention, Code Yellow.” The voice crackles over the intercom, stopping everyone in their tracks. Can’t quite remember -- isn’t Code Yellow a problem in the bus drop-off area? Or is that when we summon the imaginary “Ms. Smithers” to the office? Or isn’t that a Signal Three?

Anyone who’s watched a spy movie or one of those films showing the behind-the-scenes operations in the Pentagon has heard all sorts of interesting code words. “The President has ordered everyone to Defcon-Two, so we need to implement Code Green.” It’s pretty cool to know all those secret codes are in use, making sure people who shouldn’t have access to information won’t know what’s happening.

Schools and other facilities often adopt similar secret codes. The justification is usually that only the people who are required to take action (such as teachers or department managers) will know what’s happening, so other occupants of the facility (such as students or employees) won’t panic.

The intent may seem reasonable, but there’s an inherent problem with codes: people forget them. When they hear the code words, they may not remember what they’re supposed to mean. And if they’re the person in a crisis situation, they might not have the presence of mind to call for a Code Yellow, a Code Red, or a Code Fuchsia. Instead, they’ll panic or freeze.

We live in a different world than we did 10 or 20 years ago. Media coverage of mass shootings, school violence, and terrorist acts have sharpened awareness. That’s true even among young students. Even if they haven’t seen the news stories, they’ve heard their parents and classmates discuss shootings and other acts. Today’s students are every bit as uneasy about the potential for an incident as their grandparents were when they were practicing duck-and-cover drills.

Preparing to deal with dangerous incidents is serious business. Playing around with code words and similar strategies can compound the danger by creating confusion. It’s far better to use plain English and state exactly what you want people to do. If your school needs to be locked down because of a potential threat, saying “Lockdown now” over the intercom will stir people into action far more effectively than asking “Ms. Smithers” to visit the office.

There’s a part of our brains that’s sometimes derided as “reptilian.” It’s the area of the brain that makes instinctive responses to situations. If we see an object flying toward our heads, we duck. If our feet slip, we automatically reach out for something that will allow us to steady ourselves. As intelligent, rational animals, we’re a bit ashamed of our reptilian reactions, but they’re what keep us alive. When we see a shooter entering a building, we don’t have the luxury of carefully analyzing the situation and considering alternatives. We need to get to safety immediately.

“Code Yellow” doesn’t kick the reptilian brain into action, but “Shooter! Take cover!” will. If we want people to evacuate a burning building, we yell “Fire! Get out!” for a reason. Everyone knows what that means and what they’re supposed to do.

 In addition to using plain English, it’s important to make sure that everyone who can call an alert uses the same words. If one administrator says “Lockdown now!” and another says something about taking cover, they may not get the same response. That’s why many schools use common language such as the Standard Response Protocol [http://iloveuguys.org/srp.html] to notify occupants about emergencies. They also regularly practice the actions occupants are supposed to take when they hear those words. For example, lockdowns are triggered by the phrase “Lockdown! Locks, Lights, Out of Sight.” Even the youngest students can easily memorize that phrase, so they know exactly what to do to protect themselves.

If you’re responsible for occupants in multiple buildings, such as a school district with multiple schools, it’s a good idea to use the same protocol in every building. That way, if staff members are working in a different building, or if students move from an elementary to a middle school, they’ll automatically know how to react.

Standard protocols may not be as much fun as code words, but in a real-life emergency, they make a tremendous difference in protecting everyone’s safety.

When an Excluded Visitor Creates a Disruption

If you’ve established a visitor control process for your business, school, or church, good for you. Being aware of who is entering your premises and making sure you keep people who don’t belong there from getting in is one of the best ways you can ensure the security and well-being of the people you want to protect.

Whether you use technology like SafeVisitor or have some kind of manual system or list that identifies people who should be denied access, eventually you’re going to encounter a situation in which someone who’s on that list will demand entry. How you and your front desk staff react will make a significant difference in how the situation will play out -- whether the unwanted visitor leaves on his or her own, or whether things escalate to the point of violence or arrest.

The most important thing you can do is plan and train before the situation occurs. If you haven’t prepared for the inevitable moment when you need to inform someone that he or she can’t come in, you or your staff won’t know how to act effectively. The wrong actions can quickly turn a simple disagreement into a traumatic event.

Part of that training will be strategies for staying calm and dealing with the individual in a polite manner. Someone who is being refused access to your premises is likely to become angry, highly emotional, and even agitated. If they’re met with anger and yelling from your staff, that response will quickly escalate. It’s also a wise idea to have a backup person nearby who can respond right away if it’s clear the unwanted visitor is becoming agitated.

The visitor may not be aware that he or she isn’t allowed in your facility, so the first step is to gently and politely explain that they cannot come in because of your policies. Your employees shouldn’t make it seem as though they’ve made that decision on their own. Instead, they can say (for example), “The school district has a policy that people who have been placed on the no-visit list cannot come into our school, and your name is on that list.” They can also explain who the visitor can contact with questions or to obtain more information.

 Some unwelcome visitors may be on such a list because of domestic violence or custody issues, such as a noncustodial parent illegally trying to contact his or her child at school. They may be aware that such contact is prohibited, but in their anger and frustration, they’re willing to take a chance. It’s also possible that their name is on the list as the result of human error. It’s important that the person at your front desk not try to resolve the issue on his or her own, because that can create a distraction and shift the visitor’s anger to that person. Give the individual the contact information, ask them to leave, and allow them to take care of it.

Visitors who are angry may begin to raise their voices or yell at your front desk staff in an effort to intimidate or frighten them. Often, they’ll create a disruption to gain sympathy from onlookers or in the hope that your staff will let them in to avoid an embarrassing situation. Train your staff to hold their ground and contact security or law enforcement if the level of anger increases. The same is true of an unwanted visitor simply refuses to leave.

 If the individual appears to have a serious mental health issue, is incoherent, or appears likely to become violent, your best strategy is an immediate call to law enforcement as a precaution. While police officers and paramedics will tell you that dealing with individuals who have mental health issues is one of the more unpleasant parts of their jobs, they do have training and experience that you and your staff probably lack. First responders would rather you err on the side of safety than risk having a situation become more dangerous.

Finally, teach your front desk staff to trust their gut. When a visitor’s presence or actions make them feel uneasy, there’s probably a good reason for it. It’s better to call for assistance early in the process than to find themselves in a situation that quickly worsens.

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Visitor Management: How Well Do You Trust Vendors in Your Facilities?

You take pride in the way you control access to your building. Your employees wear badges that double as access cards. When salespeople show up, they’re required to sign in and have to be escorted back to an office. Your receptionist is a tiger when it comes to enforcing those rules.

 So who just walked past your office? Oh, it’s the fire extinguisher guy, doing his monthly inspection. Takes him a couple hours to work his way through the entire building. Or maybe it was the Bobby the plumber, who’s here to fix the leaky valve on that urinal. Could have been the guy who restocks the vending machines -- you’re always amazed at how much candy and how many soft drinks your team goes through in a week.

 You make sure employees are identified and you keep an eye on those occasional visitors. But to me, it looks like maintenance and other service people wander anywhere they want without a second thought on your part. Oh sure, your receptionist would never let them past her desk without getting a signature and clipping on a visitor’s pass, but once they’re in the building, nobody pays much attention.

 Does that make you nervous? Not really? You’re giving these people who you may not know all that well unlimited access to your entire building. They stroll into important areas, past tables and desks loaded with proprietary and confidential information, and around cubicles where employees leave purses and expensive technology. They’re free to interact with any of your employees. They have access to restrooms, stairwells, and other out-of-sight places.

 You’ve known Bobby for better than a decade. He’s the most reliable plumber you’ve found, and you hope they guy never retires. Bobby brought a helper today. You don’t know his helper, but Bobby would never hire anyone unreliable. If you knew more, you’d learn that the helper attends Bobby’s church and was hired at the pastor’s request because he needed some guidance and support. He’s 23 and has already done four stints at the county jail. Handful of thefts, narcotics … stuff like that.

 The fire extinguisher guy is pretty quiet, but very diligent and efficient. You haven’t noticed that he has an eye for the ladies, particularly the young, friendly pair in customer service. You trust that the fire safety vendor has vetted him thoroughly, but their bargain background check missed that arrest for a sex offense that his attorney pleaded down to a lesser charge.

 If you looked in the empty cases the vending machine guy wheeled back to his truck, you’d notice they’re not always empty. He hasn’t taken anything really valuable … well, not yet … but he thinks it’s okay to help himself to things. What your employees assume they’ve misplaced has actually been stolen, and it’s been happening for years.

 What kind of screening do your vendors perform when hiring someone? How often do they take a closer look at their existing employees? If you can’t answer those questions, you have no idea whether your business and your employees are safe from those friendly service people. You’re simply assuming that your vendors are as careful about hiring as you are, and I think that’s a pretty dangerous assumption.

 So what can you do to protect yourself? First, find out exactly what your vendors and service providers are doing to ensure their employees deserve your trust. If their vetting process does not make you completely comfortable, perhaps it’s time to initiate a process of your own. One possible approach is to use our SafeVendor visitor system, which requires vendors to register before they enter your facility and allows us to perform a background check so you know if there’s a reason to be wary. It also issues badges and tracks who’s in your facilities (which is handy if an emergency occurs).

 Second, give serious thought to limiting access for those vendors or service people. That may involve assigning an escort to bring them to the area where work is being performed and possibly even remaining with them while they handle their tasks. Or it may be that you allow them to occupy specified areas for specified time periods. If the plumber is making a repair in the first-floor men’s room, he shouldn’t have any reason to be upstairs.

 Letting vendors and maintenance people wander freely through your building is like creating a big safety net and cutting large holes in it. You and your employees deserve better.

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Metal Detectors Aren't a Magical Safety Solution

There are no two ways about it: school shootings are terrifying. Students, parents, teachers, and communities are horrified by the thought of someone violating what we’ve always thought of as one of our safest spaces by firing a weapon with the intent to kill.

Criminologists point to statistics confirming that the number of such shootings really isn’t on the rise, noting that schools continue to be among the safest places for young people. Still, given the explosion of media and social media coverage, the average person can’t be faulted for thinking America faces some kind of violent new epidemic.

After this spring’s highly publicized incidents in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas, and another in Noblesville, Indiana -- not far from our company’s offices -- there’s been an outcry calling for “hardening” school buildings to thwart potential shooters. In particular, many well-meaning people have insisted that the best solution is to place metal detectors at the doors of all schools. Indiana’s Governor recently made hand-held metal detectors available to all of the state’s schools at no cost to the districts.

Metal detectors have their place in security, but they’re not the foolproof or magical solution many advocates believe them to be. First, metal detectors are personnel-intensive devices. To provide adequate protection, they have to be staffed any time anyone enters the building. That not only includes the times when large groups of students are arriving for school, but throughout the day, and for high schools, into the evening and weekends.

If the swim team arrives for practice at 5:30 a.m., somebody has to be there to scan the members and their gym bags. If practice for the spring musical runs all evening, someone has to be there to scan all the participants. The same goes for sporting events. If there’s any gap in scanning, it creates an opportunity for someone to smuggle a weapon into the building and place it in a locker or other location for later access.

Not only do trained people have to be on hand to perform the scans, there has to be an established process when the detector identifies a suspicious person or object. Who will be responsible for frisking students or searching their bags? Will that interfere with the flow of students coming into the school?

Nor are all weapons made of metal. Even with every door protected by a metal detector, students could bring weapons made of wood, plastic, or other materials without detection. That creates a false sense of security.

Finally, if metal detectors placed at building entrances create a crowd of students who are waiting outside to get into the building to be scanned, that crowd becomes what’s known as a “soft” target. It would be easy for someone on the school grounds or in a nearby vehicle to open fire into that crowd with a weapon and inflict mass casualties. That individual wouldn’t even need a gun -- choosing instead to mimic the actions of terrorists in Europe and elsewhere who have simply driven vehicles into crowds.

It isn’t that metal detectors are inherently bad. But they’re not a panacea that will eliminate school shootings. Parents and others want a simple, easy-to-implement strategy to secure their children’s schools, and such an option just doesn’t exist. If it did, law enforcement officials would be leading the movement to use it. The fact that you don’t see police departments and law enforcement experts pushing for simple solutions like metal detectors is that they know better.

Effective school security encompasses several components, many of which can’t be purchased from suppliers. One of the most important is awareness of the hazards and having systems for alerting the authorities to potential threats. In nearly every major school shooting, we’ve later learned that the shooter had made threats or shared plans in advance, yet that information was never passed along to those responsible for security. Schools need a means through which people can safely report concerns about individuals.

In addition, it’s important to address visitor access. In the Parkland incident, the shooter was a former student who had no reason to be in the school, yet he easily gained access to commit his violent act. Would the outcome have been different if he had to obtain access to the building through the office and obtain a pass? Any answer is just speculation, but it’s worth thinking about.

Students and teachers need to be protected, but demanding simple solutions isn’t going to provide safety for everyone. The real answer is replacing rhetoric and social media chatter with thoughtful planning by professionals.

Learn more about school safety best practices.  Contact us.

How a Warrior Views Your Facility

I’m a former big-city violent crimes detective and my wife is also a retired police officer. When we go out to a restaurant, we enter into a little competition that’s so instinctive neither of us notices it’s happening. We both try to grab the seat with the best view of the entire restaurant and its doors, and the loser of that little battle remains just a little uneasy throughout the meal.

If you’ve ever been dining in the neighborhood coffee shop and several uniformed cops come in to grab lunch or dinner, you’ll notice that most walk right past the “prime” tables and take those in the far corner of the room. I’ve conducted many training sessions for law enforcement, and invariably, the first to arrive instinctively take seats in the back corners of the room.

All that behavior is related to what some call a “warrior mentality.” Training and experience combine to heighten awareness of place, environment, and activity. At meals when my wife gets the better seat, I might notice her attention shift for a moment, which tells me that something out of the ordinary has caught her eye. Maybe a couple at another table is in the early stages of what appears to be an argument. Maybe someone who seems out of place has walked in the door and is looking around suspiciously. No matter the reason, her senses have shifted to a higher level of awareness, so she’ll be quicker to react if something happens.

Once that warrior mentality becomes ingrained, you can’t shut it off. Even when I’m sitting in church, I always know where I am in relation to the emergency exit that’s closest to the kids’ area. If something were to happen, I’d be through that door and next to my kids in a heartbeat. When most people go to the mall, they’re looking at displays of merchandise. I’m watching the people around me, looking for anything that just doesn’t seem right.

Some might think that’s a paranoid approach, but it’s not based on imaginary threats. I’ve seen and experienced enough to know that there are real threats out there, and it’s been my sworn responsibility to protect the community from those threats. It was that way when I carried a badge and it’s at the heart of why our company exists.

Adopting a warrior mentality can help you in two different ways. First, it will improve your own protection. If you practice enhancing your awareness of everyday situations, it becomes a habit. You may never encounter a situation in which your personal safety is threatened, but if something does happen, you’ll have more time to prepare and react. People who lack that kind of awareness often freeze in an emergency because their minds are focused on processing what they’re seeing. They think “what should I do?” when the warriors among them think “what needs to be done?” and then do it.

The second way a warrior mentality helps is that it will give you a framework through which you can evaluate the security of your facilities. Whether you’re responsible for an office, a warehouse, a middle school, or a suburban church, spend some time walking through the building and thinking about how a threat may present itself. Then ask yourself how you or anyone else would behave if that threat were to happen. How would they get out, and where would they congregate once outside?

Next, look at the building the way someone who wanted to carry out that threat might do. If a shooter wanted to target a large group, which door would he enter? If someone wanted to steal from your employees, how easy would it be to do that? If an estranged husband wanted to reach his wife who worked or worshipped in your facility, what’s there to deter him?

Once you start looking at facilities through those warrior eyes, you’ll begin to rethink how you do things. For example, your church may want to present a welcoming image to attendees and visitors, but do you really need to leave six exterior doors wide open all Sunday morning? Would it be better to funnel traffic through a couple of entryways and have a “greeter” or two stationed at each who’s eyeing the folks who walk in? A simple deterrent like that may make someone who plans to cause trouble think twice.

You can invest in all sorts of security systems, but one of the most powerful and effective is one you were born with: your eyes. Train them to see like a warrior, and those for whom you’re responsible will be much safer.

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Is your security toolkit complete?

One of the things that separates law enforcement professionals from average civilians is how the two groups approach a situation. When the average person walks into a building, his or her attention tends to be focused solely on the destination or the purpose for the visit. But when a police officer enters the same building, he or she instinctively scans in every direction, looking for any potential threat sources, mapping out escape routes, and evaluating what’s happening.

Similarly, when businesses or organizations talk about security, they tend to talk about specific things. Maybe we need cameras. Or a badge system. Or a stronger door. But when those of us who have worked in law enforcement talk about security, we take a more holistic approach. That’s because true security encompasses many different elements that work together in a synergistic fashion. Any one of those elements offers some protection; multiple elements work together in ways that provide a much higher level of safety.

When I’m asked about how a school, a company, or another organization should approach facility safety, I suggest they develop what I call a security toolkit. Just as your toolkit at home includes a variety of devices to help you perform an even wider variety of tasks, your security toolkit should include multiple items that address many different aspects of security. What are the tools that belong in your kit?

Start with a Security Assessment. Invite a professional consultant or local law enforcement to walk through your facility, identify potential vulnerabilities, and make recommendations.

Create a Policy. A security policy explain the reasons behind security, everyone’s responsibility, and the steps to take when something goes wrong, such as who is authorized to dial 911. When people aren’t sure how to approach a situation, that policy provides guidance.

Threat Assessment Team. Create a group from your organization (and possibly pair them with representatives from local law enforcement). Give them the responsibility to think about and identify the threats your organization might face and steps that could be taken to address them.

Background Checks. You won’t be surprised that the head of a background check provider advocates background checks, but it’s one of the most effective ways to prevent problems. A resume tells you how someone wants you to think about them, but a background check can share what they don’t want you to know.

Visitor Management. If someone doesn’t belong in your facility, you shouldn’t let them in. If you do allow them to visit, you should know where they are and what they’re doing. Formal systems like SafeVisitor help, but you can also use policies such as ensuring that visitors are always escorted through your facility.

Anonymous Reporting. After most workplace shootings, we hear that someone knew that something wasn’t right, but they were afraid to say anything. So provide ways that employees can call attention to strange behavior or situations without having to identify themselves. An employee who jokes about bringing a gun to work probably isn’t kidding around.

Integrated Communication. Have the equipment and processes in place so decision-makers and first responders can communicate clearly in an emergency situation.

Training. The training your team needs depends on your situations and activities. For example, if your team members travel frequently, make sure they know how to protect themselves on the road. Also provide training about domestic violence awareness, so employees can recognize when there’s a problem and so the entire team knows how to protect victims.

Hardware/Construction/Renovations. This is the physical part of your toolkit, eliminating and minimizing vulnerabilities by using technology and physical alternations to your facility. No single approach is right for every organization. Make your choices based upon the vulnerabilities your assessment identifies.

Finally, your security toolkit should also address what you’ll do if your security is breached. We’ll hope that your security toolkit prevents that from happening, but it’s wise to have a plan just in case.

Contact us for more information on creating a security toolkit.

Active Shooter: Facility Security Starts Far From Your Front Door

It never ceases to amaze me how many organizations establish “security” for their buildings by stationing a sleepy security guard or a doorman with a clipboard at the entrance. If someone who was planning mayhem … such as a shooter … shoved past the front desk, about the only defense that guard can offer is to yell, “Hey! You can’t go in there!” Then he might call his boss to see what he should do about it.

Even worse, those glorified hall monitors rarely pay attention to what’s signed on those clipboards. I could write “Charles Manson” for my name, and nobody would blink. Nor do most verify my credentials or check to see if I belong there. If I were a domestic abuser who wanted to get to my estranged spouse, all I’d have to do is claim I had a meeting with one of her co-workers (whose names I would know from conversations). I might have to wear a visitor’s badge, but that’s about it.

I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we live in an era in which workplace and school shootings happen often enough that most earn just a quick spot on the news feed.

Take April’s shooting at YouTube’s headquarters in the heart of Silicon Valley. Nasim Majafi Aghdam simply walked into a courtyard in the company’s complex and opened fire on people she apparently didn’t know, wounding three before turning the gun on herself. She evidently had grievances with the company’s business practices, and these three just happened to be in the wrong place when she walked onto the property looking for someone to punish.

What’s to stop someone who’s unbalanced and has a gripe with your company or one of your employees from doing the same?

If you truly want to protect your students, your employees, your customers, or anyone occupying your facilities, you need to recognize that your front door is your point of last resort. It’s your last opportunity to control access to the facility. You may not be able to stop someone with criminal intent, but you can slow his or entry and alert authorities. Once the individual crosses that barrier, it’s too late. Even if the police arrive within a couple minutes, it’s likely that the damage will have been done.

So you need to shift your thinking. Instead of asking, “What do we do when someone enters our building?,” you need to ask, “What can we do to keep the wrong people out of our building in the first place? How do we make it clear that our location is unwelcome?”

Most people think of those as security decisions, but they’re really policy decisions that should become a central part of your organization’s culture. “Keeping our people safe” should be one of your organization’s guiding values. Finding the best way to do that then becomes the responsibility of everyone from the very top down.

There aren’t any one-plan-fits-all building security approaches, so you need to approach your situation with the specifics that make sense for your organization and facility. It may be a visitor management system, some kind of mandatory prior authorization for visits, moving the front line of security from the front door to the entry drive, creating an open-door policy in which victims of domestic abuse can feel comfortable sharing their concerns, holding a tabletop exercise to see how you’d handle specific scenarios -- the list of potential elements is endless.

We don’t need to be paranoid, thinking that everyone is out to get us in every manner imaginable, but we do need to be practical and realistic. We need to give serious thought to potential threats and ask ourselves what we can do to head each off. We need to invite first responders into our facilities and ask what makes them nervous, because they constantly have to assess risks as part of their job. They immediately notice things you’d never think about.

Employers and building managers don’t blink when they’re asked to install sprinkler systems, extinguishers, alarms, and other elements of fire protection. They don’t hesitate to identify shelter locations to protect employees and visitors during times of severe weather. So it’s no stretch to expand that thinking into protecting everyone from someone who means to do harm. Real security starts with intelligent thinking.

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School Active Shooters: Getting "Left of Bang"

There is so much noise these days about how to make schools safer.  The vast majority is counter-productive and pushing schools in the wrong direction.  Watch the following active shooter webinar by experts from law enforcement, Secret Service and school security as they walk you through a process of understanding that school active shooter incidents have predictable behaviors.

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