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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