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Soft Targets – Are You Vulnerable to Terrorist Attacks?

May 23rd, 2017 | Facility Security, School Security, Terrorism | 0 Comments

A Brief Analysis of U.S. Active Shooter Event FBI Data, Current Site Security Deficiencies, and Proactive Response Planning

Facility Security Photo: Hardening Soft Targets Against Terrorists and Active Shooters.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

It seems as though every time we turn on the television, there are reports of another shooting or mass casualty event, an act of terrorism perpetrated by lone or multiple actors. The media reports always highlight at least one devastating casualty to lament, and some horrific method of attack that will inspire copy cats and instill fear in our fellow citizens.

Over the past decade, news of these tragic events have become the norm. It’s time to pragmatically dismantle these incidents and analyze trends in attacks in order to identify and better protect ourselves and our facilities that are particularly vulnerable to acts of terrorism. Now more than ever, tragic events of the past must be understood as critical evidence to preclude and prevent these horrific acts. The lack of comprehensive statistics available for attacks by location category is mind-boggling. While research on the trending vulnerabilities and targets of motivated killers is scant and largely outdated, we came across an intriguing study conducted by the FBI in 2014¹ which sheds some light on the issue.

What did the FBI study?

The study involved the investigation of 160 active shooter incidents throughout the United States that resulted in annual totals of 1,043 casualties. For the purposes of the study, “active shooter” is defined as “an individual (or two individuals) actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” Not included in the study are shootings resulting from drug or gang violence, and not all mass shootings have been included in the sample set. However, the results provide remarkable clarity in terms of trending threats and necessary preventative measures.

What were the findings?

First, the findings point to a dramatic increase in the number of annual incidents. During the first seven years of the study, it was found that an average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually. During the last seven years, however, those incidents nearly tripled to an average of 16.4 per year. More importantly, the FBI used this data to categorize the locations in which these shootings occurred. It was found that an overwhelming 45.6% of the active shootings occurred in places of commerce – more specifically, 27.59% in businesses open to pedestrian traffic, 14.49% in businesses closed to pedestrian traffic, and 3.896% in shopping malls. Educational facilities were identified as the second-largest location grouping at 24.4%. At a 10% rate of occurrence were government buildings. Open spaces were at comparable risk to government buildings, with 9.4% of active shooting incidents. The final three categories at risk were residences (4.4%), houses of worship (3.8%) and health care facilities (2.5%). The results of this study strongly indicate a necessary shift in focus toward the protection of soft targets.

What are soft targets?

Soft targets are typically defined as civilian-centric locations that are not generally “fortified.” This would be any type of vulnerable, undefended and unprotected place where civilians might gather or meet. In terms of the FBI study referenced above, nearly all of the location groupings would be considered soft targets, with the presumable exception of government institutions (which often implement high building security measures). However, security would not be considered a primary mission in the other location categories, which would make them all soft targets for terrorism and violence of all kinds. More specific soft target examples might include shopping malls, entertainment venues, nightclubs, high-density gathering areas (like 5th Avenue or Times Square in New York City), hospitals, popular hotels, amusement parks, etc.

How can we harden soft targets?

First and foremost, recognize that any soft target is vulnerable to an act of terrorism. Businesses, educational facilities, and places of mass gathering are prime targets for terrorists. While Federal and State statutes and regulations require² employers of 11 or more have Safety, Security and Emergency Plans to address site-based incidents, most lack policies and procedures that address acts of terrorism or mass casualty events. As the FBI study cited reveals an upward trend in acts of terrorism; businesses, educational facilities, places of mass gathering, such as clubs, concert halls, arenas, and shopping malls should view these as a ‘foreseeable event ‘and take all necessary steps to protect lives and harden their facilities to preclude or prevent acts of terrorism at their facilities.

Secondly, conduct a comprehensive vulnerability assessment to identify weaknesses in your current facility emergency action plan (FEAP) as well as the facilities security and life safety product inventory; perimeter and internal surveillance cameras, access control, visitor management, emergency notification systems and other products and systems that complement the overall security and safety plan. Our licensed and credentialed investigative and security firm has been conducting these assessments for more than 30 years and found that most facilities are deficient in either or both categories.

Law enforcement investigations conducted in the aftermath of terrorist attacks reveal the actor(s) pre-visualized and developed a military style attack plan by surveilling a ‘soft target’ several times before the incident. Those attacks may have been prevented by utilizing appropriately modeled and placed surveillance cameras that recorded the actor(s) activities both inside and at the perimeter of the facility.

Finally, once your facility emergency action plan has been updated and qualified security products installed, training and practice drills will familiarize your staff and create proficiency in addressing a site based emergency. By promulgating and adopting policies and procedures that address acts of violence and terrorism; coupled by deployment and use of qualified security, safety and emergency management products, you can dramatically reduce your risk profile and provide for a safer and more secure facility.

Sources:
1A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013 U.S.; Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
2Regulation Standards: OSHA 29 CFR 1910:38 – NFPA 1600; Occupational Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor

About The Author
Having served as a security consultant to government, education, and industry, William J. Smith is the Managing Member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com. The firm provides instruction, training, and guidance in all matters of school safety, security, and emergency management. Mr. Smith may be reached via contact information provided at https://www.americanschoolsafety.com/ or by calling 866-531-6560.

Heroin: The Python in Schools Across America

March 1st, 2017 | Drug Abuse | 0 Comments

Heroin: the python in our schools.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

Imagine finding your 8th grader collapsed on the floor of his or her bedroom… breathless, cold, and gone from the physical world. This trauma was experienced by Branden Stock’s parents in Laguna Niguel, California. Brandon was lifeless because of an overdose on Vicodin. It was also experienced by the families of 13 year-olds Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth due to their synthetic drug overdoses. The same loss moved Josh Brabender’s dad to write a letter to eighth graders about the horrors of drug use. “Why would I burden you with this information [as eighth graders]? The answer is because when Josh was in 8th grade he was perfect and beautiful and innocent just like all of you. In high school he discovered drugs, and eventually he found heroin.” Heroin took Josh’s young life, and “wrapped itself around his neck like a python until it eventually strangled the life out of him. It is the devil incarnate—pure evil.”

Tragically, more than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses alone in 2015. Envision each state alone losing more than one thousand residents each year to drugs. Overdose statistics have soared to new heights due to heroin and prescription painkillers. Heroin deaths alone rose to 12,989 in 2015, causing even more deaths than gun homicide.¹

How does heroin abuse begin?

A jaw-dropping 75% of high school heroin users report having experimented with opiates only after initially being introduced to prescription painkillers.² In her interview with 60 Minutes, Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that we live in a country of about 312 million people and 210 million opiate prescriptions per year! However, painkillers are expensive both on and off the legal market, so what’s the cheapest alternative? HEROIN.

Why is heroin on the rise in all middle and high schools?
  1. It’s cheap! Heroin costs about $10/pill for a high that’s extremely acute and addictive.
  2. It has evolved into more “clean” and easy forms. It no longer requires needles and back alley injections. Taking heroin can be as simple as breaking open one tiny capsule and snorting the powder. This method makes both the drug and its ingestion less detectable.
  3. Children often have easy access to prescription painkillers in the cabinets, spurring their susceptibility to heroin addiction when it becomes available.
How can society help to solve the heroin epidemic in schools?
  1. Doctors: Avoid over-prescribing opiates to ALL patients.
  2. Parents: Keep all household prescription drugs inaccessible to children. Dispose of any unused or unfinished bottles of painkillers.
  3. Parents: Be mindful of the addictive consequences of painkillers when prescribed to your child, and be sure your child isn’t overusing or abusing the medication.
  4. Schools: Mandate student-counselor meetings to assess mental health of and evaluate potential drug dependency in students.
  5. Schools: Incorporate a drug education program with a large focus on opiate use and abuse for elementary-aged children and up.

For additional information on how you can maximize the safety of your students, CLICK HERE to contact American School Safety online, or call us at 1-866-531-6560 to schedule a free on-site consultation. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Sources

¹https://statnews.com/2016/12/09/opoid-overdose-deaths-us/
²Arlotta C (2015). Forbes.

School Security and Safety Product Expenditures: Which Security Products Merit Your Consideration?

December 20th, 2016 | School Security | 0 Comments

Recommended School Safety & Security Solutions for 2017

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

Our firm is routinely contacted by schools and asked to evaluate products that enhance safety and security within their districts. The following article highlights products that we have evaluated that have advanced technology solutions in the K-12 and College markets.

We are not compensated or remunerated by any of the manufacturers of the products listed in this article.

According to the research company IHS Technology, K-12 schools and universities in the United States spent approximately $768 million in 2014 on video-surveillance equipment, access-control equipment and mass notification systems in order to address school security, safety and emergency management issues in our nation’s schools. IHS Technology expects expenditures in security products to climb to approximately $907 million in this current school year. While some may argue that such spending increases are a hyper reaction to constant reports of school violence and safety issues, these expenditures come at a time when both state and local budget cuts are potentially limiting certain educational opportunities for children. I would argue, however, that school security is not an area in which our schools should be compromising on budget, especially considering the 98+ school shootings that have been reported in the U.S. since January, 2015. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal has presented evidence of a direct negative correlation between reported security spending and school emergencies. A 2014 U.S. Education Department survey of approximately 1,400 public schools in the nation, 75% reported using at least one security camera (up from 61% in 2009-2010), and 82% of schools reported installing electronic notification systems (up from 63% in 2009-2010). Comparatively, reported incidents of school violence had dropped from 74% to 65% in the same time frame.

The seemingly large annual expense on school security only becomes excessive when schools are investing in sub-par products which ultimately require supplementary product purchases to be most effective. When investing in high-grade and reputable security products, schools are certainly not overspending, which begs the question:

What companies provide products and technologies that will enhance our district’s ability to respond and react to security and safety incidents?

Here are a few that we believe merit your consideration:

1. Avigilon
Avigilon Appearance Search video analytics technology is a state of the art advanced search engine software utilizes facial recognition that allows the end user to scan video storage devices and quickly locate a person or vehicle of interest across an entire school property. The Avigilon Appearance Search technology can assist school officials and first responders of incidents or potential security issues, by issuing mobile alerts that advise law enforcement and school safety committee members of an issue, so that they can immediately respond and thereby improve incident resolution. Other helpful features include computation of people count and movement patterns, especially important in places of mass gathering. This technology can also be used to increase the efficiencies of codified lockdown and shelter in place procedures by identifying the location of students, faculty, staff and visitors for evacuation and headcount purposes.

2. Social Sentinel
Social Sentinel uses propriety algorithm technologies to search the “digital cloud” that exists above our schools and communities. It analyses publicly available postings on social media venues like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The information that is available in this public sphere can be analyzed and synthesized to protect schools and communities. Social Sentinel constantly scans public posts for suspicious terms and phrases, and immediately alerts the end user when those words are found that could impact the community. Words such as; kill, shoot, stab, bomb, and suicide would immediately prompt the system to identify the sender. Once the identity of the subject is verified, the data is immediately forwarded to school and public safety officials with authority to decide whether the posted message merits additional investigation or referral.

3. Mutualink
Mutualink is an award winning, multi-media communications platform that provides a direct link with Police, Fire, EMS, and other law enforcement entities in emergency situations. Mutualink K12 is a gateway for live voice, video, data and text communications, providing first responders with increased situational awareness in real time allowing them to respond much more rapidly to any facility threat. Mutualink’s advanced technology system (IRAPP) incorporates an all-in-one device to bridge radio, video, telephone and PA/intercom systems, in our schools and campuses. Another key feature of the Mutualink product is the ‘panic button’, which can be installed in the central office, , or installed onto smartphones as an application. Either method immediately connects the caller to law enforcement agencies and simultaneously launches the Mutualink system. Studies conducted by Mutualink’s client districts performing situational response drills reduced the time to incident resolution by forty (40) percent.

Why Should Schools Consider Purchasing Advanced Technology Products like These?

Spending on high-tech security products that assist schools in areas of Safety, Security and Emergency Management will unquestionably increase efficiencies by constantly monitoring their facilities and alerting staff and first responders of threats that can impact the safety and well- being of students, faculty, staff and visitors. These products can be a valuable tool for School Resource Officers in crime reduction and prevention, crowd control and vehicle identification. Schools can identify risks in public postings on social media to potentially prevent acts of violence including suicide. Using Mutualink’s K 12 system, schools can rapidly respond to address emergencies by linking first responders and the school or district emergency response team in real time to share vital information and decrease time to resolution.

It is my considered opinion that use of these products will prove to reduce risk and provide additional safeguards, by leveraging technologies to enhance safety, security and emergency response in our schools.

Next steps for School Administrators

For additional information on how your school can maximize the safety of your students, administrators, and staff, click here to contact American School Safety online, or call us at 1-866-531-6560 to schedule a free on-site consultation. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Sources
“5 of the Most Innovative Surveillance Cameras in 2015.” IFSEC Global.
Abramsky, Sasha. “The School-Security Industry Is Cashing In Big on Public Fears of Mass Shootings.” The Nation.
D’Ambrosio, Dan. “Start-up keeps eye on social media for threats.” USA Today.
“Mutualink K12 Links Schools, Responders Enhance Safety.” Business Wire.
Porter, Caroline. “Spending on School Security Rises.” Wall Street Journal.

Social Media: The New Playground for Bullies

October 6th, 2016 | Bullying | 0 Comments

Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among our nation’s teenagers — and bullying is often a major contributing factor.

Suicide and cyberbullying photo.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

Imagine attending your child’s high school graduation and watching 100 students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. Now imagine that in every row of ten graduates, one of them has made a serious attempt at suicide? If you are one of the all-too-many parents that have neglected to take the proper precautions against bullying, that child could be yours.

Bullying and suicide

Researchers have found that students are 7–9% more likely to consider suicide when they have been bullied in school. With 17% of American students reporting being bullied 2–3 times a month or more, at least 9.5 million students in America are more likely to consider ending their young lives. According to the National Education Association, bullying has become so widespread that approximately 160,000 students do not attend school on any given day in order to avoid being bullied. That is 13 million students per year!

Why has bullying become an escalating threat to our children?

In some ways the dynamics of student social lives has not changed. Those mean cliques and lunch-money bullies have always existed. So why are the bullies of today having such devastating effects on our students? One potential explanation involves the evolving social platforms through which young people communicate and express themselves. In today’s technology-driven world, even young grade school students have begun diving into social media. Unfortunately, this form of social networking often poses a much larger threat to students than the “traditional” bullies of prior generations.

Why is cyberbullying more threatening than “traditional” bullying?

Traditional bullying may certainly have traumatizing physical, psychological and emotional effects on its victims. However, it is thought to be a more temporary phenomenon, or a shorter phase, in a student’s life. It may also be more easily eliminated by changing physical proximity to the tormentor via a change in schools or locations, or avoidance of in-person encounters with the culprit. There’s is often a point in the process of traditional bullying at which situation becomes public knowledge, prompting an authority figure to intervene. The overt nature of this more familiar form of bullying provides a deterrent towards certain unacceptable behaviors that would be easier to affect if an element of anonymity existed.

Anonymity is an enormous factor — elevating cyberbullying to a significantly more aggressive form of bullying. Easily-obtained fake e-mail accounts enable fake social media accounts. These spuriously obtained resources allow cyberbullies to believe that they can say or do anything online without fear of reprisal. Potentially devastating messages and threats may be sent almost effortlessly to targets all over the internet. There is simply no reason for a cruel individual intent on inflicting pain to filter anything they say or do through their “cyber mask.”

Additionally, this type of bullying has no time frame. Victims may experience attacks via social media throughout the day and night with little or no respite from their antagonizer. The constant and merciless onslaught can result in grievous psychological damage. Every notification received has the potential to be another crude attack on their appearance, popularity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or intelligence. Due to the complete lack of boundaries in the cybersphere, psychologists theorize that cyberbullying may have much longer-term effects on students’ psyches than the traditional means of bullying. It nearly always leads to a victim’s lowered self-esteem, heightened levels of depression — and subsequently — thoughts about suicide.

Cyberbullying has become such a widespread problem that a new term has been coined

“Cyberbullicide” refers to suicide that occurs directly or indirectly through experiences of online aggression. The term was coined in 2010 during a study of 2,000 middle school students. The research found that cyberbullying is at least as detrimental to adolescents as traditional physical bullying. Alarmingly, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 71.9% of students report being cyberbullied 1–2 times during the school year.

Cyberbullying is not a high school phenomenon

We are living in an age of tech-savvy children. Even toddlers are utilizing apps on tablets and other smart devices. According to a study of 457 randomly selected students (ages 11–15), 34.4% reported that they had been cyberbullied at least once in their short lifetimes, and 15% reported having been cyberbullied within the last 30 days.

Do not wait until your child reaches puberty to look for signs of bullying

When it comes to cyberbullying, age doesn’t matter, size doesn’t matter, popularity doesn’t matter, and appearance doesn’t matter. Many cyber bullies do not even know their victims, but it is crucial that you do if it’s your child.

There was a time the when protecting students from playground bullies was largely a teacher’s responsibility. The world has changed; and it’s a parent’s responsibility to monitor their child’s use of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and text messages. These digital platforms are the new playground; and the new bullying is more intense and potentially devastating than its predecessor. Please do not allow your child be the one in ten who makes a serious attempt at suicide because of bullying.

How to know if your child is being bullied:
  • If your child becomes angry, withdrawn, or has mood swings and behavior changes after using social media networking sites.
  • If your child becomes aggressive themselves after spending time online or after receiving an email or text messages.
  • If your child abruptly stops or limits their participation in social media networking sites.
  • If your child resists going to school or refuses to participate in after school activities.
  • If your child shuns normal social interaction with friends.
What you can do if your child is being bullied:
  • Talk with your child when you suspect they are a victim of cyber bullying or harassment.
  • Empathize with their situation and tell them you will support them and take action to stop the cyberbullying and harassment.
  • Ask your child to allow you to monitor the social media networking sites to determine the identity of the cyberbully or bullies.
  • If you discover cyberbullying, on line teasing, tormenting or any harassment, document the findings and save them for evidentiary purposes.
  • Most school districts have adopted policies and procedures to deal with cyberbullying and harassment and document them in their district’s student handbook.
  • Determine who needs to be contacted, School Administrators, and/or Law Enforcement and call them immediately to report the cyberbullying and harassment.
  • Report the cyberbullying and harassment to the social media sites that are being used to bully and harass your child. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other popular sites have strict rules that forbid cyberbullying, harassment, and other aberrant behaviors by users.
Next steps for School Administrators

For additional information on how your school can maximize the safety of your students, administrators, and staff, click here to contact American School Safety online, or call us at 1-866-531-6560 to schedule a free on-site consultation. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Sources
Jerry Will and Clim Clayburn. “The Psychological Impact of Cyber Bullying.” University Business.
Valerie, Strauss. “New data on bullying: 17% report regular abuse.” The Washington Post.
“11 Facts About Bullying.” DoSomething.org
“Bullying-Suicide Link Explored in New Study by Researchers at Yale.” Yale News.
“Nation’s educators continue push for safe, bully-free environments.” National Education Association.
Kim YS, Leventhal B. “Bullying and suicide. A review.” PubMed. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
“Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students — Massachusetts, 2009” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.