Lessons Learned from Staring into the Abyss: An analysis of the Al-Noor Mosque Video

al noor mosque shooting

Lessons Learned from Staring into the Abyss: An analysis of the Al-Noor Mosque Video

Examining active shooter behavior and identifying security vulnerabilities and failures during attack events is a critical part of improving our preparation for future violence. While recently updating case studies for a training program and working on a separate client project, I spent considerable time watching and re-watching live stream videos and CCTV footage from several previous attacks.

After getting past nausea and the psychic weight of watching such horror – a matter that never gets easier despite how many years I’ve been doing this – a number of lessons were evident that I thought worth exploring as the focus of an article. However, instead of surveying all of the incidents I case studied recently, I’ll limit our examination in this article to the 2019 Al-Noor Mosque shooting in Christchurch.

Attack Events and the Al-Noor Mosque Video

For those unfamiliar with this incident, the Al Noor Mosque is an Islamic worship center in the Riccarton suburb of Christchurch, New Zealand. On 15 March 2019, approximately 190 people were present during the time of the massacre. The attack was perpetrated by a white supremacist we’ll refer to in this article as “B.T.” The attack was streamed for exactly four minutes on Facebook Live beginning as he approached the mosque in his vehicle and ending after he exited the mosque and shot at a person on the street.

The attack commenced at approximately 1:40 pm during afternoon prayers. In the video, B.T. approaches the area while driving and parks on a street adjacent to the mosque. He then exits the vehicle dressed in tactical gear armed with an AR-15 style rifle and retrieves an additional shotgun from the back of his vehicle. At that point he proceeds down the road and onto Deans Avenue proceeding toward the entrance of the mosque’s walled courtyard.

Once inside the courtyard, he proceeds directly toward the main entrance where he fires multiple shots from the shotgun and kills two people standing in the doorway. After emptying the shotgun, he switches to an AR-15 style rifle equipped with a strobe light and continues directly toward the main prayer hall, firing at people in the hallway and through the doorway into the women’s prayer room.

As he arrives inside the main prayer hall, he begins firing at masses of people congested near the hall’s North and South exit doors. Both groups collapse into piles as people take cover, trip, and fall to gunfire. At this point, a man rushes toward B.T. and is shot and killed at close range.

B.T. then proceeds back into the hallway, reloads, and then returns to the main prayer hall where he begins firing into the piles of people still located near the exits. After firing several shots, he has a weapons malfunction. He clears the weapon, reloads, and continues firing intermittently at immobile people on the ground.

After exhausting all targets, he exits the mosque and heads toward the courtyard entrance while reloading again. When he arrives on the street, he fires several rounds at a pedestrian and the video ends.

Observations & key takeaways from the Al-Noor Mosque Video

1. B.T. arrived at the mosque armed with an arsenal.

In the video, multiple weapons can be seen in the back of B.T.’s vehicle. Media reports state that B.T. had six weapons altogether including two AR-15 style rifles, two shotguns, a handgun, and a bolt action rifle. And this situation is not uncommon. Many perpetrators of active shooter attacks arrive as if prepared for war, armed with multiple weapons and an extraordinary amount of ammunition.

As a practical implication of this point, security and police officers assigned to protecting venues against active shooter violence must be prepared for engaging a well-armed adversary. And with 5.56mm and 7.62x39mm weapons being frequent and having the greatest penetration capability of common weaponry, body armor worn by protective personnel should be rated NIJ Level III as a minimum. Likewise, when specifying bullet resistant materials, minimum specifications should be UL 752 Level 7 (5.56mm x 5 shots) and EN 1063 BR5 (5.56mm).

2. B.T. proceeded straight to the main entrance of the mosque and did nothing to conceal his approach.

As discussed in other Expert Insight articles, a significant percentage of attacks by outsiders commence outdoors and progress indoors. Likewise, outside attackers usually enter directly through main entrances (as opposed to auxiliary entrances and exits).

As a first practical point, early detection of an approaching attacker while he/she is outdoors is crucial in providing an opportunity for building lockdown and initiating emergency alert. One way this can be accomplished is by posting security personnel outdoors with view of possible approach points. When working with houses of worship as a consultant, I often advise posting security personnel and/or volunteer greeters outdoors equipped with radios for this purpose.

As we’ve also witnessed in many other attacks, B.T.’s first rounds were shot outdoors before he made entry into the building. In these type of situations, gunshot detection systems can be invaluable and often integrated with an access control system to automate lockdown of access controlled exterior doors.

3. The total time from when B.T. arrived on site (entered the courtyard gate) to when mass killing was in full progress (inside the prayer hall) was 30 seconds.

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, these events go down FAST and the variance between adversary task time and response time in these incidents has a direct correlation with the degree of tragedy. At the Al-Noor Mosque, the absence of detection and delay elements (e.g., intrusion-resistant doors, glazing, etc.) resulted in minimal opportunity for people to initiate a protective response.

To provide further perspective on this matter, B.T. killed 41 people and wounded 40 in a total time period of 107 seconds (from first shot on approach to the last shot inside the mosque).   

4. Most people were killed while bottle-necked at the two exit doors inside the prayer hall.

Minimal escape options and limited exit capacity are common problems in group assembly areas. And this unholy combination of conditions has contributed to significant casualties in a number of incidents. In addition to the Al-Noor Mosque, other examples include the shootings at the First Baptist Church (Southerland Springs, 2017), the Bataclan Theater (Paris, 2015), Pulse Nightclub (Orlando, 2015), and the Reina nightclub (Istanbul, 2017).

Unfortunately, egress design is a frequently overlooked matter in active shooter preparation. Please see my other article focusing on egress design and active shooter attacks for a more detailed examination of this issue and options for remedy.

5. Compounding the egress problem, people at the South exit door were trapped because of inability to disengage a mag lock.

When B.T. begins firing inside the main prayer hall, a large group of people can be seen amassed near the exit on the south side of the mosque. It’s not evident in the video, but those people were literally struggling for their life to open the locked exit door due to an electromagnetic lock and nondescript push-to-exit switch that no one could locate. Seventeen people died at that door as a result. In fact, those who survived broke through the glass door to escape.

NOTE: The position of casualties depicted in the above diagram is incomplete. However, the diagram does accurately depict the location of victims inside the main prayer hall.

As we’ve discussed on other articles, mag locks present a number of problems during active shooter attacks and should be avoided whenever possible. First, life safety codes universally require that egress doors equipped with mag locks fail safe (unlocked) during fire alarms. In this situation, the fire alarm is a ‘virtual master key’ and will compromise any door equipped with a mag lock. And although such situations are uncommon, we have had a number of attacks where fire alarms were activated by gunmen, good Samaritans, or indoor weapons fire.

Codes also require door-mounted exit hardware (e.g., switch, lever, etc.) or alternatively, an exit sensor to unlock mag locks when an alarm is not activated. At the Al-Noor Mosque, there was no exit sensor (only a push-to-exit switch). Although this was a violation of code and should never have been permitted, I’ve witnessed numerous situations in my consulting activities where previous fire inspectors overlooked this issue. I have also seen situations where facilities have taped over the exit sensors to avoid unintentional unlocking as people pass nearby (another common problem associated with mag locks).

As a much better alternative, I recommend using electrified exit bar devices or electric strikes with mechanical hardware on exit doors. During an evacuation, electrified exit bar devices operate identically to mechanical exit bars—push the bar and the door opens. Aside from ease of operation, doors equipped with electrified exit bars and electric strikes can remain secured during power disruption and fire alarms (withstanding stairwell doors and other situations as defined by code). 


The Capitol Hill Riot: A Case Study in Securing Buildings Against Violent Intrusion

US Capitol Hill Riot - Case Study of Security Failures

The Capitol Hill Riot: A Case Study in Securing Buildings Against Violent Intrusion

Like many people, I watched the riot at the US Capitol on 6 January unfold live through reporting on TV. And as most, I was horrified to witness the surreal desecration of America’s most sacred symbol of democracy unfolding moment-by-moment. And as a security professional, that horror was amplified even further as I witnessed a cascading series of security failures with full awareness that angry mobs easily turn deadly when group passion supersedes rational judgement.

The next day, as America recovered from its emotional hangover, the leadership of the US Capitol Police was quickly called to reckon. There are obviously many, many questions which need to be answered.

The aim of this article is not to cast judgement about specific matters of security at the Capitol or attribute blame to specific parties. Any statements I could make beyond general critique at this point would be like “playing armchair quarterback without watching the entire game.” No doubt, there will be a comprehensive investigation of the incident and contributing factors which will result in an authoritative report. Rather, our aim in this article is to explore how security measures can be designed to avert similar disaster for the benefit of colleagues protecting other high-risk buildings around the world.

The remainder of this article is posted on the web site of our sister company, the S2 Safety & Intelligence Institute. Click here to read this article in its entirety.


5 Common Issues Contributing to Premises Liability in Apartment Communities

Premises Liability and Apartment Communities

5 Common Issues Contributing to Premises Liability in Apartment Communities

When it comes to reducing premises liability in apartment communities and multi-family housing, an old adage provides best advice:

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Yet despite this wisdom, many in the apartment industry remain persistent targets of lawsuits with reliance on insurance and legal strategy as the main defense against premise liability.

Although these types of “consequence management measures” are a universal element of managing risk, we have witnessed numerous situations over the past few years where even the best legal defense did little to protect against multi-million dollar verdicts.

A Structured Approach to Reducing Premises Liability Risk in Apartment Communities and Multi-Family Housing

A more evolved strategy for reducing liability risk implements a structured approach to security and safety aimed at preventing lawsuits and establishing conditions that limit vulnerability in the courtroom. In addition to reducing liability, effective security can improve the quality of life for residents by reducing crime and improving the residents’ perception of safety. This has the added benefit of reducing resident turnover and increasing property values by reducing vandalism.

5 Common Security Negligence Issues Contributing to Premises Liability in Apartment Communities and Multi-Family Housing

As a security consultant, I work exclusively in aiding property owners and managers in reducing liability through effective security and safety. I do this by assessing properties for conditions of concern and presenting recommendations for security and environmental improvement and management practices which reduce crime and positively influence human behavior and resident perceptions.

Although every property I work with is unique, certain problems seem to be recurring themes during my assessment activities. For purposes of this article, I’ll narrow our focus to the five most common issues contributing to criminal confidence and social and physical disorder within residential properties.

1. Lighting


Ensuring that properties are well-illuminated is one of the most basic principles of natural surveillance in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). A well-illuminated property:

      • Deters criminal activity by increasing the likelihood of a criminal being witnessed in the act.
      • Additionally, effective CCTV imaging requires adequate illumination to ensure proper documentation of persons and activity.
      • And beyond crime prevention, lighting is an important function of environmental safety and reduces the risk of nighttime accidents on property.

However, despite the importance of lighting and its potential influence on premise liability, this is a common issue in many of our property assessments.

To ensure lighting meets essential standards, it is recommended that a lighting assessment is conducted to systematically measure illumination levels in different locations using a light meter. Illuminance (the measure of how much the light illuminates a surface or area) is measured in foot-candles (FC) or lux. 1 FC is the amount of light that hits a 1 square foot surface when 1 lumen is shined from 1 foot away – which equates to 1 lumen per square foot.

Recommended Illumination Levels for Multi-Family Residential Properties

As consultants, we employ conservative CPTED guidelines and standards promoted by ASIS International as a basis for identifying locations with insufficient illumination. For instance:

CPTED & ASIS Illumination Guidelines

Although these guidelines are largely universal, many municipalities have lighting ordinances that may deviate from these guidelines and should be consulted as part of the assessment and design process.

Lighting Uniformity

Another important aspect of lighting is uniformity. Lighting uniformity affects our perception of the environment and our ability to safely navigate its features (e.g., walkways, stairs, etc.). Uniform lighting allows us to perceive the environment continuously and without sudden breaks caused by lighting level drops. Uniformity of lighting levels also impacts people’s perception of safety and security. Simply put, well-lit and uniformly illuminated areas make pedestrians feel more secure. A poorly lit parking lot, with severe variation (contrast) between peak and minimum illumination levels, feels darker, less secure, and may embolden criminal confidence.

To ensure uniformity, the type of light distribution pattern should be properly matched to the purpose. Following is a summary of light distribution patterns and recommended applications.

    • Type I distribution is a two-way lateral distribution having a preferred lateral width of 15 degrees in the cone of maximum candlepower and is great for lighting walkways, paths, and sidewalks. This type of lighting is meant to be placed near the center of the pathway. This provides adequate lighting for smaller pathways.
    • Type II light distributions have a preferred lateral width of 25 degrees and are used for wide walkways, on ramps and entrance roadways, as well as other long, narrow lighting. This type is meant for lighting larger areas and usually is located near the roadside. You’ll find this type of lighting mostly on smaller side streets or jogging paths.
    • Type III light distributions have a preferred lateral width of 40 degrees. This type has a wider illumination area if you make a direct comparison to type II LED distribution, and is meant for general roadway lighting, parking areas and other areas where a larger area of lighting is required.
    • Type IV distributions produce a semicircular light meant for mounting on the sides of buildings and walls. It’s best for illuminating the perimeter of parking areas and businesses. The intensity of the Type IV lighting has the same intensity at angles from 90 degrees to 270 degrees.

Modern LED light sources allow LED luminaires to more evenly dissipate light over large areas than HID (High-Intensity Discharge) light sources. Because LED lighting can more evenly illuminate an area, the space appears brighter and feels more secure. Replacing HID lighting with LED systems is a common recommendation in my reports. LED lighting also has excellent color rendition, meaning that light reflecting off the surface of objects displays the color more accurately. This makes it easier to accurately identify the color of a vehicle or the clothes an offender is wearing.

One of the most common issues I encounter during my assessments is insufficient illumination in places designated for human activity (e.g., sidewalks, playgrounds, parking lots, picnic areas, breezeways, mailboxes, residential building entrances, etc.). This is predominantly caused by the following issues:

    • Existing lights obstructed by trees, shrubbery, dirt, or insects.
Premises Liability and Apartment - Light Obstruction
    • Non-functional lights (e.g., burned-out light bulbs, damaged photocells, malfunctioning or incorrect ballasts, etc.)
Premises Liability and Apartment - Broken Lights
    • Incorrect usage of light types. For example, converting to LED lighting without properly retrofitting the fixture.
    • Insufficient illumination sources.
    • Incorrect light distribution types.
    • Light glare due to lack of shielding.
Premises Liability and Apartment - Glare Lighting

To assist clients in remedying lighting problems, we typically conclude our assessments by preparing a detailed lighting map identifying all luminaires on the property, the type of light fixtures in use, problematic lights, and metered illumination levels in locations so that problematic areas are clearly recognized. Specific recommendations for improvement are then submitted in the main body of the assessment report.

Lighting Map

2. CCTV / Cameras

Poorly designed and/or maintained CCTV systems are another common problem in residential properties. Common issues include:

    • Obstructed cameras
    • Improper positioning of cameras
    • Limited DVR storage
    • Insufficient illumination to support effective use of cameras
    • Malfunctioning or inoperative cameras

To address these problems, we recommend that property managers conduct a weekly camera inspection to ensure cameras are functioning properly and identify developing problems such as overgrown vegetation, etc. The inspection should ideally be conducted during nighttime since the cameras often appear to perform well during daytime, but may suffer under nighttime lighting conditions due to things like cobwebs, obstructions, and malfunctioning infrared illuminators.

Premises Liability and Apartment - CCTV Problems

We also commonly recommend using motion sensors for lights illuminating interior spaces under camera surveillance (e.g., clubhouses, fitness rooms, etc.). Lights activated by motion sensors can alert people when other individuals are present nearby, limit offender concealment, and provide indoor cameras with good illumination.

3. Landscaping

Landscaping design and maintenance also play an important role in crime prevention. As a symbolic barrier, landscaping can mark the transition between “zones,” define the property boundary, and discourage casual trespass. Landscaping can also serve as a barrier against committed intrusion when dense hedges or aggressive shrubbery are used.

When conducting assessments, I often encounter obstructed cameras and lights due to overgrown shrubbery, untrimmed trees, and other landscaping features. Overgrown shrubbery and untrimmed trees also provide an opportunity for offender concealment and embolden criminal confidence by restricting natural surveillance between residential units, parking lots and other areas designated for human activity. Overgrown shrubbery and untrimmed trees can result in liability issues.

A common recommendation in my reports is implementing a CPTED principle called the 2-feet/6-feet rule. Bushes and hedges are not to be taller than 2 feet, and tree canopies are not to be lower than 6-feet near areas designated for human activity. This approach ensures that visibility between three and six feet from the ground will always be relatively unimpaired.

CPTED Landscaping

4. Documenting crime, community rule violations, and nuisance activities

Reducing social disorder and evicting problematic residents is another critical aspect of crime prevention in multi-family housing. This includes ensuring we have good documentation of crimes on a property, community rule violations, and nuisance activities in preparation for potential eviction. In many properties I assess, it is just a handful of bad apples amongst the resident population which are responsible for many crimes on property and community perceptions of fear. Left unaddressed, this situation can lead to higher resident turnover rates, lower occupancy rates, property damage, and liability issues.

Documenting on hardcopy solely can lead to loss of documentation in case of fire, flooding, etc. so it is important to store your documentation in your property management software for example.

5. Security officers

Security officers are the property manager’s eyes and ears when the property manager is not on site. And if used correctly, it can function as a deterrent to crime and improve resident perceptions of safety.

Unfortunately, very few properties I assess effectively use security officers. Sometimes this problem results from security officers with inadequate training and skills. At other times, the property manager fails to define the officers’ duties and expectations for performance.

When contracting a security company or a courtesy officer for the property, the expectations and duties of officers should be clearly established. These expectations should be ideally defined in a ‘scope of work’ to the contract, or in the form of post orders for the property.

Security officers assigned to patrol the property need to be aware of locations where criminal or nuisance activity is common, and any units or residents of concern. Proper documentation by security officers in the form of a daily activity report increases the property manager’s awareness of activities occurring when the property staff is absent. The property manager can correspondingly take action to make the property a safer place.


Forced Entry Standards

Forced Entry Standards

The following article is provided as a technical reference to assist architects and security professionals in applying forced entry standards and/or evaluating the vulnerability of existing security barriers in situations where active shooter violence is a primary threat concern. 

Table of Contents

The key performance measure of an anti-personnel barrier is its delay time as determined by adversary tools and methods. Ideally, all barriers defining an independent protective layer (e.g., doors, glazing, locks, etc.) should be designed using the principles of balanced protection and provide delay as required to meet the system performance goal. Like a chain whose strength is defined by its weakest link, a protective layer (e.g., building facade, secure lobby, safe room, etc.) is only as effective as its weakest barrier or most easily exploited bypass.

For many types of barriers (e.g., reinforced concrete walls, glass glazing, etc.), delay time against some entry methods can be estimated by referencing testing data as published in Sandia National Laboratories’ Barrier Technology Handbook.[i] In the late 1970’s, Sandia collated penetration test data about different barrier types and construction variations to serve as a standard reference for security planners in the U.S. Government community. To this day, the Barrier Technology Handbook remains the “gold standard” reference for delay time data regarding many barrier types.

Although Sandia’s Barrier Technology Handbook is a useful reference, there are many barrier types and construction variations common today in commercial and academic facilities that were not tested or documented at the time of publication. Additionally, many methods of entry documented by Sandia have limited application in protecting against an adversary using a firearm as an aid in barrier penetration. For example, Sandia cites the mean delay time for penetrating 1/8″ tempered glass with a blunt tool (hammer) as 0.5 minutes.[ii] In penetration tests our company conducted of tempered glass windows using several shots from a handgun to penetrate glazing prior to impact by hand, delay time was approximately 10 seconds.[iii]

In the absence of reliable delay time data for many barrier types, security planners often need to rely on performance standards and ratings developed by organizations such as ANSI, ASTM, UL, CEN, and others. The best standards for specifying manufactured barrier products in a performance-based physical security design are those that most closely replicate the methods and tools likely to be employed by the defined threat and rate products based on delay time performance.

Several specification standards encompass impact testing and employ delay time performance as the primary basis for rating doors, glazing, and wall systems. Some of these standards include the U.S. State Department’s SD-STD-01.01, ASTM F3038-14, CPNI Manual Forced Entry Standard (MFES), and LPS 1175. [iv][v][vi][vii]

US Department of State SD-STD-01.01

The SD-STD-01.01 test protocol is designed to replicate the conditions of a mob attempting to forcibly penetrate a barrier specimen. The protocol involves a series of ballistic tests against different parts of the specimen (shotgun, 5.56mm, and 7.62 NATO), and forced entry tests involving a team of aggressors conducting a series of attacks against the specimen at different parts with the use of various tools (e.g., ram, sledgehammer, saw, bolt cutters, pry bar, chisel and hammer, etc.). The tools and number of active test personnel varies based on time of test. Specimens are rated according to their timed forced entry-resistance against three attack levels: Five minutes (two test personnel), Fifteen minutes (six test personnel and larger range of tools), or Sixty minutes (six test personnel and greatest range of tools).

ASTM F3038-14 

The ASTM F3038-14 testing protocol is structured similarly to SD-STD-01.01, but with some differences regarding number of attackers, ballistic resistance testing, and rating scale levels. ASTM’s testing approach involves six persons conducting a series of aggressive attacks against the barrier specimen with the use of various tools (e.g., ram, sledgehammer, saw, bolt cutters, pry bar, chisel and hammer, etc.). Different parts of the barrier are subjected to independent timed tests. When an opening large enough for test shape is breached and the object is passed through, the test is concluded.  Specimens are rated according to their timed forced entry-resistance against four levels of attack: Five minutes, Fifteen minutes, Thirty minutes, or Sixty minutes.

CPNI Manual Forced Entry Standard (MFES)

In the United Kingdom, CPNI’s Manual Forced Entry Standard (MFES) uses delay time against forced penetration as the basis for assigning performance ratings. The CPNI standard defines three levels of adversary (Novice, Knowledgeable, and Expert) in alignment with three threat levels (BASE, ENHANCED, and HIGH). Testing under each threat level involves two attackers, and each adversary category defines specific capabilities (e.g., tool sets, skill and experience, product knowledge, etc.). MFES resistance time classifications are defined by describing the threat level and delay time performance in increments from 0-20 minutes.

LPS 1175

The UK’s LPS 1175 also uses delay time as the basis for designating Security Ratings for barrier products including doors, windows, etc. Tests involve a single adversary and eight tool categories (A, B, C, D, D+, E, F, G), including a diverse range of impact, prying, and power tools. Each category references an adversary tactic, skill, tool set, desire to remain covert or overt, and motivation. Warrington Certification’s STS 202 is another standard in the U.K. encompassing similar test protocols and a delay time rating scheme.[viii]

Challenges in applying common specification standards in active shooter planning

Unfortunately, all of the aforementioned standards (SD-STD-01.01, ASTM F3038-14, CPNI MFES, LPS 1175, and STS 202) encompass tests with tools unlikely to be encountered in armed assaults (e.g., sledgehammers, chisels, pry bars, power tools, etc.). Also, the number of test personnel used in SD-STD-01.01 (at higher levels) and ASTM F3038-14 is much greater than realistically expected in armed attacks in Europe or North America. For standards such as these, choosing a barrier by simply matching delay time ratings to literal delay time goals may result in overkill for situations where protection against armed attacks is the principal objective. Although there is nothing wrong with conservative specification when the risk level is high or funds permit, many organizations with limited budgets may be wasting money that could be applied elsewhere.

Other standards employ pass/fail tests as the basis for rating. One example is ASTM F1233-08 (Standard Test Method for Security Glazing Materials and Systems), a common standard for defining requirements against forced entry in the United States.[ix] The ASTM F1233-08 protocol has a ballistic testing component and separate tests for forced entry protection using different tools based on five resistance classifications. Although the ASTM F1233-08 standard has merits for certain applications and includes a test procedure for ballistic resistance, the tool sets and sequence of tests defined in ASTM F1233-08 do not realistically replicate the methods of entry and tools likely to be employed by armed attackers in live assaults.

UL 972

Another American standard, UL 972 (Burglary-Resisting Glazing Material) uses dynamic load testing to simulate burglary attempts by the use of blunt object impact.[x] The UL 972 standard employs two separate procedures for High Impact Testing and Multiple Impact Testing. Both test procedures employ a 5 lb (2.3 kg) steel ball dropped at different heights (single impact at 40 feet and five impacts at 10 feet). UL 972 is not optimal for specifying protection against forced entry in active shooter attacks. First, the testing procedure in UL 972 does not consider the potential fragility of a glass specimen after first being penetrated by firearm projectile. Additionally, dynamic load testing does not provide useful delay time data necessary for determining the effectiveness of a safe room as one of several protective layers in an overall physical protection system (PPS) design. Quantitative performance-based PPS analysis tools, such as the Estimate of Adversary Sequence Interruption (EASI) model, require delay time input values that cannot be inferred from UL 972’s pass/fail type tests.[xi]

EN 1627-1630

EN 1627 and related standards EN 1628, EN 1629, and EN 1630 are commonly used in Europe and elsewhere to specify protective requirements for doors, windows, and similar barriers.[xii][xiii][xiv][xv] Tests performed under these standards include pendulum impactor strikes at various points to simulate a forced entry by kicking or blunt object impact (EN 1629), static load imparted by a mechanically-operated pressure pad system (EN 1628), and timed forced entry using various tools (EN 1630). Specimens are rated into one of six resistance classes based on overall performance against dynamic and static load tests and timed tool tests (e.g., cylinder extraction, cylinder twisting, etc.). Each resistance class relates to an anticipated threat (burglar, tools, and tactics) as defined in EN 1627. Unfortunately, as described previously regarding UL 972, dynamic and static load testing is not useful in a security design based on delay time objectives or collective PPS performance. Additionally, the tool sets defined in EN 1630 are also mostly burglary tools irrelevant during active shooter attacks.

EN 356

EN 356 is another CEN standard related to vulnerability of glazing systems against forced entry methods.[xvi] EN 356 uses a dropped impactor (4.11 kg steel sphere) and separate testing with a mechanically-operated fire axe to simulate burglary methods. Resistance against impact energy (based on height of impactor drop) and number of axe strikes determines the category of resistance. In the author’s opinion, EN 356 is also a suboptimal standard for defining protective requirements in safe room design for similar reasons mentioned in reference to EN 1627-1630 (e.g., tool sets, dynamic load resistance versus delay time, etc.).


Two related standards regarding mechanical locks with application in defining requirements for active shooter protection are ANSI/BHMA A156.2 (Bored and Preassembled Locks and Latches) and ANSI/BHMA A156.13 (Mortise Locks and Latches).[xvii][xviii] The ANSI/BHMA test procedures are designed to certify the durability, function, and strength of mechanical locks and latches against a series of static force and torque tests. Lock sets are classified into three grades (Grade 1-3) according to performance on all tests. Outside the United States, EN 12209 includes many of the same types of tests. Although ANSI/BHMA A156 and EN 12209 do not employ delay time as a basis for rating, they are some of the few standards that specifically evaluate door locksets against physical force. Most other standards related to security of mechanical locks (e.g., UL 437, EN 1303, etc.) evaluate performance against tool-aided methods of entry applicable to burglary (e.g., picking, impressioning, drilling, extraction, etc .) but unlikely to be used in armed assaults.

Some additional standards with potential application in specifying barrier products for use against forced entry include:

    • ASTM F2322 – Physical Assault on Fixed Horizontal Barriers for Detention and Correctional Facilities
    • ASTM F426 – Standard Test Method for Security of Swinging Door Assemblies
    • ASTM F1915 – Standard Test Methods for Glazing for Detention Facilities
    • ASTM F1450 – Standard Test Methods for Hollow Metal Swinging Door Assemblies for Detention and Correctional Facilities

[i] Barrier Technology Handbook, SAND77-0777. Sandia Laboratories, 1978.

[ii] Ibid, pp. 16.3-39.

[iii] Critical Intervention Services assisted a window film manufacturer in 2015 in conducting a series of timed penetration tests of unprotected tempered glass windows and glazing reinforced with anti-shatter film. A marketing video produced by the manufacturer displaying a few of these tests is available online: http://www.solargard.com/school-safety/

[iv] SD-STD-01.01, Revision G. Certification Standard. Forced Entry and Ballistic Resistance of Structural Systems. U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Washington, DC, 1993.

[v] ASTM F3038-14, Standard Test Method for Timed Evaluation of Forced-Entry-Resistant Systems, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2014

[vi] Manual Forced Entry Standard (MFES) Version 1.0. Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), N.p.: 2015.

[vii] LPS 1175: Issue 7.2., Requirements and testing procedures for the LPCB approval and listing of intruder resistant building components, strongpoints, security enclosures and free standing  barriers, Loss Prevention Certification Board, Watford, 2014.

[viii] STS 202, Requirements for burglary resistance of construction products including hinged, pivoted, folding or sliding doorsets, windows, curtain walling, security grilles, garage doors and shutters. Warrington Certification Limited, N.p. 2016.

[ix] ASTM F1233-08, Standard Test Method for Security Glazing Materials and Systems. ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2013.

[x] UL 972, Standard for Burglary Resisting Glazing Material. UL, N.p.: 2006.

[xi] Garcia, Mary Lynn. Vulnerability Assessment of Physical Protection Systems. Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, Burlington, MA, 2006.

[xii] EN 1627:2011, Pedestrian doorsets, windows, curtain walling, grilles and shutters. Burglar resistance. Requirements and classification. Brussels: European Committee for Standardization, 2011.

[xiii] EN 1628:2011, Pedestrian doorsets, windows, curtain walling, grilles and shutters. Burglar resistance. Test method for the determination of resistance under static loading. European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2011.

[xiv] EN 1629:2011, Pedestrian doorsets, windows, curtain walling, grilles and shutters. Burglar resistance. Test method for the determination of resistance under dynamic loading. European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2011.

[xv] EN 1630:2011, Pedestrian doorsets, windows, curtain walling, grilles and shutters. Burglar resistance. Test method for the determination of resistance to manual burglary attempts. European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2011.

[xvi] Glass in building. Security glazing. Testing and classification of resistance against manual attack, EN 356:2000. Brussels: European Committee for Standardization, 2000.

[xvii] ANSI/BHMA A156.2, Bored & Preassembled Locks and Latches. Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA), New York, NY, 2011.

[xviii] ANSI/BHMA A156.13, Mortise Locks and Latches. Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA), New York, NY, 2011.


Egress Design and The Active Shooter Threat (Pt. 10)

Egress Design and The Active Shooter Threat (Pt. 10)

Egress planning is often regarded as a life safety matter with influence on security, but otherwise a discipline independent from physical protection. However, when preparing facilities for active shooter violence, egress design should be approached as an integral component of our protective strategy.

As discussed in earlier articles in this series, security measures and facility preparations should be carefully designed to augment and anticipate the actions of building occupants. For people located at ground level during an attack or in building locations without safe refuge options, escape (what DHS calls ‘Run’) is the preferred response. To effectively facilitate this response, escape routes should be readily available that permit fast and unobstructed egress to safe outdoor locations away from the facility.

Although all buildings are required to comply with life safety codes related to emergency egress, International Building Code (IBC), NFPA 101, International Fire Code (IFC), and municipal codes often fall short in considering the unique dynamics of evacuation during armed events. Historically, these codes were designed with fire as the focus and don’t fully account for issues such as severe impairment of evacuees due to sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation, the unpredictable actions of mobile attackers, and lack of situational awareness that may render multiple exit routes unsafe or at least perceived by evacuees as potentially-dangerous.

Many facilities rely on the advice of fire marshals and the results of inspection reports as a measure of readiness. Candidly speaking, this is a major concern. Aside from the inadequacy of current regulations, I often find violations of existing code during my work as a consultant that have somehow survived years of inspection.

So let’s take a walk beyond IBC and NFPA and explore considerations for designing an egress plan optimized to support response actions during active shooter events.

Egress Routes

To ensure building occupants have options for escape regardless of an attacker’s location, alternate egress routes should exist from all normally-occupied areas providing versatile access to safe exits. In most situations, providing two or more alternate egress paths from each occupied area (routed in different directions) is sufficient.

In newly-constructed buildings, identifying alternate egress paths isn’t usually difficult. In facilities constructed before modern building code, options are often limited. 

During the 2008 assault on the Leopold Café in Mumbai, approximately 30 people were eating dinner in a narrow corridor of booths located on the second level when the attack commenced.[1] There was only a single stairwell and no room on the second floor capable of safe refuge. Fortunately for those on the second floor, the terrorists were satisfied after killing ten people and wounding numerous others and never noticed the unlocked door discreetly leading upstairs.

The Bataclan Theater in Paris, attacked by Islamic State terrorists in 2015, was another example of a building with limited escape options. At the time of the attack, there were three exits accessible to the public. One was the main entrance on Boulevard Voltaire and two emergency exits which discharged into an alley on the south-side of the building.[2] With the main entrance blocked by the terrorists’ presence, people located on the dance floor and north-side of the building had no way to escape without passing the attackers’ aim.

Bataclan Theater Exits

Installing new exits is the obvious solution to this problem. However, in situations where there are no options due to adjacent buildings (such as the Bataclan Theater) or similar circumstances, consider upgrading or constructing rooms for safe refuge purposes. As an additional measure, explore options for providing unconventional routes of escape as described later in this article.

The capacity of exits is another matter to consider. In situations where it is predictable that attackers will approach from a specific direction, expect a panicked reaction as everyone seeks to escape away from the gunman’s location. When faced with an imminent threat, people instinctively flee the direction of harm. Now if there are few people in the area, this type of reaction usually poses no special problems. But locations where this concern arises are often highly-populated and confined areas with limited exit options.

As discussed in Part 6 of this series, many armed attacks by outsider adversaries originate through public entrance doors and shooting commences immediately. This behavior has been very consistent in attacks against public buildings such as nightclubs, churches, and museums. In this situation, the natural reaction of people is to flee toward the opposite side of the room often resulting in tripping, trampling, and a bottleneck near whatever exit doors are present.

In some cases, the presence of furniture and other obstructions prohibit many from even reaching the exits. This situation has been especially common in attacks against church sanctuaries where the location of pews often block people from quickly reaching exits in the front of the room.

Church Attack Infographic Diagram

If this concern is foreseen during the initial design phase, solutions are often easy and don’t require major investment. For those with existing buildings, remedy often involves some expense.

If dangerous congestion is predicted at single-door exits, consider enlarging the present exits with the use of double-doors. If enlargement is insufficient or the situation prohibits modifying existing exits, consider installing new exits as illustrated in the following example.

Upgrading Church Sanctuary for Active Shooters

In some cases, the situation can be eased by simply working with what’s available. In several buildings we’ve assessed with this concern, locked doors were present in areas where congestion was predicted providing access to service corridors or private hallways. By unlocking these doors and equipping them with appropriate hardware, we can provide an additional route of escape and ease congestion at the existing exits. However, implementing this solution may require other measures to address new concerns about public access into previously secured areas.

As a final point about escape paths, egress routes should be intuitive and simple to navigate under high-stress conditions. Several years ago I conducted an assessment of a community center building during the final phase of a major renovation. Unfortunately, most construction was nearly finished before we had a chance to offer useful comment. One of my greatest concerns in this situation was the addition of a new building level (earmarked for after-school programs) featuring two stairwells that discharged one level below into a second-floor hallway. After exiting to the second floor, evacuees were required to proceed down the hall to access a different stairwell in order to reach the first-floor exits. Despite the approval of local authorities, this type of complex egress path should be firmly avoided in active shooter planning. In the absence of any alternatives, our advice was to build a robust safe room in the kids’ area with sufficient capacity and train staff that lockdown is their only safe response during an attack.

Exit Signage

Exit signage should be clearly visible inside all work areas and hallways and direct evacuees to the most accessible stairwells or discharge doors. These are obvious points, but this subject is a common problem in many facilities. Where I encounter this issue most frequently is in renovated buildings that have changed their original room configuration or created expansive workspaces with cubicle walls. When facilities reconfigure walls and don’t update exit signage correspondingly, the result is often chaos—Signage directing evacuees to dead ends or locked doors, signage leading into areas with no further direction, locations where no signage is visible, etc.

Exit Signage Problems

Another problem, albeit less common, are situations where signage was incorrect from the beginning. Some time ago, I encountered a facility where the exit signage plan was similar to a puzzle game. Most arrows directed me in a circuitous loop around the outside of the floor and nowhere near the exit stairwells (which were positioned in interior hallways). Realizing I was walking in a circle, I followed alternate directional arrows and found myself at a dead end elevator landing with no nearby exits. Bear in mind, we’ve been conducting assessments of this type for years. If I can’t find my way out of a building, it’s likely a deathtrap during an active shooter attack.

If a building is configured with tall cubicle arrangements or corridors constructed of glass walls, consider placing directional signage on the floor if overhead visibility is a problem. In facilities like this, ceiling-mounted exit signage is often difficult to locate due to obstruction or the hall-of-mirrors type atmosphere often created in narrow corridors lined by glass. In these cases, providing additional signage on floors is often effective.

Emergency Stairwells

Exit stairwells should be well illuminated and clear of obstructions. Although these points are universally mandated under building and fire codes, this is another common area of concern.

On the subject of stairwell lighting, IBC permits illumination levels of 1 fc (10.8 Lux) and NFPA dictates 10 fc (108 Lux).[3] [4] Regardless of your location and regulatory mandates, I strongly recommend adopting the NFPA specification of 10 fc (108 Lux) as a minimum guideline. Over the years, I have assessed a number of facilities (particularly in Europe and the Middle East) where stairwell illumination was so poor I needed to use a flashlight to safely navigate the stairs.

Obstruction is another common problem. In the absence of adequate storage rooms, many facilities resort to stairwell landings as convenient spaces for overflow.

Egress Obstructions at Exit Doors

The location of stairwells is another issue to consider. In armed attacks against multi-floor buildings, the ground-level is often where the attack originates and may be a dangerous location while an event is active. If building occupants are not aware of the exact location of the threat, the combined effects of fear and lack of situational awareness may make people hesitant to evacuate if they need to navigate through interior hallways to access exits. This issue is often compounded further by the effects of the SNS on problem-solving ability.

To address these concerns, emergency stairwells should ideally discharge directly outdoors through exit doors at ground-level. Stairwells that discharge into lobbies or central hallways should be strictly avoided. If a facility has stairwells that discharge into potentially hazardous areas, employees should be warned of which stairwells to avoid as part of their active shooter training.

Stairwell Escape During Active Shooter Events

If an exit stairwell has multiple doors at ground-level, signage should be clearly visible indicating the proper door for discharge. Although this is not a common problem, I occasionally encounter situations where there are multiple doors at the base of a stairwell and no clear indication of which is the proper exit door. In this situation, choosing the wrong door may be a fateful decision.

Another matter to consider is the possibility of stairwells being used by attackers in navigating the building. During attacks inside multi-level structures, adversaries frequently use stairwells to move between levels.  A few examples include attacks at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center (2019), Corinthia Hotel Tripoli (2015), and Washington Navy Yard (2013).[5]

Addressing this concern raises several challenges.

First, it is often cost-prohibitive to install CCTV cameras in stairwells in a manner suitable for tracking movement between floors (and especially in high rise structures). So if we have a control room employing CCTV to monitor the progress of attackers, stairwells are often a blind spot. Second, although IBC permits interior stairwell doors to be locked against entry from the stairwell side, code requires that interior stairwell doors are “capable of being unlocked simultaneously without unlatching upon a signal from the fire command center…[or] signal by emergency personnel from a single location inside the main entrance…” [6] NFPA regulations are different in detail, but the same concern is present. As discussed further in this article, the fail-safe operation of electrified locks is a major concern during active shooter attacks.

To address the possibility of adversaries navigating floors by stairwell, it may be permissible in some locations to install barriers inside existing stairwells featuring secured egress doors and exit bar devices to restrict upward movement. The photo below is an example of this type of barrier using wire mesh and an acrylic panel to prevent manipulation of the door handle. Although I like this approach in concept, code requirements should be carefully assessed before implementing this type of measure.

Stairwell Cage Barrier

If the Design Basis Threat is an outsider adversary and placing barriers inside stairwells is permissible, I recommend installing them between ground-level and the next higher floor. This recommendation is based on the fact that most attacks by outsiders initiate at ground-level. In the case of buildings with interior public staircases providing access to second or third levels (such as a hotel with a mezzanine), the placement of stairwell barriers should be adjusted accordingly.

Exit Doors

Exit doors should be clearly visible and identified by overhead signage. Although this is not a common issue of concern, situations occasionally arise where architects have visually concealed the exit doors to create a unified aesthetic appearance. Following is an image illustrating this concern provided by Lori Greene, Manager of Codes & Resources at iDigHardware (Allegion).

Avoid the use of electromagnetic locks on egress doors!

Although mag locks offer versatile benefit in access control design, they present several problems during active shooter attacks. First, building and life safety codes universally require that egress doors equipped with mag locks fail safe (unlocked) during fire alarms. In this situation, every alarm pull station inside the building is a ‘virtual master key’ and will compromise all doors equipped with mag locks with one pull of a handle.[7] We have had multiple attacks where fire alarms were manually activated by building occupants (e.g., 2013 Washington Navy Yard), activated by smoke or dust (e.g., 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, 2008 Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai, etc.), or used by attackers to deceptively herd victims outdoors for ambush (e.g., 1998 Westside Middle School, 2013 UCF, 2015 Corinthia Hotel Tripoli, etc.).[8] [9] [10]

In addition to fire alarms, mag locks also fail safe if electricity is disrupted for any reason such as an extended power outage or if lines are damaged during an explosion. This is a particular concern in situations where the Design Basis Threat includes terrorists employing body-worn IEDs.

As an added concern, electromagnetic locks require door-mounted exit hardware (e.g., switch, lever, etc.) or alternatively, an exit sensor to unlock egress doors when an alarm is not activated. In many facilities I encounter, solitary wall-mounted push-to-exit (PTE) switches are used for this purpose despite code requirements stipulating door-mounted hardware or exit sensors. Furthermore, PTE switches used for this purpose are often small in size and easily overlooked when people are trying to escape under high stress conditions. Poor placement of PTE switches compounds this problem even further. During assessments, I often find PTE switches mounted away from doors in a manner that requires evacuees to stop and scan the area for a switch.

As a tragic example of this concern, in the 2019 shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, 17 people were killed while trapped at an exit door operated by a PTE switch. [11] It is unclear from news reports whether the door failed to open because of an electrical problem or if there was difficulty by evacuees in locating and operating the PTE switch.

Exit sensors for mag locks often pose a different problem. If an exit sensor is placed above doors in a high traffic area, every time someone passes the sensor the door is unlocked. I’ve encountered many facilities where intrusion was as simple as waiting outside a door for a few minutes and listening for a click.

An even greater concern is when facilities opt not to install PTE switches or exit sensors on doors as a means of restricting use for fire evacuation only. The image below displays a bank of controlled exit doors at the entrance of an expo hall. To direct patrons to a nearby revolving door, the facility management decided (in violation of code) not to install PTE switches or exit sensors. When I inquired about this matter, I was assured that the fire alarm and/or control room operator would disengage the doors during an emergency. Nevertheless, if the operator is disabled or delayed in responding to an attack, the consequences of mass evacuation through this area would be tragic.

For access control purposes, we generally recommend using electrified panic bar devices or electric strikes with mechanical hardware. During an evacuation, electrified exit bar devices operate identically to mechanical exit bars—push the bar and the door opens. Aside from ease of operation, doors equipped with electrified exit bars and electric strikes can remain secured during power disruption and fire alarms (withstanding stairwell doors and other situations as defined by code).  

As a final point about access control, avoid the use of delayed egress on exit doors. Many facilities employ egress delays (15-seconds or 30-seconds) as a means of discouraging occupants from exiting through doors reserved for emergency purposes. Although egress delays are often useful for channeling occupants to designated exits, any measure which delays escape during an attack increases the risk of avoidable casualties.

The following video illustrates how long 30 seconds is while standing at an exit door during an active shooter attack.

Unconventional Exit Options

When normally discussing the topic of egress, ground-level exit doors are presumed to be the main points of building discharge. However, during active shooter events, there are often many opportunities for escape that don’t meet the standards of fire code.

For people located on higher building levels, it is often safer to escape upward toward the roof than downward through stairwells. During the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack, employees of a company located on the third floor above the Charlie Hebdo office sought safety on the rooftop due to concern about gunfire penetrating their office. In the 2004 attack at the Oasis Compound in Saudi Arabia, two people hid on a roof for two days before rescue. Several employees at Washington Navy Yard’s Building 197 also took refuge on a roof rather than risk harm below.[12]

As part of active shooter training, advise employees about the availability of the roof as a safe area. And if the roof is presently locked, consider placing an escape key near all rooftop doors specifically for use during an active shooter event. If safety concerns override the decision to place escape keys near doors, consider installing electrified locks on the rooftop doors that can be released through a lockdown event macro programmed in the building’s access control software.

Roof Top Escape Key

During an attack, any window less than three stories or aperture large enough to crawl is a potential route of escape. In the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall, students in Room 204 escaped by jumping out the second story windows of their classroom.[13] During the 2016 siege at the Pulse nightclub, eight people escaped through an air conditioning vent with police assistance. In the 2013 attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall, people in a restaurant also escaped by crawling through an air vent.

Window Escape During Active Shooter Attacks

If our present building has windows and other unconventional escape opportunities, make note of these options and advise employees during active shooter training. Simply mentioning the examples already cited in this article calls attention to the possibilities and provides a point of reference if employees ever find themselves trapped during an attack.

Now if we are working with an existing structure, it usually doesn’t make sense from a cost-benefit perspective to install new windows or make other building alterations specifically to facilitate unconventional modes of escape. An exception to this might be situations like the Bataclan Theater (described earlier in this article) where the absence of exits is a major concern and there are no options for remedy.

When designing new facilities, consider placing windows in select locations where it is likely people will be trapped during an attack. One example is public restrooms. Although public restrooms rarely feature door locks, they are commonly used by people seeking refuge during active shooter attacks. If we anticipate this problem and the restroom is adjacent to an exterior wall at ground level, install a 24” tall horizontal sliding window just below the ceiling to provide anyone trapped in the restroom with a possible means of escape. If this had been done at the Pulse nightclub, thirteen people might be alive today.[14]

[1] Details provided by a confidential source during the author’s visit to the Leopold Café in 2016.

[2] Details confirmed during the author’s visit to the Bataclan Theater in 2018.

[3] 2015 International Building Code. Chapter 10 (Means of Egress). International Code Council. N.p. 2015.

[4] NFPA 101 (1)

[5] After Action Report. Washington Navy Yard. September 16, 2013. Internal Review of the Metropolitan Police Department. Metropolitan Police Department. Washington, D.C. July 2014.

[6] 2015 International Building Code. Chapter 10 (Means of Egress). International Code Council. N.p. 2015.

[7] As a caveat to that statement, NFPA 101 states that the pull stations don’t have to unlock the doors: The activation of manual fire alarm boxes that activate the building fire-protective signaling system specified in shall not be required to unlock the door leaves. (Comment by Lori Greene, iDigHardware)

[8] Initial Report Submitted to the Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate President. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. January 2, 2019.

[9] After Action Report. Washington Navy Yard. September 16, 2013. Internal Review of the Metropolitan Police Department. Metropolitan Police Department. Washington, D.C. July 2014.

[10] Harms, A.G. UCF After-Action Review. Tower #1 Shooting Incident. March 18, 2013. Final Report. N.p. May 31, 2013.

[11] “’It doesn’t open’: Christchurch mosque survivors describe terror at the door” Stuff. March 28, 2019, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/christchurch-shooting/111632051/it-doesnt-open-christchurch-mosque-survivors-describe-terror-at-the-door. Accessed 25 March 2020.

[12] After Action Report. Washington Navy Yard. September 16, 2013. Internal Review of the Metropolitan Police Department. Metropolitan Police Department. Washington, D.C. July 2014.

[13] Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech. April 16, 2007. Report of the Review Panel. Virginia Tech Review Panel. August 2007.

[14] Harris, Alex. “New details emerge about where the victims of the Pulse massacre died.” Miami Herald. June 14, 2017, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article144586874.html. Accessed 13 March 2020.


Physical Security Design and The Active Shooter (Pt. 1)

Physical Security and Active Shooter Attacks

Physical Security Design and The Active Shooter (Pt. 1)

When many people think of physical security, the first ideas that come to mind are things like locks, alarm systems, screening with metal detectors, CCTV, etc.—hardware components or procedures. Although these elements play a role in physical security, they have no value outside the context of the overarching system design.

In the context of active assailant attacks, performance-based physical security design integrates Detection, Delay, and Response elements in a manner that mathematically reconciles the time required for an adversary to commence mass killing and the time required for detection and response by security or police.

Fundamentally, physical security design is a mathematics problem defined by several key times and probabilities. The main performance metric of a Physical Protection System (PPS) design is its Probability of Interruption, defined as the probability that an adversary will be detected and intercepted by a response force before he/she can complete their objective.[1] The most important elements determining the Probability of Interruption are the Adversary Task Time (total time required for an adversary to enter a facility and access their target) and response force time. If the total time for detection, assessment, communications, and response force intervention is longer than the adversary task time, the system will fail. Specific elements alone (such as having an access control system or CCTV cameras) mean nothing outside the context of the overall system design. Individual PPS elements must work together integrally to reconcile these key times or the adversary will succeed.

In the context of active shooter events, detection usually is the result of visual or audible observation when the attack commences. Detection may also result from an alarm signal generated by forced entry into secured spaces or gunshot detection systems. The Time of Detection during an attack is represented in figure 1 as TD.

The time the report is received by authorities and/or assessed by a security control room for deployment of on-site armed officers is represented in the diagram as TA (Time of Assessment).

After the 911/112 center or security control room is alerted, the response force is subsequently dispatched to intercept and neutralize the adversary. This is represented in the following diagram as the Time of Interruption (TI).

Physical Protection System Times and Functions

While the alert and response force deployment is in progress, the adversary advances through barriers and distance to access targets and initiate mass killing. The time mass killing is in progress is represented in the previous diagram as Time of Completion (TC). The Adversary Task Time is the cumulative time between the Time of Detection and the Time of Completion. If the Time of Interruption is before the Time of Completion, the Physical Protection System (PPS) is successful in its function of preventing mass killing.

In most previous active shooter attacks, deficiencies in one or more key functional elements (Detection, Delay, or Response) result in a situation where mass killing (TC) initiates before the response force intervenes (TI).

Based on data yielded during several studies of active shooter attacks, the consequences of the difference in time between commencement of mass killing and response force intervention (TC versus TI) can be estimated as one casualty per 15 seconds.[2] 

Physical Security and Active Shooter Planning

Although the ideal objective of PPS design is to interrupt mass killing before it commences, real world conditions often limit the possibility of achieving a high Probability of Interruption. This type of situation is often common in ‘soft target’ facilities due to the need for unobstructed public access and facilities reliant on the unpredictable response times of off-site police. Other real world challenges such as cultural expectations, branding, and budget boundaries often limit the feasibility of implementing ideal physical security measures. And if an attack is launched by an insider adversary (e.g., employee, student, etc.) already inside the facility, physical protection elements at outer protective layers (e.g., perimeter, building envelope, entrances, etc.) will have little or no benefit.

Nevertheless, all measures that increase Adversary Task Time and expedite response time have a direct benefit in reducing potential casualties by narrowing the gap between TC and TI.

Sandy Hook Elementary School, 14 December 2012: Case Study of Performance-Based Physical Security Principles in Practical Application

 At approximately 09:34, Adam Lanza used an AR-15 rifle to shoot through a tempered glass window adjacent to the school’s locked entrance doors and passed into the lobby.[3]

 After killing the school principal and a school psychologist and injuring two other staff members who entered the hallway to investigate, Lanza entered the school office. Meanwhile, staff members concealed inside the school office and nearby rooms initiated the first calls to 911. Staff located throughout the building were alerted when the ‘all-call’ button on a telephone was accidentally activated during a 911 call.

After finding no targets in the office, Lanza returned to the hallway and proceeded into the unlocked door of first grade classroom 8 where mass murder commenced (approx. 09:36).[4] In less than two minutes, Lanza killed two teachers and fifteen students.

Sandy Hook Elementary Attack Diagram

As the attack in classroom 8 was in progress, teacher Victoria Soto and a teaching assistant in classroom 10 attempted to conceal children in cabinets and a closet.

After exhausting targets in classroom 8, Lanza proceeded into classroom 10 and killed Ms. Soto, assistant Anne Murphy, and five children. Although the exact reason Ms. Soto did not lock the door to classroom 10 is unknown, all classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School featured ANSI/BHMA “classroom-function” (mortise F05 and bored F84) locks which can only be locked with a key from the hallway-side of the door.

The tragedy ended in classroom 10 when Lanza committed suicide at 09:40 while police were preparing for entry into the building.

As common in U.S. primary schools, Sandy Hook Elementary School relied on off-site police as their response force during emergency events. Response was first initiated at 09:35 when a staff member called 911 to report the crisis. At 09:36, an alert was broadcast by radio and police units were dispatched to the school. The first police unit arrived at 09:39, followed immediately by two other units. After assessing the scene and planning a point of entry, the officers organized into a contact team and made entry into the school at 09:44.

In the context of physical protection system performance, the adversary task time (time between when Lanza’s entry commenced and mass killing was in progress) at Sandy Hook Elementary School was approximately 23 seconds. The time between detection of the attack and on-site arrival of police was slightly less than three minutes. However, there was an additional 5-6 minutes of time as officers assessed the situation and organized before making entry and effectively moving indoors to neutralize the killer. When assessing incidents involving response by off-site police, arrival time at the scene is irrelevant. What matters is the time ending when police arrive at the immediate location of the adversary ready to neutralize the threat. This describes the contrast between On-Site Response Time and Effective Response Time. At Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Effective Response Time was approximately nine minutes.

As illustrated in the following table, the variation between Adversary Task Time and Effective Response Time witnessed at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been historically common during active assailant attacks. In each of the six events documented below, mass killing was in full progress within 1-3 minutes of the time the attacker entered the building or shot the first victim. By comparison, the Effective Response Times ranged between 7 and 38 minutes, with most events ending prior to intervention by police when the attacker(s) escaped or committed suicide.

Active Shooter Timeline Infographic

Mitigating the consequences of active shooter attacks through better physical security design and integration


In the Newtown tragedy, PPS failure was largely the result of inadequate delay in relation to the time required for response by off-site police. When the attack is analyzed using Sandia’s Estimate of Adversary Sequence Interruption (EASI) Model, the original PPS at Sandy Hook Elementary School would have had a Probability of Interruption of 0.0006 (Very Low).

Sandy Hook Shooting Timeline
Sandy Hook Shoting - EASI Attack Analysis

In the case of Sandy Hook Elementary School, there are a number of measures that could have improved overall system performance.

Upgrade the facade with intrusion-resistant glazing. Adam Lanza entered the building by bypassing the locked entrance doors and shooting a hole through the adjacent tempered glass window. He then struck the fractured window and climbed through the breach. Tempered safety glass is generally only 4-5 times resistant to impact as annealed glass and provides minimal delay against forced intrusion. According to testing documented by Sandia National Laboratories, 0.25 inch tempered glass provides 3-9 seconds of delay against an intruder using a fire axe and the mean delay time for penetrating 1/8″ tempered glass with a hammer is 0.5 minutes.[5] However, impact testing documented by Sandia did not account for the fragility of a tempered glass specimen after first being penetrated by firearm projectile. In penetration tests Critical Intervention Services conducted of 1/4-inch tempered glass windows using several shots from a 9mm handgun to penetrate glazing prior to impact by hand, delay time was only 10 seconds.[6]

Upgrading facade glazing with the use of mechanically-attached anti-shatter film could have improved delay time at the exterior protective layer by 60-90 seconds.[7]

Construct an interior protective layer to delay access from the lobby into occupied school corridors. Once Adam Lanza breached the exterior facade into the school lobby, there were no additional barrier layers delaying access into areas occupied by students and faculty. A significant percentage of active shooter assaults by outsider adversaries originate through main entrances and progress into occupied spaces.[8] Some examples include attacks at the Riena Nightclub (2017), Pulse Nightclub (2016), Charlie Hebdo Office (2015), Inland Regional Center (2015), Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood (2015), Centre Block Parliament Bldg (2014), and US Holocaust Memorial Museum (2009).
An ideal lobby upgrade would be designed to facilitate reception of visitors while securing the interior of the school through a protective layer constructed of intrusion-resistant materials. Depending on material specifications, an interior barrier layer could have delayed Adam Lanza’s progress into the school by an additional 60-120 seconds.
Sandy Hook Elementary School Lobby Concept

Replace “classroom-function” locks on school doors with locks featuring an interior button or thumbturn. All classroom doors inside Sandy Hook Elementary were equipped with ANSI “classroom-function” locks (mortise F05 and bored F84). These are perhaps the worst choice of locks possible for lockdown purposes during active shooter events. As witnessed in a number of attacks, doors equipped with classroom-function locks often remain unlocked due to difficulty locating or manipulating keys under stress. In addition to Sandy Hook classroom 10, another incident where this situation clearly contributed to unnecessary casualties was the 2007 Virginia Tech Norris Hall attack.[9] In these two events alone, 26 students and faculty were killed and 24 wounded specifically because the doors to classrooms could not be reliably secured.

Ideal specifications for door locks would be ANSI/BHMA A156 Grade 1 with an ANSI lock code of F04 or F82.[10] Mechanical locks rated ANSI/BHMA Grade 1 have been successfully evaluated under a variety of static force and torque tests. Locks coded as F04 and F82 feature buttons or thumbturns to facilitate ease of locking under stress.

Although there are no empirical sources citing tested forced entry times against ANSI/BHMA A156 Grade 1 rated locks, it is estimated that a committed adversary using impact force with no additional tools could penetrate improved locks in approximately 90-110 seconds.

Replace door vision panels with intrusion-resistant glazing. During the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary, Adam Lanza was able to enter classrooms 8 and 10 directly through unlocked doors. If these classrooms were secured, the tempered glass vision panels on all classroom doors could have been easily breached to facilitate entry in less than 10 seconds.

An effective approach to physical security specification would ensure that all barriers composing the classroom protective layer are composed of materials with similar delay time values. This could be accomplished by ensuring that vision panels are no wider than 1.5″ (3.8 cm) or constructed of intrusion-resistant glazing such as laminated glass, polycarbonate, or reinforced with anti-shatter film.

If the aforementioned barrier improvements were employed in the PPS design at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Adam Lanza’s access into occupied classrooms would have been delayed by an additional 162-312 seconds. This would have improved the overall performance of the PPS by potentially increasing the Adversary Task Time to 185-335 seconds before mass killing was in progress. Although this is a significant improvement from the original Adversary Task Time (est. 23 seconds), 335 seconds is still less than the estimated response time of police during the original event (est. 544 seconds).

In many cases, accomplishing the performance-based objective of interrupting an active shooter before mass killing commences requires a combined approach aimed at both increasing delay time and decreasing response force time. In the case of Sandy Hook Elementary School, decreased response time could have been facilitated by the use of gunshot detection technology or duress alarms, improved communications procedures, and similar improvements. Any measure that decreases alert notification and response times has a beneficial impact on system performance. Even if enhancements only reduce response time by 10 or 15 seconds, such improvements have the theoretical benefit of reducing casualties by one victim per fifteen seconds of decreased response time.

In the situation of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the greatest improvement could have resulted from having an on-site response force (e.g., armed school resource officer) capable of reliably responding anywhere on the school campus within 120 seconds of alert.[11] If this measure were implemented, the total estimated alert and response time could have been improved to 147-157 seconds. When compared to the increased Adversary Task Time of 206-316 seconds, the improved PPS design would have likely resulted in interruption before mass homicide commenced. When analyzed using Sandia’s Estimate of Adversary Sequence Interruption (EASI) Model, the improved PPS would have resulted in a Probability of Interruption of 0.87 (Very High).

The following table and spreadsheet models the PPS improvements described in this article to demonstrate how performance-based physical security design can influence the outcome of armed attacks.

Sandy Hook Elementary - Improved Security Design
Sandy Hook Elementary Physical Security

Threat Characteristics and Physical Security Performance

The delay time expectations of physical barriers cited in this article were based on the weaponry and methods of entry employed by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If Lanza had employed different tools or methods, the delay time of barriers would have correspondingly been different. The same principle is true for bullet-resistant barriers. The ballistic resistance of materials is directly relative to the caliber and type of ammunition used by an adversary.

To ensure a security design performs as expected, it is first necessary to establish a definition of the adversary’s likely capabilities and tactics. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll continue this discussion by exploring trends in the behavior of attackers, threat capabilities and methods, and approaches to developing a Design Basis Threat (DBT) suitable for security planning.

[1] Garcia, Mary Lynn. Design and Evaluation of Physical Protection Systems. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007.

[2] Anklam, Charles, Adam Kirby, Filipo Sharevski, and J. Eric Dietz. “Mitigating Active Shooter Impact: Analysis for Policy Options Based on Agent/computer-based Modeling.” Journal of Emergency Management 13.3 (2014): 201-16.

[3] Sedensky, Stephen J. Report of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 36 Yogananda Street, Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Danbury, Ct.: Office of the State’s Attorney. Judicial District of Danbury, 2013. Print.

[4] Time estimated based on witness event descriptions and assessment of time required to walk through the school office and down the corridor to classroom 8.

[5] Barrier Technology Handbook, SAND77-0777. Sandia Laboratories, 1978.

[6] Critical Intervention Services assisted a window film manufacturer in 2015 in conducting a series of timed penetration tests of 1/4-inch tempered glass windows with mechanically-attached 11 mil window film. The tests involved penetration by firearm followed by impact (kicking and rifle buttstock). The delay times ranged from 62 to 94 seconds and deviated according to the aggression of our penetration tester.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Gundry, Craig S. “Analysis of 20 Marauding Terrorist Firearm Attacks.” Preparing for Active Shooter Events. ASIS Europe 2017, 30 Mar. 2017, Milan, Italy.

[9] Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech. April 16, 2007. Report of the Review Panel. Virginia Tech Review Panel. August 2007. pp.13.

[10] ANSI/BHMA A156.13, Mortise Locks and Latches. Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA), New York, NY, 2011.

[11] CIS Guardian SafeSchool Program® standards define a performance benchmark of 120 seconds as the maximum time for acceptable response by on-site officers. However, achieving this type of response time in many facilities requires careful consideration of facility geography, communications systems, access obstructions, and officer capabilities (e.g., training, physical conditioning, etc.).

The MSDHS Commission Report – A Security Expert’s Critique (1/2)

MSDHS Public Safety Commission Report
By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

On 02 January 2019, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) Public Safety Commission released its initial report detailing the February 2018 tragedy at MSD High School and system failures contributing to the event. Appendix B. of the report (“Target Hardening,” pages 345-350) describes proposed measures for improved security and emergency readiness in Florida schools.

The Commission’s new report follows a previous briefing released in November 2018 where target hardening measures under consideration were first presented to the public. In December, CIS submitted a critique to the Commission regarding proposed measures under consideration with the intention of correcting a number of inaccurate statements, important omissions, and a few dangerous recommendations. To the credit of the MSDHS Public Safety Commission, several of the problems described in our previous submission to the Commission have been remedied in the new report. 

Nevertheless, a number of our original concerns remain unaddressed. Although Critical Intervention Services applauds the State’s commitment to improved school security and the great effort of the MSDHS Public Safety Commission, it is our hope that spotlighting these outstanding issues will better aid Florida schools in adopting the Commission’s recommendations while avoiding potential problems resulting from the Commission’s oversight.

Concerns Regarding MSDHS ‘Hardening’ Recommendations

Following is a summary of outstanding concerns regarding physical security measures recommended in the MSDHS Public Safety Commission report.

As a Level I measure, page 345 states: “Campuses should have single ingress and egress points to the extent that is consistent with this level’s criteria of minimal cost.” As a Level II measure, page 347 states: “Fenced campuses with single ingress and egress points (could be a level III based on campus size and complexity).”

Although CIS recommends channeling access into secured campuses through a limited number of monitored entry points, the MSDHS Public Safety Commission report provides very concerning advice by recommending there be only a single egress point.

In this situation, students located outdoors during an attack are trapped unless they climb a fence to escape or encircle a campus perimeter to access a single egress point. By contrast, students located outdoors during an attack should have easy access to egress gates located abundantly around the campus perimeter. This is a very common oversight we encounter in our work as consultants with schools that have implemented fenced perimeters.

To address concerns about the exploitation of outdoor egress gates as points of entry, outdoor gates should feature mechanical exit bars and anti-manipulation features (e.g, screen mesh, acrylic panel, etc.). Exit bars featuring audible alarms can also be used to discourage exit during non-emergency situations and alert nearby staff if a student departs the campus. See the photo right as an example.

In contrast to the Commission’s advice, CIS Guardian SafeSchool Program® standards recommend abundant and versatile access to secure outdoor egress gates.
Secure Egress Gate

Page 347 states: “All common use closed areas in a school must have electronically controlled doors that can be locked remotely or locally with appropriate hardware on single and double doors to resist forced entry.”

Although CIS strongly endorses the use of electronic access control systems in schools, caution should be used in the selection of hardware and system configuration to avoid creating new vulnerabilities and operational problems. Regretfully, the MSDHS Public Safety Commission report does not provide guidance about access-controlled hardware selection and system configuration.

As one example of this concern, schools should strictly avoid the use of electromagnetic locks on egress doors. Building and life safety codes universally require that egress doors equipped with electromagnetic locks ‘fail safe’ (unlocked) during fire alarms.[1]  In this situation, all fire alarm pull stations inside the school are ‘virtual master keys’ and would compromise most doors if someone activated a pull handle. In a number of previous attacks, fire alarms were manually activated by building occupants to alert others (e.g., 2013 Washington Navy Yard), activated by smoke or dust (e.g., 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 2008 Taj Majal Hotel Mumbai, etc.), or used by adversaries to deceptively herd victims outdoors for ambush (e.g., 1998 Westside Middle School, 2013 UCF, 2015 Corinthia Hotel Tripoli, etc.).  Conversely, when an alarm is not activated, electromagnetic locks require a push-to-exit switch or sensor to unlock egress doors when approached.  In tests conducted by CIS, both methods of unlocking are often unreliable when people attempt egress under high stress conditions.

CIS strongly recommends that the MSDHS Public Safety Commission provide more detailed guidance for schools to aid with proper selection of access-controlled hardware and system configuration. (NOTE: We will be posting a new article soon to address this matter comprehensively.)

As an additional recommendation about access control, report page 349 states as a Level III measure: “RFID and Near field communications (NFC) card readers should replace all door locks on campus.”

Although RFID and NFC access control systems offer great versatility and can be very useful for controlling access into school buildings, CIS strongly discourages the use of card readers and electrified locks on classrooms which may be used as safe rooms during attacks. If the access control system in the school employs card readers and an assailant recovers an access badge from a fallen staff member, all doors with programmed access will be compromised. The report’s recommendation, as written, also contradicts other statements in Appendix B. advising that door locks be installed on all classrooms that can be locked from the inside.

CIS advises that Florida schools restrict use of access-controlled locks to exterior doors, reception lobbies, and hallway doors separating interior classroom wings.

Regarding classroom doors, page 346 states: “All classroom doors should be able to be locked from inside or there must be an enforced policy that all doors remain locked at all times without exception.” Regarding events at MSDHS High School, page 45 the report states: “Individual classroom door locks could only be locked from outside the door. The teacher would have to exit their classroom and use a key to lock the door. There was no way to lock the door from within the classroom.” The related findings on page 47 state: “All of the classroom doors in Building 12 could only be locked from the exterior. Teachers inconsistently locked classroom doors and some doors were unlocked the day of the shooting. Teachers were reluctant to enter the halls to lock the doors.”

Although CIS is encouraged to see the Commission addressing concerns about standard ANSI “classroom-function” door locks, the report only addresses the matter of locking the door from the hallway-side and does not advise against locks which require a key for locking. As witnessed in a number of shooting events, doors equipped with classroom-function locks often remain unlocked due to difficulty locating or manipulating keys under stress. Some examples of incidents where this situation clearly contributed to unnecessary casualties include the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and 2007 Virginia Tech attack. In those two events alone, 26 students and faculty were killed and 24 wounded specifically because their doors could not be secured once the attack was in progress. [ii] [iii] Another recent example of an unlocked classroom due to a missing key occurred during the December 2017 shooting at Aztec High School.[iv]

The limited recommendations provided in the Commission’s report would make “classroom security function” locks (ANSI mortise F09/bored F88) permissible in Florida schools.  Classroom security function locks can be locked from inside the classroom, but still require a key for locking.

CIS strongly advises against the use of all locks classified by ANSI as “classroom function.” CIS Guardian SafeSchool Program® standards recommend ANSI/BHMA A156 Grade 1 locks with an ANSI lock code of F04 or F82 (office function).[v] Mechanical locks rated ANSI/BHMA Grade 1 have been successfully evaluated under a variety of static force and torque tests.  Locks coded as F04 and F82 feature buttons or thumbturns to facilitate ease of locking under stress.

As a Level I measure, page 346 states: “Classroom doors should either have no windows or every door should be equipped with a device that can readily block line of sight through the window, but does not indicate occupancy…First floor outside windows should be able to be blocked from line of sight.” As a Level III measure, page 348 states: “Install ballistic resistant glass covering on classroom interior door windows… Install classroom door windows that are small enough to restrict access and located a sufficient distance from the door handle to prevent a person from reaching through to unlock the door from the interior.”

Although these measures are sound in principle, there are several concerns with the Commission’s recommendations as presented in the report. First, the MSDHS Public Safety Commission report only recommends ballistic resistant glass on door “windows” and makes little mention about the intrusion-resistance of door vision panels, classroom hallway windows, and first floor glazing. Although it would be ideal if door vision panels were protected by ballistic-resistant glazing, such recommendations are impractical in installation and very difficult to justify from a cost-benefit perspective. A more practical and critical objective (which often can be addressed without significant expense) is delaying and deterring adversaries from breaching windows to enter occupied spaces.

According to testing documented by Sandia National Laboratories, 0.25 inch tempered glass provides 3-9 seconds of delay against an intruder using a fire axe and the mean delay time for penetrating 1/8″ tempered glass with a hammer is 0.5 minutes.[vi]  However, impact testing documented by Sandia did not account for the fragility of a tempered glass specimen after first being penetrated by firearm projectile. In penetration tests Critical Intervention Services conducted of 1/4-inch tempered glass windows using several shots from a 9mm handgun to penetrate glazing prior to impact by hand, delay time was only 10 seconds.[vii] This vulnerability was exploited by Adam Lanza during his entry into Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.[viii]

Active Shooter Tempered Glass

Some practical options for upgrading existing window glazing include laminated glass, polycarbonate (for door vision panel replacement), and reinforcing existing windows with properly attached anti-shatter film. All the aforementioned options can increase the delay time performance of windows by 90 seconds or more against firearm-aided forced entry.

We strongly advise Florida schools to adopt the Guardian SafeSchool Program® standards regarding glazing and prioritize upgrade of any vulnerable tempered glass vision panels, classroom hallway windows, and first floor exterior classroom glazing prior to the Commission’s recommendations of ballistic resistant door windows.

The following is a summary of essential protective measures for classrooms suitable for refuge during imminent threat situations.

Active Shooter Safe Room Classroom Design

As a Level II measure, page 347 recommends: “Use protective bollards at campus entrances.”

Although anti-vehicle barriers are an effective measure to reduce the risk of vehicle ramming as a means of attack or entry, vehicle ramming has been historically rare inside the United States by comparison to other forced entry and attack techniques. This fact is also pointed out in the Commission’s report on page 14: “Vehicles have been used as weapons in terror attacks including one attack against students at a university in the US.  No vehicles were used in any of the K-12 school attacks.” When approached from a cost-benefit perspective, funds allocated to installing bollards would often be better applied in addressing more critical vulnerabilities (e.g., glazing, locks, etc.).

As another matter, the effectiveness of bollards largely depends on their kinetic energy tolerance in relation to the energy generated upon vehicle impact (determined by vehicle mass and approach velocity).[ix]  This issue should be carefully assessed in any situation where bollards are installed to ensure performance as expected.

If the objective of bollards is to prevent forced entry into a protected campus, requirements for utility vehicle access will also require schools to install crash-rated active barricades at vehicle gates to ensure complete protection. Specification standards relevant to active anti-vehicle barricades include ASTM F-2656-07 and/or IWA 14-1.[x]  However, the price of crash-rated anti-vehicle barricades is likely far beyond the budget of most schools.

CIS recommends that Florida schools downgrade the priority of installing bollards until all other critical security improvements are completed. The unique exception to this general advice would be the protection of playgrounds located near roads and parking lots.

Continued in Part Two


Copyright © 2019 by Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

CIS Guardian SafeSchool Program® consultants offer a range of services to assist schools in managing risks of active shooter violence. Contact us for more information.


[1] International Code Council. International Building Code, 2012. Country Club Hills, IL: International Code Council, 2011.

[ii] Sedensky, Stephen J. Report of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 36 Yogananda Street, Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Danbury, Ct.: Office of the State’s Attorney. Judicial District of Danbury, 2013. Print.

[iii] Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech. April 16, 2007. Report of the Review Panel. Virginia Tech Review Panel. August 2007. pp.13.

[iv] Matthews, Justin. “Substitute unable to lock doors during shooting.” KOAT Action News. 9 December 2017. http://www.koat.com/article/substitute-unable-to-lock-doors-during-shooting/14399571. Accessed 17 December 2017.

[v] ANSI/BHMA A156.13, Mortise Locks and Latches. Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA), New York, NY, 2011.

[vi] Barrier Technology Handbook, SAND77-0777. Sandia Laboratories, 1978. pp. 16.3-39

[vii] Critical Intervention Services assisted window film manufacturer Solar Gard Saint-Gobain in 2015 in conducting a series of timed penetration tests of unprotected tempered glass windows and glazing reinforced with anti-shatter film. The author personally supervised and witnessed these tests.

[viii] Sedensky, Stephen J. Report of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 36 Yogananda Street, Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Danbury, Ct.: Office of the State’s Attorney. Judicial District of Danbury, 2013. Print.

[ix] UFC 4-022-02, SELECTION AND APPLICATION OF VEHICLE BARRIERS. US Department of Defense, N.p.: 2010.

[x] Guide to Active Vehicle Barrier (AVB) Specification and Selection Resources. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC, 2016.

The MSDHS Commission Report – A Security Expert’s Critique (2/2)

MSDHS Public Safety Commission Report

The MSDHS Commission Report – A Security Expert’s Critique (2/2)

By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

Part One of this article surveyed concerns expressed by Critical Intervention Services regarding school ‘target hardening’ measures proposed by the MSDHS Public Safety Commission report. Part II continues with an examination of additional concerns worthy of potential consideration by the FDOE Office of Safe Schools.

Emergency Preparation Matters Weakly Addressed by the MSDHS Public Safety Commission Report

Pages 47-52 of the Commission report spotlight a number of failures in emergency response at MSD High School. One of these failures was the significant delay in public address alert. Unaware that an attack was in progress, approximately 100 students massed in the third floor hallway after a fire alarm was activated by Cruz’s gunfire on the ground level. Although most students in process of evacuating found refuge before Cruz arrived at their location, twenty students and three teachers were caught in the hallway when the onslaught began on the third floor.

The Commission report describes the absence of a district policy for active assailant situations and lack of recent training and drills as contributing factors to the delayed public address alert. On pages 84-85 (Section 3.1), the Commission proposes a number of measures to address these matters in addition to other conditions which contributed to the tragedy at MSD High School. Although CIS endorses all of the recommendations proposed in Section 3.1, there are a number of important issues addressed in general terms that would benefit from improved emphasis and specificity.

The recommendations on pages 84-85 state, “All staff should have clearly established roles and responsibilities that are outlined in a written policy and procedure manual provided to all personnel,” and, “Every district and school should have a written, unambiguous Code Red or similar active assailant response policy that is well known to all school personnel, parents, and students.” However, the Commission provides no specific recommendations for faculty training or improved guidelines for scheduling active shooter drills to remedy the vague direction of Florida Statute 1006.07(4)(a): “Drills for active shooter and hostage situations shall be conducted at least as often as other emergency drills.”

CIS recommends that Florida schools adopt the Guardian SafeSchool Program® standard for faculty training by mandating annual instruction in emergency procedures before the commencement of each school year in addition to active shooter drills. In our work with school clients, we typically present faculty training sessions as a two-hour program at the beginning of each academic year and whenever promulgating a new school Emergency Response Plan. Topics normally include an overview of the school’s emergency team structure, communications systems (including key notification and alert procedures), imminent threat response, reunification procedures, and a module on recognizing warning behaviors associated with targeted aggression.

Although the MSDHS Public Safety Commission report describes the need for campus-wide public address (PA) notification, the report offers little recommendation for the design of reliable PA system infrastructure. Many Florida schools do not have public address systems which can be used reliably under high stress conditions. Schools with analog public address systems often have base stations positioned in highly vulnerable locations such as main reception offices. Schools with analog public address systems should consider replacing these systems with modern IP‐based public address or phone systems which can facilitate emergency announcements from versatile locations throughout the school. Phone-based systems which require dialing an extension or entering a code to access the ‘all call’ function should be programmed with numbers that are easy to remember and simple to dial under stress (e.g., ‘111,’ ‘777,’ etc.). Additionally, all faculty members should be trained and fully empowered by policy to issue PA announcements when attack events are first recognized.

As another concern, many Florida schools do not presently have a mass notification system that can be reliably used to alert staff as a redundant mode of communication. Critical public address announcements should always be followed by a redundant message via digital mass notification system (MNS) for those who may not have heard the initial announcement. When important developments occur, updates can be issued to teachers as follow up messages. Circumstances warranting updates may include notification when police are clearing the building or if a unique threat emerges, such as a building fire.

Mass notification systems should be easy to use under stress and optimally feature pre‐configured messages for key alerts to minimize the time required to type and send messages. A good mass notification plan should also include facility‐wide Wi‐Fi access and employ a mass notification system with iOS and Android applications to facilitate Internet messaging in the event there are areas inside the structure with SMS signal interference.

As the FDOE Office of Safe Schools (OSS) progresses in 2019 toward developing best practices for Florida schools, CIS strongly recommends that the OSS promulgate guidelines for the development and performance of reliable emergency communications infrastructure.

To the credit of the Commission, we are glad to see the Level II recommendation: “Provide school personnel with a device that could be worn to immediately notify law enforcement of an emergency.” As we’ve discussed in other LinkedIn articles, any measure which simplifies and expedites alert to a response force (e.g., police, SRO, on-site armed security, etc.) has a noteworthy benefit in improving system performance.

Concerns Regarding Reconciling Security Needs with Negative Impact on School Climate

In 2014, the National Association of School Psychologists released a position paper expressing great concern over the implementation of high profile security measures on school climate and culture (two of the most important principles in creating a successful learning environment).[i] As support for their concern, the NASP paper cites a number of studies which outline the negative impact of high profile security measures in schools.[ii] [iii][iv]

Responsible approaches to school security design should carefully balance the risk of violence against potential negative impact on the school’s overall mission of providing good education. Beyond negative impact on the school’s educational mission, anything that suppresses positive school climate also directly conflicts with the objective of proactively reducing threat conditions.

In the context of school security, proactive risk management starts with reducing potential threat. This is first accomplished by reducing the potential conditions that contribute to advancement on the targeted violence pathway. Reinforcement of positive school climate, creating strong bonds between staff and students, mentoring students with problems, actively intervening in bullying situations, and restorative practices are all examples of measures aimed at reducing threat. All aforementioned measures reduce threat by creating an atmosphere where social marginalization is discouraged, bullying is not tolerated, and students feel trust in reporting student behaviors of concern. Considering the high frequency of leakage (communication of violent intent to a third party) in advance of attacks by students, the US Secret Service and National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime have repeatedly emphasized the importance of school climate in breaking the classroom ‘code of silence.’ [v][vi]

High profile security measures and haphazard implementation can easily frustrate this effort. As stated by K.C. Poulin, the CEO of CIS, “If you make an environment feel like a prison, don’t be surprised when the community members feel and act like inmates.”

To address these concerns, school security programs should be specifically engineered to create “invisible” layers of prevention and preparedness that are largely unnoticed by students. This low-profile approach should be consistent in all aspects of the program, from procedural design to physical security measures.

Regretfully, there are aspects of the MSDHS Pubic Safety Commission’s recommendations and the provisions of Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act which overlook the importance of potential impact on school climate.

As a Level III recommendation, page 349 states: “Metal detectors and x-ray machines at campus entrances.”

Although metal detectors are commonly used in urban school districts historically plagued by youth gun crime, this measure is often counter-productive to security (proactive threat reduction via positive school climate) and operationally burdensome. First, studies of the use of metal detectors in schools have demonstrated inconclusive results in reducing violent behavior among students.[vii][viii]

In regard to school climate, the use of metal detectors boldly communicates distrust in the student population and potentially reinforces the ‘wall of psychological/social separation’ further between students and the administration. Measures that communicate distrust to the general student population directly counter our greater aim of creating an atmosphere where threat activity witnessed by students is likely to be reported.

Security and School Climate and Culture

In addition to the concern about impact on school climate, schools that opt to implement screening with metal detectors and x-ray machines should carefully assess the costs and operational requirements before committing to this measure. Throughput rate alone is a serious issue of consideration. Walkthrough metal detectors typically have a throughtput rate of 15-25 people per minute.[ix] X-ray machine operators can typically scan 10-20 objects per minute.[x] With these general throughput rates in consideration, it would take a single-lane inspection station 75-150 minutes to process a high school of 1,500 students arriving for class. Even if two x-ray stations were employed with a single metal detector, it would only improve throughput rate to 60-100 minutes. Additional considerations include space requirements for screening stations and cueing lines at campus entry points, staffing and personnel training, financial cost of equipment ($30,000+ for x-ray machines alone), maintenance, etc. Achieving any level of practical efficiency would require significant investment and operational burden or compromised effectiveness by limiting screening to a subset of students.

CIS recommends that metal detectors and x-ray screening be reserved for situations where there is a clear cost-benefit advantage (such as schools in locations where gun crime is a persistent problem).

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act’s Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program requires that candidates complete 132-hours of firearm safety and proficiency training, psychological evaluation, drug tests; and complete certified diversity training. However, there are no training requirements related to interpersonal relations skills, social network development, conflict resolution, targeted violence behavior, threat assessment methodology, or other critical school security topics such as emergency response.

Several Florida school districts (e.g., Broward, Hillsborough, etc.) have opted to employ armed security officers in some schools rather than utilize employee Guardians or School Resource Officers (SROs). However, none of these districts have implemented specific measures to recruit and train candidates with superior communication skills and proven ability to work with youth in school environments. This problem also extends to law enforcement agencies throughout the state in the selection of personnel for School Resource Officer programs. Unfortunately, few law enforcement agencies incentivize officers with exceptional combination of both tactical and interpersonal communications skills to join SRO programs. Rather, SRO programs are often culturally‐viewed within police departments as a demotion from road duty and other special units. SRO programs which emphasize the officer’s role as ‘law enforcer’ within the school also risk further social division between students and the administration.[xi]

In most schools, the most visible element of the security program will be the School Resource Officers, Guardians, or security officers assigned to the school. To counter any negative impact of their presence, officers should be specifically selected and trained to actively develop relationships and positive rapport within the school community.

School Security and School Climate and Culture

Copyright © 2019 by Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

CIS Guardian SafeSchool Program® consultants offer a range of services to assist schools in managing risks of active shooter violence.  Contact us for more information.


[i] Research on School Security. The Impact of Security Measures on Students. National Association of School Psychologists. N.p. 2014.

[ii] Phaneuf, S. W. Security in schools: Its effect on students. El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC. 2009.

[iii] Bracy, N. L. (2011). Student perceptions of high-security school environments. Youth & Society, 43, 365-395.

[iv] Schreck, C. J., & Miller, J. M. (2003). Sources of fear of crime at school: What is the relative contribution of disorder, individual characteristics and school security? Journal of School Violence, 2, 57-79.

[v] OToole, Mary Ellen. The School Shooter: a Threat Assessment Perspective. FBI Academy, 2000

[vi] Fein, Robert A. Threat Assessment in Schools: a Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates. United States Secret Service, 2004.

[vii] Hankin, A., Hertz, M., & Simon, T. (2011). Impacts of metal detector use in schools: Insights from 15 years of research. Journal of School Health, 81, 100-106.

[viii] Casella, R. (2006). Selling us the fortress: The promotion of techno-security equipment in schools. New York: Routledge.

[ix] Green, Mary. The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools. A Guide for Schools and Law Enforcement Agencies. U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Washington, DC. 1999. pp. 70.

[x] Ibid. pp. 95.

[xi] Nemeth, Charles. J. Peer Review Report of CIS Guardian SafeSchool Program® Officer Model. John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Center for Private Security and Safety. New York, NY. 2014.