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

Egress Design and The Active Shooter

By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO |

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 7.8.1.3 (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 7.2.1.6.2(4) 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.

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Considerations for Designing Active Shooter Protection Measures (Pt. 4)

Forced Entry Standards
Forced Entry Standards

Considerations for Designing Active Shooter Protection Measures

By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO |

Parts 1 and 3 of this series surveyed important principles of physical security and facility preparation for mitigating the consequences of active shooter attacks. Although the concepts described in the preceding articles are universal, there are often unique circumstances that influence how these principles are best applied in different situations.

The following are some preliminary questions to consider with bearing on the practicality and prioritization of security measures.

Is it feasible to employ restrictive entry control and screening measures?

In an ideal situation, entrance into the facility is channeled to a limited number of secured entry points and all entrants are subject to verification and weapons screening before admittance. However, there are many situations where restrictive entry controls are impractical (or impossible) due to reasons of high volume of public traffic, cultural expectations, budget, or low-risk justification. Common examples of this situation include malls, hotels, train stations, entertainment districts, houses of worship, hospitals, multi-tenant office buildings, and similar facilities. This is also a common situation in schools and universities with complex campuses, or where concerns about negative impact on school climate, cost, and operational burden outweigh the risk.

In these situations, an adversary could access populated areas of the facility undetected before commencing an attack. To compensate for this, high priority should be given to measures that simplify rapid escape from public areas and expedite the actions of armed responders.  In large buildings (such as multi-level office buildings, schools, hospitals, and hotels), alert communication is critical and safe refuge options should be abundantly available for people unable to escape or who are unaware of the threat’s location.

Although restrictive entry control may not be practical in these cases, it may be worth configuring an access control macro to facilitate the rapid lockdown of exterior doors and high-risk indoor locations if an attack is detected outdoors.

Are there groups of occupants present whose capability to respond is likely impaired or who are unable to easily evacuate during an attack?

This is generally the case in schools, daycare facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals. In these situations, alert communications and ensuring the availability of safe refuge areas are top priorities. In schools and daycare centers, all classrooms should meet criteria as basic-level safe rooms. In hospitals and nursing facilities where it is not feasible to secure patient rooms, measures should be implemented to rapidly secure wards and hallways wings occupied by vulnerable groups. Additionally, all employees caring for vulnerable populations should be trained in lockdown procedures and drill regularly to ensure reliable performance under stress.

In nightclubs and entertainment venues, we often have a different type of concern—alcohol. When considering other conditions typical in nightclubs and party venues (e.g., dense crowds, low lighting, loud music, light shows, etc.), alcohol is the final ingredient in a recipe for disaster. In previous nightclub attacks (e.g., Pulse, Reina, Bataclan Theater, etc.), the reaction of patrons was initially delayed by confusion and followed immediately by panic as occupants fled the direction of danger. To address this concern, priority should be given to designing intuitive and high capacity egress routes in directions away from the main entrance. Ideal preparation also includes options for direct escape from all locations inside the building (incl. restrooms, service hallways, etc.). To further address the problem of confusion, measures should be explored for quickly shutting off the A/V system and illuminating exit doors.

Are there large numbers of people present who are expectedly unfamiliar with the facility?

If yes, careful consideration should be given in the design and marking of egress routes, public notification systems, and training employees in procedures for directing guests’ response.

Does the interior layout of existing buildings provide ample options for occupants to take safe refuge?

In schools, hotels, and many office buildings, the existing indoor layout usually provides adequate options for designating rooms which can be easily upgraded to meet basic requirements as safe rooms. Where I often encounter problems with this matter are industrial facilities, telephone call centers, and office buildings with extensive use of indoor glass walls.

If budget permits, the preferred remedy is to construct (or upgrade) several intrusion-resistant rooms throughout the facility to provide accessible refuge options for employees regardless of location. As a minimum, we recommend at least one safe room per floor wing with adequate capacity for all employees in proximity. In call centers and office buildings with open floor plans, the newly constructed safe rooms can often serve a practical role as conference rooms during day-to-day activities.

If constructing safe rooms where needed is not possible, egress routes should be easily accessible and discharge directly outdoors. Additionally, employees should be trained to know that hiding in an unsecured work area is unsafe and escape is the preferred response when possible. Training should also include a discussion about optional egress paths (e.g., alternative exits, roof access, etc.) and high-risk areas to avoid during evacuation (such as first floor lobbies and central hallways).

If circumstances dictate that escape is the preferred response, situational awareness is critical and measures should be explored for monitoring the movement of attackers by CCTV and relaying real-time updates to employees.

Do cultural expectations or public image concerns restrict the employment of high profile security measures?

This issue frequently arises in corporate and hospitality facilities conscientious about branding. Many schools are also sensitive to this matter considering research by psychologists warning of the potential for negative impact on school climate. In many cases, this concern can be easily addressed by employing locks, barriers, and other hardware with a low profile appearance. Egress design, communications systems, and other infrastructure preparations are generally unnoticed by employees and the public.

Where concerns about high profile measures most often influence protective strategy are decisions about posting armed officers inside the facility and implementing entry screening measures (as described earlier in this article).

As discussed throughout this series, few measures offer as much benefit during an attack as having an on-site armed response force. If an organization is attracted to the idea of armed protection, but hesitant due to public image concerns, some measures can be employed to address this situation.

One option is to stage armed response officers in a location out of public view. Several years ago we aided an organization in evaluating potential security strategies for a parliament building. At the time, the facility was protected by several police officers armed with handguns posted outdoors. Considering the facility’s risk profile and Design Basis Threat (terrorists armed with assault rifles), we strongly recommended they augment their current security force with an on-site tactical response team equipped with military small arms. This proposal was initially rejected due to public image concerns. Our recommendation, in turn, was to stage the team inside a room hidden from public view and within 120 seconds travel time to all critical locations inside the facility. This same approach can be adopted in office buildings, hotels, schools, and any other location where public image is a concern.

Other methods for addressing this concern include substituting plainclothes officers for uniformed personnel and carefully selecting officers for their unique combination of tactical capabilities and interpersonal relations skills.

Is it expectedly safe for people to evacuate the facility during an attack, or is the facility located in a geographic area where escape outdoors is impractical or possibly dangerous?

This is not generally a concern for most facilities. Where this issue most often arises is when a facility is remotely located away from civilization or in hostile threat environments.  An example of the first situation would be the Tigantourine gas facility in Algeria targeted by Al-Mourabitoun in 2013. An example of the second situation might be a compound located in a war zone where friendly authorities have little control and hostile actors abound (e.g., 2012 Benghazi attacks).

In these situations, on-site armed response capability is paramount. Additionally, perimeter defensive measures should be designed to provide the armed response force with a tactical advantage and create time for occupants to seek refuge. Additionally, safe havens should be provided capable of advanced delay times and sustained life support under attack by fire, smoke, and other methods of asphyxiation.

Is it feasible to have an on-site armed response capability?

As detailed in Part 1 of this series, barriers need to be designed to delay an adversary’s ingress into populated areas with sufficient time for a response force to intervene. If it is not possible to have an on-site armed response capability, the emphasis often needs to be placed on measures that facilitate delay (e.g., barrier construction, egress design, etc.) and expedite the response of local police.

Are we located in a region where previous incidents often result in a siege or delayed intervention by security forces?

If yes, there may be justification for upgrading safe rooms to an intermediate or high level of protection. As discussed in Part 2 of this series, most previous attacks where adversaries committed time and effort to forcibly enter rooms were in situations where authorities delayed entry. As an added measure, safe rooms in these cases should be equipped with supplies to sustain occupants for the duration of a siege.

Is our Design Basis Threat adversary an insider, outsider, or both?

As explored in Part 2 of this series, the relevancy of many protective measures is directly related to the attacker’s expected access to the facility. The following table is provided as a general guide to the applicability of physical security and facility design measures to different categories of adversary.

Active Shooter Facility Security Measures

These are some of the many questions to consider as part of the physical security and facility design process. In upcoming articles, we’ll explore these issues in greater depth and present examples of how custom protection strategies can be designed for different types of facilities.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), Situational Awareness, and Active Shooter Attacks

Another important issue to consider in active shooter planning is the potential effects of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and lack of situational awareness on employee response.

During life-threatening emergencies, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is often activated. The SNS governs human flight-or-fight response to imminent threat situations. Although the SNS served an important survival function in human evolution, its effects can impair response actions by building occupants during high-stress events. When the SNS awakens, a person’s heart rate may exceed 200 bpm resulting in cognitive impairment, loss of fine motor skills, irrational behavior, or freezing.[1]

In addition to the SNS, rarely during armed attacks do employees have real-time situational awareness of the attacker’s location and activity. The combined effects of the SNS and lack of situational awareness may result in dangerous and sometimes irrational behavior. For example, employees may be hesitant to abandon a presently unsecured location and relocate to a nearby safe room if getting there requires moving through space they cannot see (e.g., around a corner and into another hallway). If a door is equipped with a single-cylinder lock and no thumbturn, employees may be hesitant to open the door to lock it if they fear the gunman may enter the hallway.

Effective active shooter planning should anticipate the effects of the SNS and lack of situational awareness. Every effort should be made to compensate for these challenges by simplifying the expected actions of employees. Some practical examples include establishing emergency phone numbers that are easy to remember and dial under stress, ensuring that mechanical locks on doors feature a thumbturn and do not require a key for locking, providing abundant availability of safe rooms, and ensuring that escape routes do not require complex navigation to access discharge doors.

As an additional point, employees and on-site responders are not the only ones affected during high stress events. Security control room personnel suddenly launched into action with life-and-death consequences (even when remotely located) may experience some of the same impairing effects as people in the ‘hot zone.’ For this reason, critical communications systems should be designed for simplicity and control room personnel should drill regularly to minimize delays or omission of key tasks.

As we continue in upcoming articles, specific recommendations will be offered in hope of avoiding some of the many problems witnessed in previous attacks resulting from SNS impairment and lack of situational awareness .

In the next part of this series, we’ll explore recommendations for protecting people from outdoor ambush and early attack recognition.

[1] Grossman, Dave, and Loren W. Christensen. On Combat: the Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace. Warrior Science Pub., 2008.

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Facility Preparation for Active Shooter Attacks: Key Objectives (Pt. 3)

Design Basis Threat and The Active Shooter
Design Basis Threat and The Active Shooter

Facility Preparation for Active Shooter Attacks: Key Objectives

By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO |

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how the integration of detection, delay, and response functions influences the overall performance of physical security. In security designs aimed at the protection of inanimate assets  (such as theft prevention and anti-sabotage situations), hardware components and physical construction (e.g.,  anti-personnel barriers, alarm systems, CCTV, etc.) are often the primary elements facilitating detection and delay. However, in the case of active shooter attacks, anticipating the actions of facility occupants is critical in designing a successful system.

Most organizations concerned about active shooter attacks have adopted the US Department of Homeland Security’s classic ‘Run-Hide-Fight’ doctrine as the basis for designing facility emergency action plans and training employees. This simplified response guidance is presented as a prioritized list of preferred protective responses when an active shooter attack is recognized. “Run,” for instance, should always be the first option when the opportunity is present. If “Run” is not possible, then “Hide” is the next prioritized option.

Although “Run” is generally the most preferred response, there are situations where attempting escape may be more dangerous than simply remaining in place. A good example is a multi-story building when an attack is launched at ground level. Rarely during attacks do people in the “hot zone” have accurate and real-time knowledge of the attacker’s location and safe routes of escape. In this situation, trying to evacuate through lower levels of the building where possible massacre is in progress may be far more dangerous than barricading in a nearby safe location.

To ensure best performance during armed attacks, facilities should be designed or upgraded to support these response actions and proactively address common challenges faced by people during life-threatening events.

Physical Security and Active Shooters: Key Objectives

The following points summarize key measures for protecting facility occupants during active shooter events.

Delay the attacker’s ingress into populated areas to permit time for critical alerts, escape and refuge actions, and deployment of the response force. (DELAY)

Protective layers should be designed to delay adversary movement into populated areas. If the attacker is an ‘outsider,’ this includes exterior barrier layers (e.g., facade glazing, doors, locks, etc.) and delay measures at entry points and public reception areas (e.g., lobbies, etc.). Additional protective layers securing work suites and high-valued assets (e.g., executive offices, etc.) should be used to frustrate adversary ingress further and provide critical delay against movement by ‘insider’ adversaries already located inside the building.

Expedite detection and assessment of the threat. (DETECTION)

As discussed in Part 1 of this series, time is critical during active shooter events and every measure that expedites detection of the attack and deployment of an armed response force is critical in mitigating  consequences. Measures that expedite event notification to security or authorities, such as panic alarms or gunshot detection systems, can greatly reduce the typical reporting times normally encountered by relying on witnesses to call an emergency number by telephone.

Rapidly and reliably alert all facility occupants. (DETECTION)

A critical part of effective response during active shooter events is fast and reliable alert to expedite protective actions by employees. Critical alerts should ideally be issued by audible means (public address) for the benefit of all facility occupants, and where feasible, followed by a redundant mass notification system (MNS) message for those who may not have heard the initial announcement. When important developments occur, updates can be issued to employees as follow up messages.

Facilitate easy and rapid evacuation/escape by employees and facility guests. (DELAY)

For employees located outdoors, ground level, or in building locations without safe refuge options, escape (DHS’ term ‘Run’) is the primary response. Escape routes should be abundantly available, easy to locate, and permit fast and unobstructed egress to safe locations away from the facility.

Provide safe refuge options for employees and facility guests unable to safely evacuate or who are unaware of the threat’s location. (DELAY)

One of the most basic facility preparations is ensuring adequate availability of safe rooms for people to take refuge if escape is not feasible. For this purpose, rooms should be abundantly available throughout the facility capable of providing adequate delay against forced entry considering the methods and tools likely to be employed by attackers.

Expedite the intervention of a response force capable of neutralizing an armed adversary. (RESPONSE)

Although many active shooter attacks terminate in suicide before the intervention of police or security forces, the speed at which security or police arrive and locate the adversary has a major impact on consequences of the event.

In an ideal scenario, police or armed security officers would be assigned to reliably ensure fast response times. If an organization cannot implement an on-site armed response capability, additional measures should be used to expedite the effective response of local police. Some examples include marking buildings on multi-building campuses with distinctive signage to ease location, establishing procedures for orienting and directing law enforcement officers as they arrive on scene, and preparations for providing building keys, access control badges, and floor plans to facilitate unimpeded movement by police.

Ensure employees are prepared to respond safely and without direction.

Even the best designed plans and facility preparations will fail if employees are unprepared to take independent action for their self-preservation during active shooter events. As detailed further in Part 4 of this series, the effects of the sympathetic nervous system during high stress events and lack of situational awareness can have a debilitating effect on employee response and even lead to dangerous actions. The first step in combating this problem is training employees in emergency response procedures.

The Department of Homeland Security and various municipalities throughout the US have produced short videos useful for this purpose. It is also recommended that training include instructor-led discussion about facility-specific measures for contacting security or police, location of suitable safe rooms inside the facility, special egress considerations (e.g., feasibility of roof access, etc.), communications systems, and location of medical kits.

In the next part of this series, we’ll explore common challenges and unique circumstances that often influence how these principles are best applied in different facility situations.

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Design Basis Threat and The Active Shooter (Pt. 2)

Design Basis Threat and The Active Shooter

Who exactly are we trying to protect ourselves against when we use the term “active shooter?”

For many, the answer to this question seems obvious—a “bad guy” killing people at random with a gun. However, this type of vague definition provides little guidance for developing an effective security design. A more useful definition considers:

    • How many adversaries would possibly be involved in an attack?
    • What is their level of skill?
    • What types of weapons would they bear?
    • What tools and methods of entry would they employ?
    • Would the attacker(s) likely be an insider, outsider, or potentially either?
    • Has the adversary employed any unique modus operandi in previous attacks?

Although many aspects of active shooter preparation are universal, these types of details have a major influence on the performance of our protective design and the benefit of system components (e.g., anti-personnel barriers, ballistic protection, etc.). Additionally, if our budget is limited, the answers to these questions can often guide us in prioritizing vulnerabilities of greatest concern.

As a security consultant, I’m frequently called on to assess facilities that have already invested in protective upgrades. In these situations, I frequently find examples of overlooked vulnerabilities, overconfidence in protective measures, or wasted expenditure. And these problems often stem from failing to define the attacker’s likely capabilities and methods as a driving factor in the original security design.

In professional approaches to security planning, this is the role of the Design Basis Threat (DBT) or Threat Definition. A DBT (or Threat Definition) provides a description of an adversary’s likely capabilities and tactics essential for determining the expected performance of security measures and identifying attack scenarios that should be addressed in security design.

Considerations for Developing a Design Basis Threat

Number of Attackers

The number of adversaries has a direct relationship to the potential effectiveness of our response force (i.e., Probability of Neutralization) and may influence the behavior of adversaries during attacks. One practical example is the likelihood of adversaries forcibly entering secured rooms to locate targets. Many documented incidents where adversaries forcibly entered locked rooms to seek targets involved more than one perpetrator.[1]

In the United States, the spectrum of active shooter adversaries has historically been quite diverse with most attacks committed by non-ideologically motivated perpetrators in alignment with Dr. Park Dietz’s definition of a pseudocommando.[2] The majority of these attacks are executed by a single attacker withstanding a handful of notable exceptions (e.g., 1998 Westside Middle School, 1999 Columbine High School, 2011 South Jamaica House Party, and 2012 Tulsa[3]). Historically, most terrorist-related active shooter attacks in the United States also involved only one perpetrator with exceptions including the 2015 San Bernardino and 2015 Curtis Culwell Center attacks.

Regional trends in adversary characteristics vary greatly in different parts of the world. In locations where terrorist attacks are the predominant concern, the number of perpetrators in attacks is often higher. In a study of 20 Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attacks (MTFA) conducted by the Critical Intervention Services in 2015, 1-2 perpetrators was most common in active shooter assaults in Europe with notable exceptions being events such as the 13 November Paris attacks.[4] In Africa, by contrast, terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab frequently use teams of 4-9 attackers in assaults on civilian locations such as the Westgate Shopping Mall (2013), Garissa University (2015), and numerous hotels in Mogadishu.[5]

Relationship to the Facility/Organization

Is the adversary possibly an “insider” (e.g., current student, employee, etc.)? Or do the characteristics of our organization and environmental circumstances likely limit our concern to “outsider” adversaries? The answers to these questions often determine the relevance and priority of protective measures.

For instance, if the adversary is most likely an outsider, protective measures associated with perimeters, building facades, and entry controls are a high priority. By contrast, if the probable adversary is an insider, it is often wise to focus on indoor protective measures if the budget is a limiting concern. 

In school settings, the probable type of adversary is largely influenced by the age of students. Withstanding a handful of plots, shooting events in primary schools have been executed by adult-aged outsiders (e.g., 2017 North Park Elementary School, 2012 Sandy Hook, 2006 West Nickel Mines, etc.) and a handful of expelled students (e.g., 2016 Townville Elementary School). In secondary schools, the spectrum of perpetrators is more diverse including both current and former students, and to a lesser degree, adult-aged outsiders.

In closed workplace settings, the majority of mass shootings are committed by current or former employees (e.g., 2020 Molson Coors, 2019 Henry Pratt Co., 2019 Virginia Beach Municipal Center, etc.). Although less common than employee-related shootings, there have also been cases of nonemployees (outsiders) targeting businesses for reasons of personal or ideological grievance such as the 2018 shooting at YouTube headquarters and the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack.

In attacks against houses of worship and ethnic cultural centers, outsider adversaries motivated by ideology or reasons of personal grievance have been most common. Some recent examples include attacks at the Poway Synagogue (2018), Tree of Life Synagogue (2018), First Baptist Church (2017), Burnette Chapel Church of Christ (2017), Emanuel AME Church (2015), and Overland Park Jewish Center (2014).

Outsiders have also been the dominant category of adversary in attacks against public entertainment venues such as nightclubs, theaters, entertainment districts, and festivals. In many of these situations, the venue is targeted due to mass casualty potential or the characteristics of its patrons. Examples in recent years include attacks at the Nels Peppers Bar (2019), Gilroy Garlic Festival (2019), Borderline Bar and Grill (2018), Jacksonville Landing (2018), Route 91 Harvest Festival (2017), Reina nightclub (2017), and Pulse nightclub (2016). Although most attacks in entertainment facilities are premeditated, there have also been cases of disputes among patrons escalating into mass violence such as the 2017 shootings at the Power Ultra Lounge and Cameo nightclub.

In situations where terrorism is the primary concern, outsider adversaries should be the first priority. Although there have been attacks executed by radicalized employees (e.g., 2019 Naval Air Station Pensacola, 2015 Inland Regional Center, 2009 Fort Hood, etc.), the overwhelming majority of terrorist armed assaults are executed by outsiders.

Entry Tools and Methods

 The delay time value of barriers (e.g., doors, locks, glazing, etc.) is directly related to the tools and methods adversaries may use to breach our barriers. Attacker tools and entry methods was one of the issues the CIS MTFA study team examined with the aim of creating a research-supported justification for defining threat capabilities.[6] Of the attacks assessed as part the study, in none of the events did attackers arrive equipped with tools (other than firearms) for the specific purpose of penetrating barriers. In case research conducted by CIS about other armed attacks against facilities over the past 20 years, the number of incidents where adversaries brought tools specifically for forced entry purposes was few. In the majority of attacks, forced entry was facilitated exclusively by blunt object impact (e.g., kicking, beating with rifle butt stock, etc.) and sometimes aided by bullet penetration or cutting with a bladed weapon.

For the purpose of designating or planning potential safe rooms, another issue worth considering is adversary effort and commitment to attack people located inside locked rooms. Joseph Smith and Daniel Renfroe describe their observations on this matter in an article on the World Building Design Guide web site: Analysis of footage from actual active shooter events have shown that the shooter will likely not spend significant time trying to get through a particular door if it is locked or blocked. Rather they move to their next target. They know law enforcement is on its way and that time is limited. [7] Separate case study research conducted by Critical Intervention Services also supports this perspective.

In a large percentage of attacks, adversaries focus solely on targets of easiest opportunity by using visually-obvious pathways and unlocked/unobstructed portals (e.g., doors, windows, etc) to facilitate indoor movement. This behavior may be due to perceived time pressure (“kill as many as possible before the police arrive”) or possibly diminished problem-solving ability resulting from activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). In most documented attacks where adversaries committed effort to forcibly enter locked rooms, intervention by police or security forces was delayed and adversaries had exhausted all targets in accessible areas. 

When developing a DBT for use in a region where the main threat concern is a particular terrorist group, research should focus on identifying any unique tactics or preferences for entry methods demonstrated in previous attacks. Al-Shabaab, for instance, has employed disguise and deceptive entry tactics for gaining access through the outer perimeter of several protected facilities in Somalia. If we were developing a DBT for Al-Shabaab, it would be wise to consider attack scenarios employing deception and disguise in addition to overt entry methods.

Weaponry

Weaponry influences the potential effectiveness of our response force, and caliber and type of ammunition determines the effectiveness of ballistic barriers in resisting bullet penetration.

According to FBI statistics, handguns were the most powerful firearm used in most attacks (59%) with rifles constituting 26% of incidents.[8] Although the FBI has not published statistics on weapon calibers used in active shooter attacks, most mass casualty attacks where rifles were employed in the United States involved 5.56mm weapons with examples including assaults at the Pulse Nightclub (2016), Inland Regional Center (2015), Sandy Hook Elementary School (2013), and Aurora Century 16 Theater (2012).

Outside the United States, 7.62x39mm weapons (AK-47) have been most common.

Likelihood of a Hostage/Siege Event

Although not directly related to adversary capabilities, another possible factor to consider is the likely duration of an event. If the adversary is a terrorist group with a specific preference for hostage-taking or if we are located in a region where there has often been delayed intervention by police/security forces, circumstances may justify a more advanced level of preparation.

In the 2015 CIS MTFA study, 35% of all attacks escalated into a siege by police/security forces upon arrival. In a number of these incidents, intervention was delayed due to early confusion about the event (“hostage situation” versus “armed massacre”). Some events resulted in a siege when arriving police or security forces were overwhelmed by the adversary’s firepower and withdrew pending the arrival of more assistance. In other events, police and security forces made committed entry but the size of facility and movement of the attackers inside the building delayed location and neutralization of the adversaries (e.g., 2019 Virginia Beach Municipal Center, 2013 Washington Navy Yard, 2015 Corinthia Hotel Tripoli, etc.).

Incidents documented in the CIS study that escalated into a siege had a duration ranging between 2h 24m and est. 96 hours, with a mean duration of 21h 44m. Although most events resulting in siege durations over 2 hours were in Africa or West Asia, recent incidents have occurred in Western countries with effective response times over 2 hours such as the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting (194 minutes from first call to 911) and Bataclan Theater (~156 minutes from first call to 112).  

Developing a Design Basis Threat for Active Shooter Attacks

In the government community, many organizations promulgate official DBT statements to serve as a standardized reference throughout the organization. For instance, the Interagency Security Committee (ISC) in the United States produces a Design Basis Threat (DBT) document for use during risk assessments and security planning in Federal facilities. The ISC DBT includes several threat scenarios related to armed attack with narrative descriptions of the event, and adversary characteristics such as numbers of adversaries, weaponry, tactics, etc.

The US Department of Defense also provides similar guidance for DoD facilities in UFC 4-020-01 “DoD Security Engineering Facilities Planning Manual.”[9] In Table 3-27, DoD presents a generic DBT (Threat Parameters) including several categories of Aggressor Tactics and a system for defining progressive levels of threat. Each threat level is attributed a corresponding description of weaponry, toolset, and/or delivery method.

As a consultant, I am not an advocate of adopting generic DBTs unless required by official mandate. Instead, I prefer using a research-based approach which considers the specific characteristics of relevant adversaries, historical attack data, regional trends, and similar issues. This type of approach is often more laborious, but results in a custom DBT that is rational, justifiable, and specific to the threat situation.

When developing a custom DBT, I typically begin by collecting data about attacks against similar facilities in the region or attacks perpetrated by adversaries of relevance with focus on weaponry, number of attackers, and tactics. The following table illustrates how this type of data collection might be applied for a facility in Kenya where Al-Shabaab is the primary adversary of concern.

Al-Shabaab Attacks

After data has been collected, a threat definition is then developed representing likely adversary capabilities and modus operandi. In a basic approach, the DBT is written to match any capabilities well established by trend or average. In a cautious or very cautious approach, the DBT matches or exceeds the highest level of capability as demonstrated in previous attacks.

Al-Shabaab Design Basis Threat

Even in situations where there are no unique adversary groups to serve as a model, this same type of research-supported approach can be applied for creating a non-specific, but justifiable DBT. Following are some examples of reasonable threat definitions based on historical attack data and well-established trends in different regions of the world.

Active Shooter Characteristics by Region

[1] Examples including the 2015 Corinthia Hotel Tripoli attack and 2008 Taj Majal attack.

[2] Dietz, Park D. “Mass, Serial, and Sensational Homicides.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine.  62:49-91. 1986.

[3] Blair, J. Pete, and Schweit, Katherine W. A Study of Active Shooter Incidents, 2000 – 2013. Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington D.C. 2014. pp. 7. PDF. (The 2011 South Jamaica and 2012 Tulsa shootings are specifically noted as the only events involving more than one attacker in the FBI’s study of U.S. domestic active shooter attacks between 2000 and 2013.)

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

[5] Gundry, Craig S. “Threat Assessment Methodology and Development of Design Basis Threats.” Assessing Terrorism Related Risk Workshop. S2 Safety & Intelligence Institute, 25 Apr. 2017, Brussels, Belgium.

[6] Gundry, Craig S. “Analysis of 20 Marauding Terrorist Firearm Attacks.” Preparing for Active Shooter Events. ASIS Europe 2017, 30 Mar. 2017, Milan, Italy. (Presentation included results of an unpublished 2015 study by Critical Intervention Services.

[7] Smith, Joseph, and Daniel Renfroe. “Active Shooter: Is There a Role for Protective Design?” World Building Design Guide, National Institute of Building Sciences, 2 Aug. 2016, www.wbdg.org/resources/active-shooter-there-role-protective-design. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.

[8] Blair, J. Pete, Martaindale, M. Hunter, and Nichols, Terry. “Active Shooter Events from 2002 to 2012.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1 July 2014, https://leb.fbi.gov/2014/january/active-shooter-events-from-2000-to-2012. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.

[9] UFC 4-020-01, DoD Security Engineering Facilities Planning Manual. US Department of Defense, N.p.: 2008.

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

Physical Security and Active Shooter Attacks
Physical Security and Active Shooter Attacks

Physical Security Design & The Active Shooter

By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO |

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.).

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Facility Preparation and The Active Shooter Threat (Main Article)

Facility Preparation and The Active Shooter Threat (Main Article)

By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO |

Comprehensive risk management programs employ a multi-layered approach to reducing the risk of active shooter violence. Issues such as threat recognition and assessment, reinforcement of positive workplace/school climate and culture, suspicious activity recognition and reporting, emergency planning, and employee training all contribute to reducing the risk of active shooter attacks. However, if measures employed to prevent attacks are unsuccessful or an outsider targets the facility in a manner that evades our proactive influence, physical security and infrastructure readiness are crucial factors influencing the consequences of the event.

In recent years, much has been published focused on managing risks of active shooter violence through preventive approaches and response training. Organizations such as the US Department of Homeland Security, ASIS International, and the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals offer a wealth of information to assist in developing threat assessment and management programs and training employees in active assailant response.

Unfortunately, far less attention has been devoted to equally important matters of building design and physical security. Withstanding a handful of essays and school-related publications, there is little guidance in print about designing and preparing facilities for active shooter violence. Further, most guides that have explored this subject to date have been basic and tend to overlook important vulnerability issues and technical details.

The following collection of articles aims to address this situation and serve as a comprehensive design guide and technical reference for architects, building managers, and security professionals. The essays in this series were originally prepared for a book I have been writing for the past few years. Although I will probably submit the final body of work for print when everything is complete, we have decided to publicly release what has been written thus far in hope of filling the gap in current literature.  

Protective Design Concepts

Parts 1-4 of this series provide an overview of protective strategy for reducing active shooter risk, principles of performance-based physical security, and practical issues that should be considered during the design process.

      1. Physical Security Design & The Active Shooter
      2. Design Basis Threat & The Active Shooter
      3. Facility Preparation for Active Shooter Attacks: Key Objectives
      4. Unique Planning Considerations

Universal Protective Measures

Parts 5-14 of the series address specific preparation matters applicable to most facilities including topics such as secure entry control, safe rooms, egress design, and emergency communications infrastructure.

      1. Outdoor Protective Measures
      2. Building Envelope & Entrance Design
      3. Entry Control Screening
      4. Access Control Systems
      5. Safe Rooms
      6. Egress Design
      7. Attack Detection Systems
      8. Emergency Communications Infrastructure
      9. Armed Response Officers
      10. CCTV and Control Rooms
  1. Technical References

Throughout this series, references are made to various standards for hardware specification and barrier construction. The following articles are provided as a technical reference to assist architects, engineers, and security professionals in interpreting these standards and/or evaluating the vulnerability of existing security barriers.

A. Forced Entry Standards
B. Ballistic Protection Standards
C. Protective Barrier Materials & Construction

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Risk Management & Workplace Violence

Risk Management and Workplace Violence
By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

Workplace Violence: The Risk in Perspective

By comparison to many other security risks, workplace violence incidents are low-moderate frequency events and rarely result in lethal consequences. According to US labor statistics, workplace violence is only responsible for 18% of deaths in professional office and healthcare settings—less than transportation accidents or even slips and falls.[i] Nevertheless, nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year.[ii] For reasons of liability, productivity, and duty of care, it is important that all employers implement reasonable measures to mitigate the probability and impact of workplace violence incidents.

Most incidents of workplace violence are examples of impromptu violence, spontaneous and unplanned acts of aggression often happening in the heat of the moment.[iii] These types of incidents can range from verbal threats and oral abuse all the way up the continuum of aggression to physical assault and non-premeditated murder.

Of greatest concern from a risk management perspective are acts of intended violence (also referred to as ‘targeted aggression’) which result in a planned, premeditated act.[iv] Most acts of mass homicide in workplace environments are examples of targeted violence and result from progression on a ‘pathway’ of development over time.

Mass Homicide in the Workplace

Many individuals who perpetrate mass violence align with Dr. Park Dietz’s definition of a Pseudocommando.[v] Pseudocommandos often evolve from angry, narcissistic personalities and harbor perceived injustices as a grievance for revenge. Violent fantasies become a refuge for the pseudocommando’s damaged ego and provide a sense of power and control.[vi] Without intervention, this process may continue into obsession and escalate until violent fantasy becomes a template for action. If this pathway progression continues unabated until nihilism takes place, commitment to violence is affirmed and often commenced in a planned manner or initiated by a trigger event (e.g., termination, demotion, family crisis, etc.).[vii]

By contrast to other security threats and even incidents of impromptu violence, acts of mass homicide are extremely low in frequency and rarely does probability as a sole factor justify risk reduction. In most cases, it’s the potentially devastating consequences of an attack that warrant concern. Aside from the obvious and horrific impact of loss of life, active assailant attacks universally result in extended disruption of facility operations, loss due to reduced productivity, and diversion of leadership attention to crisis management. The duration of operational disruption can span months before police release the facility as a crime scene, cleanup and remediation are completed, and post-incident recovery activities have concluded.

In cases where the horror of the event is deeply imprinted into the psyche of the public, the facility may be deemed permanently inhabitable due to its presence as a reminder of the tragedy. Rather than repair and restore Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown Public Schools opted to demolish the building and build a new replacement school at an estimated cost of $50M.[viii] Similarly, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act authorized $25 million to replace building 12 in Parkland, Florida. In the aftermath of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, the owner decided to permanently close the business as a nightclub and rebuild the site as a memorial and museum.

Depending on the organization’s responsiveness in managing the post-incident psychological consequences, the effects of an attack can easily result in an exodus of employees and long-term negative impact on workplace culture. In addition to psychological wounds suffered by victims of attacks, the trauma of mass violence can extend far beyond the local community with measurable effects of sadness and anxiety experienced vicariously by people nationwide.[ix]

When all risk factors are assessed in context, it is often the combined results of duty of care obligation (i.e., legal and moral responsibility for occupant safety), community perceptions and expectations, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of an event that warrant a balanced and diligent approach to risk control.

Risk Management Strategy and Workplace Violence

Effective risk management programs employ a multi-layered approach to controlling risk by reducing both the Probability and Criticality of events.

In the context of security risk management, risk probability is the result of Threat (an adversary with intent and capability to cause harm) and Vulnerability (the state of conditions that would allow the adversary to succeed in causing the risk event). Proactive measures aim to reduce Risk Probability by either reducing Threat or reducing Vulnerability. If proactive measures are implemented effectively, they may be successful in reducing Risk Probability, but there is always an element of uncertainty. To further reduce risk, reactive/mitigative measures should be employed to reduce the harmful effect of risk events (Risk Criticality).

In protective design theory, this concept of employing multiple layers of proactive and mitigative measures aimed at risk reduction is often described as concentric rings of protection. The following diagram illustrates this concept as it relates to workplace violence. The outermost rings of the diagram (colored in blue) represent proactive measures aimed at reducing risk probability. This is then followed by inner rings (red) representing mitigative measures aimed at decreasing the impact of events.

Workplace Violence Prevention Program

Workplace Violence Prevention (Proactive Measures)

Proactive risk management starts with reducing potential Threat. As a first step, measures should be employed where feasible to reduce the likely presence of violent perpetrators. One example is subjecting applicants to criminal record checks and carefully screening candidates for indications of previous behavioral problems. Next, measures should be employed to reduce potential conditions that contribute to the formation of violent intent or progression on the pathway of targeted violence. Measures such as reinforcement of positive workplace culture, providing access to employee assistance programs, and using management practices that reinforce employee dignity all contribute to reducing potential threat.

Other threat reduction measures aimed at reducing the likelihood of violence by nonemployees (e.g., angry customers, criminals, etc.) include training personnel in conflict de-escalation, ‘do-not-admit’ and trespass of threatening patrons, and presence of visible security measures as a deterrent to aggressive behavior.

To address the possibility of a dangerous employee already within our midst, threat assessment and management is our next line of defense. Extensive research over the past 25 years has established that most acts of targeted aggression by employees are precipitated by behaviors that if recognized and properly assessed can warn of potential violence and provide opportunity for intervention. Effective implementation of threat assessment and management as a protective strategy requires establishing a system for investigating and assessing threats, training supervisors to identify behaviors of concern, and managing potentially threatening situations before they result in violence.

If an employee of concern is terminated, procedures should be employed to ensure the safety of staff and best alleviate potential grievance. Some examples of safety measures include conducting the termination in a manner that preserves the individual’s dignity, scheduling terminations in the late afternoon, having security nearby, and avoiding early warning or breaks which provide an opportunity for retrieving a weapon. If concerns are substantial, additional measures may be justified such as severance pay or surveillance over the following weeks to monitor the ex-employee’s behavior and warn/intervene if the individual travels to the facility without an appointment.

Consequence Management and Workplace Violence

The aforementioned measures are often effective in reducing the probability of violence. But if measures employed to prevent attacks are unsuccessful or someone targets the facility in a manner that evades our proactive influence, physical security becomes the next line of defense. In the case of a convenience store, this may simply mean the installation of bullet-resistant glazing at the checkout counter. For organizations at risk of active assailant attacks, effective physical security is paramount in reducing the overall consequences of the event.

For best performance, physical security design should integrate Detection, Delay, and Response elements in a manner that mathematically reconciles the time required for an attacker to commence mass killing and the time required for detection and response by security or police.

If an event does occur, additional measures should be implemented to mitigate the impact of the risk event. This includes items such as early event detection and alert communications, emergency response plans and employee training, effective provisions for egress/escape, availability of safe refuge rooms, and the expedited response of armed security or police officers capable of effectively neutralizing an attacker before he/she can cause mass casualties.

Risk Management and Adversary Applicability

Obviously, not all risk reduction measures are equally applicable to all situations. Measures that may be necessary and justified in an office environment are often quite different from those in settings such as retail stores or hospitals. Risk management strategy should focus on relevant workplace violence risks in a manner that satisfies the organization’s risk appetite while tending matters of operational needs, culture, branding, and budget.

Below is a table describing the general relevance of measures in reducing different types of workplace violence risks using the FBI’s four-category classification system:.[x] 

    • Type I – Violent acts by criminals who have no other connection with the workplace, but enter to commit robbery or another crime.
    • Type II – Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or any others for whom an organization provides services.
    • Type III – Violence against coworkers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee.
    • Type IV – Violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn’t work there, but has a personal relationship with an employee—an abusive spouse or domestic partner.
Workplace Violence Prevention Measures

ANSI/ASIS Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard as a Guide for Best Practices

For those seeking to develop or improve a workplace violence prevention program, the newly updated ASIS/ANSI Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard is a great place to start. The ASIS/ANSI standard (formerly ASIS/SHRM WVP.1-2011) “provides an overview of policies, processes, and protocols that organizations can adopt to help identify, assess, respond to and mitigate threatening or intimidating behavior and violence affecting the workplace.”[xi]

The measures outlined in the standard are largely universal and can be adapted to organizations of almost any size. Some of the items addressed include the role and responsibilities of stakeholders, needs assessment, elements of policy, threat assessment and management practices, critical incident planning, employee training, and more.

In early 2020, a multi-disciplinary committee of experts completed a two-year review and revision of ASIS/SHRM WVP.1-2011 including the addition of a new Active Assailant Annex. In an upcoming article, we’ll explore some of the key measures outlined in the standard and differences between the updated document and the previous edition.

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Copyright © 2020 by Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

CIS consultants offer a range of services to assist organizations in managing risks of workplace aggression and active shooter violence.  Contact us for more information.

References

[i] Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). Bureau of Labor Statistics. N.p. 2015. | Cited percentage of 18% is derived from analysis of 2015 workplace fatalities for NAICS categories Health care and social assistance, Professional and business services, and Professional and technical services

[ii] Workplace Violence Overview. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. US Department of Labor. N.p. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/. Accessed 25 October 2017.

[iii] Calhoun, Fredrick, and Weston, Stephen. Threat Assessment and Management Strategies: Identifying the Hunters and the Howlers. CRC Press. Boca Raton, FL. 2016. pp 25.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Dietz, Park D. “Mass, Serial, and Sensational Homicides.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine.  62:49-91. 1986.

[vi] Meloy, J. Reid, and Hoffman, Jens. International Handbook of Threat Assessment. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2014.

[vii] Knoll, James. L. “The “Pseudocommando” Mass Murderer: Part II, The Language of Revenge.” The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 38:263–72, 2010

[viii] Delgadillo, Natalie. With Shootings on the Rise, Schools Turn to ‘Active Shooter’ Insurance. http://www.governing.com/topics/education/gov-cost-of-active-shooters-insurance.html. June 2018.

[ix] Dore, B., Ort, L., Braverman, O., & Ochsner, K. N. (2015). Sadness shifts to anxiety over time and distance from the national tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Psychological Science, 26(4), 363–373.

[X] Workplace Violence. Issues in Response. Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. N.d.

[xi] ASIS/SHRM WVP.1-2011, Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention. 2011.

Security Officer Posting and Active Shooter Attacks

Security Officers and Active Shooter Attacks
By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

Few would debate that one of the most important factors in mitigating active shooter attacks is the speed in which response forces (police or armed security personnel) intercept and neutralize the adversary. The importance of response time is well supported in studies, such as Purdue University’s 2014 Mitigating Active Shooter Impact Study,[1] and case analysis of incidents using the basic mathematical principles of physical security design. The true performance measure of any Physical Protection System (PPS) is its Probability of Effectiveness, most simply described as the probability of a response force intercepting an adversary (Probability of Interruption) and stopping the intruder before the adversary can complete his objective (Probability of Neutralization). [2] Although there are many factors contributing to the Probability of Interruption, the success of a protective design ultimately hinges on Adversary Task Time in relation to Response Force Time.

Recognizing the importance of rapid intervention, many organizations in recent years have opted for contracting or assigning armed security or police on-site to serve a dual role as deterrent and response force in the event of an active shooter incident.

Although having an on-site response capability offers great potential to mitigate the consequences of an armed attack, the manner in which security or police are employed is critical if they are expected to perform their function reliably when needed. As a consultant working with many clients the past decade that have adopted the use of armed security or police personnel for this purpose, one of the most common problems I observe consistently is the assignment of officers without proper consideration for tactical reaction time. Where this concern emerges most frequently is in situations where a facility has a small sized armed security force and has assigned critical officers to stationary posts near entrances without additional control measures.

The vulnerability of posting critical response officers near entrances is illustrated by a number of attacks over the past few decades where armed officers were shot by surprise or unable to react effectively quickly enough to stop the attacker from entry. As a few examples:

    • In the early morning of 01 January 2017, gunman Abdulkadir Masharipov killed 39 people and wounded 70 others at the Reina Nightclub in Istanbul. Although public details about the event are limited as of date, reports claim the attack was initiated when Masharipov shot a former police officer, Fatih Cakmak, and bystander outside the entrance. News reports indicate two other security officers, Hatice Karcilar and Burak Yildiz, also were killed during the attack but little information is available currently about whether the two officers were armed or what their response was during the incident.[3][4]
    • During the June 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a contracted off-duty police officer, Adam Gruler, was posted inside the club when Omar Mateen entered and opened fire on patrons. Gruler engaged Mateen but was reportedly outgunned and driven to retreat which allowed Mateen to bypass Gruler’s position and enter deeper into the club.[5] Altogether, 49 patrons were killed and 53 wounded before police made entry and neutralized the killer.
    • During the May 2003 Al-Qaida attack at the Dorrat Al-Jedawal residential compound in Riyadh, a Royal Saudi Air Force guard and unarmed security officer were killed by surprise when they approached the terrorists’ vehicle as it pulled into the north-side entry gate. [6] With the only armed officer at the entry control point killed, the remaining unarmed security force was forced to flee for their survival.

In each of the above cases, security personnel did not have ample opportunity to recognize an attack was underway and react effectively before being killed or overwhelmed due to tactical disadvantage.

Security officers assigned to protecting facilities against armed assaults require a theoretical minimum of two seconds to perceive and initiate a tactical response effectively. According to studies of human reaction time, it requires approximately .20 to .30 seconds for a person to recognize a situation visually and mentally process a reaction.[7] It then requires approximately 1.7 seconds to draw a weapon from holster, aim, and fire.[8] It is also important to consider the level of awareness of the officer assigned to a security post. The two-second theoretical response time as described assumes optimal conditions and is based on research where test subjects were in a heightened state of arousal and anticipating a provocative stimulus. To describe this by using Jeff Cooper’s color codes of awareness, officers participating in research tests and firearms drills usually are in Condition Orange (specific alert). [9] In the real world when an officer is assigned at a post for extended periods without any threat to arouse awareness, the officer is most likely in Condition Yellow (relaxed alert) or possibly even Condition White (unaware). If we add to this situation additional distractions common at entry control points such access control activities and discussion with building entrants, reaction time to an armed threat could be notably longer than two seconds. An officer seated in a chair would be at even greater disadvantage.

Several options exist to approach this problem in security planning.

The most ideal option is to augment officers assigned at entry points with additional armed officers located inside more tactically advantageous locations to serve as the reliable response force if an attack occurs. In the June 2009 attack at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, James von Brunn shot Special Police Officer Stephen Johns as Johns was opening the door for him.[10] Other armed officers posted nearby were able to respond and neutralize von Brunn before he was able to pass the lobby.

Many organizations do not have the budget for more than one armed officer. In this situation, ensuring a reliable response by a lone officer requires posting him in a location that will provide two seconds or more of reaction time. If a single armed officer was posted previously in a vulnerable location near an entrance, it may be more prudent to reposition that officer in the building interior and away from entrance doors. This suggestion is often resisted when first proposed to clients that believe the armed officer is a useful deterrent when posted visibly near an entrance. It is true that perceived vulnerability is a common factor contributing to terrorist target selection, but the deterrence value of armed officers at entry control points likely is overestimated considering the frequency of attacks against facilities visibly protected by armed personnel. Although attacks have occurred where adversaries altered their plan once in execution due to newly perceived resistance at entry points (e.g., 2015 attack at the Krudttønden Cultural Centre in Copenhagen, 2015 Stade de France, etc.), we are not aware of many events where adversaries abandoned their attack intentions specifically because of the presence of armed officers at entrances.

Deterrence resulting from presence of easily observed security elements is often effective in preventing criminal actions. But when dealing with active shooters (terrorists and non-ideological perpetrators), we should assume that attack preparation will involve a more sophisticated assessment of our vulnerabilities. When securing a facility against a committed and often highly-capable adversary, deterrence as a system design goal should be regarded as the byproduct of an effective performance-based protective system.

In addition to choosing post locations that provide effective response time, armed personnel responsible for defense at entry control points should be provided with pre-positioned cover in the event of a force engagement. Cover is simply defined as an object that will shield an individual from firearm projectiles. What defines cover is determined by the adversary’s weapon system and the ballistic resistance of the object’s material and construction. In building lobbies, for example, cover for stationary security posts can be facilitated discreetly by the use of planters, bullet-resistant trash receptacles, half-walls, or security desks constructed of bullet-resistant materials. Some examples of materials appropriate for use as cover against military small arms include:

      • UL 752 rated glazing and wall construction panels[11]
      • EN 1063 rated glazing and wall construction panels[12]
      • ASTM F 1233-98 rated glazing[13]
      • NIJ 0108.01 rated materials[14]
      • Reinforced Concrete, 4″ or more[15]
      • Brick Masonry, 8″ or more[16]
      • Mild Steel Plate, 14mm[17]
      • Armor Steel Plate, 11mm[18]

To further mitigate risks at building entry control points, open entrances and public lobbies ideally should be protected by an inner layer of intrusion-resistant barriers to delay adversaries regardless of the presence of armed officers. Even a large group of security personnel in proximity of an entrance doesn’t guarantee reliable interception. Speed and surprise provide the attacker with a huge advantage in these events. This point was demonstrated in the 2014 attack at Parliament Hill in Ottowa. After wounding an unarmed officer at the Centre Block building entrance doors, gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was shot by another officer located nearby and was able to run successfully through the Rotunda and Hall of Honour corridor past two rooms occupied by members of Parliament before being contained and neutralized.[19] Had the entrance design at the Centre Block building employed a secure layer of full-height intrusion resistant barriers (e.g., walls, lexan turnstiles, etc.), it is not likely Zehaf-Bibeau would have made it past the lobby.

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Copyright © 2017 by Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

CIS consultants offer a range of services to assist organizations in managing risks of active shooter violence.  Contact us for more information.


References

1] 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 (2015): 201-16. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

[2] Garcia, Mary Lynn. Vulnerability Assessment of Physical Protection Systems. N.p.: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006. Print.

[3] O’Brien, Zoie. “First images of Turkey nightclub attack victims as police officer and student identified.” Express.co.uk. Express.co.uk, 02 Jan. 2017. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/749239/Reina-club-terror-ISIS-victims-police-officer-student-banker-daughter-Turkey-Istanbul>.

[4] Michael, Tom, and Jon Lockett. “Families weep for dead as identities of Istanbul nightclub attack victims emerge.” The Sun. The Sun, 02 Jan. 2017. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2514430/families-dead-identities-istanbul-nightclub-attack-victims/>.

[5] Harris, David. “Cops give harrowing account of rescues during nightclub shooting.” OrlandoSentinel.com. N.p., 14 June 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/pulse-orlando-nightclub-shooting/os-orlando-shooting-inside-club-20160613-story.html>.

[6] Braden, Wallace. “Attack at Jedawal: Critical Lessons for AT Professionals.” 2005. S2 Online Academy. Web. 2005. | AUTHOR’S NOTE: Surprise assault against entry control point guards was a common and successful modus operandi in AQAP attacks inside Saudi Arabia throughout the early-mid 2000’s. Some other noteworthy examples include attacks at the Vinnell Corporation compound (May 2003), Al-Muhaya compound (November 2003), and the Al-Abqaiq oil processing facility (February 2006).

[7] Welchman, Andrew E., James Stanley, Malte R. Schomers, R. Chris Miall, and Heinrich H. Bülthoff. “The quick and the dead: when reaction beats intention.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences. The Royal Society, 03 Feb. 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.

[8] “Edged Weapon Defense: Is or was the 21-foot rule valid? (Part 1).” PoliceOne. N.p., 23 May 2005. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <https://www.policeone.com/edged-weapons/articles/102828-Edged-Weapon-Defense-Is-or-was-the-21-foot-rule-valid-Part-1>. | AUTHOR’S NOTE: The 1.7 second time cited by PoliceOne for drawing and aimed fire is also very consistent with the experience of the S2 Institute’s firearms training team during timed tactical handgun drills.

[9] “Cooper’s colors: A simple system for situational awareness.” PoliceOne. N.p., 09 Aug. 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <https://www.policeone.com/police-trainers/articles/2188253-Coopers-colors-A-simple-system-for-situational-awareness/>

[10] Ruane, Michael E. , Paul Duggan, and Clarence Williams. “At a Monument of Sorrow, A Burst of Deadly Violence.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 11 June 2009. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/10/AR2009061001768.html?hpid=topnews>.

[11] For protection against military small arms, optimal specifications would be UL 752 Level 7 (five impacts, 5.56x45mm) or Level 8 (five impacts, 7.62x51mm)

[12] For protection against military small arms, optimal specifications would be EN 1063 BR5 (three impacts, 5.56x45mm), BR6 (three impacts, 7.62x51mm soft core ammunition), and BR7 (three impacts, 7.62x51mm hard core ammunition). Although EN 1063 does not specifically encompass 7.62x39mm (AK47) ammunition, most manufacturers of EN 1063 rated materials claim the EN 1063 BR5 level is effective for protection against 7.62x39mm soft core ammunition.

[13] ASTM F 1233 establishes test procedures for the evaluation of the resistance of security glazing materials and systems against several types of threats: ballistic impact, blunt tool impacts, sharp tool impacts, thermal stress, and chemical deterioration. For purposes as ballistic cover against military small arms, ideal material specifications under ASTM F 1233 would specify Class/Level R3 equating to successful ballistic testing against .308 Winchester (7.62mm, M80 Ball).

[14] The NIJ 0108.01 standard is applicable to all ballistic resistant materials (armor) intended to provide protection against gunfire. Optimal specifications for protection against military small arms would be Level III (7.62mm FMJ) and Level IV (7.62mm AP).

[15] Unified Facilities Criteria. Design to Resist Direct Fire Weapons Effects. UFC 4-023-07. U.S. Department of Defense. 7 July 2008. pp. 5-8. | AUTHOR’s NOTE: Construction specifications as described in the article text are for a ‘MEDIUM’ threat level (7.62mm NATO) as defined in UFC 4-023-07.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] O’Malley, Kady, and Hannah Thibedeau. “Ottawa shooter’s movements tracked in security video as questions remain.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ottawa-shooting-gunman-s-movements-caught-on-video-but-security-questions-remain-1.2810673>.