About a week ago, I was having a conversation with a school security consultant and we were discussing the incident in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where the perpetrators had set up shop in the bushes with their guns, pulled a fire alarm and then waited for the students and teachers to come rushing out of the school. They picked them off in the confusion in this tragic scenario. We discussed how school security shouldn't start or stop at the front door, but that the school grounds and surrounding areas are part of the security plan. We debated how you would start to secure wide-open areas against scenarios where the shooters are in outside areas that aren't typically controlled.
The conversation hit home again yesterday when a county almost adjacent to our offices here in North Georgia saw violence erupt outside its courthouse. A man took family members hostage and then proceeded to shoot at law enforcement officers, injuring some, and even shooting a paramedic as part of the incident. Just a week before this, outside a courthouse in Kingston, Tenn., we saw a similar situation played out that ended in the death of an officer. As I see it, these courthouse shootings in Lumpkin, Ga., and Kingston, Tenn., are really surprisingly similar in execution to the Jonesboro school shootings. We have to consider the areas surrounding a facility as important as the facilities themselves. Our industry has become very good at creating high-security facilities, but that security often crumbles as soon as you pass outside the main entrances.
I'm not sure exactly how you would secure these outer areas, but I suspect that you're going to need to involve surveillance cameras and well-trained guards who know how to recognize suspicious behavior, and I also imagine that securing facilities like public grounds around courthouses means controlling how people enter and leave these facilities. If it means a secure parking garage designed to mitigate bomb blasts and designed in such a way that shooters can be cordoned off, then that's what we need to consider. I've posted a query on this in our forums, and I'd like to hear your suggestions on ways to improve the public grounds around our nation's courthouses and other public/governmental facilities. Visit that forum thread here.
The courthouse attacks aren't all that's on our radar this week. If you sell, install or monitor security systems, I can only imagine the smile brought to your face when we published the news that the NBFAA (recently moved to Texas in case you need to update your address books) has helped promote legislation that would give big tax deductions to buyers of security systems. When I came to this industry, I wondered where all the alarm-business lobbying was happening. Now, in the late summer of 2005, I'm starting to see the effects of the industry organizations. Don't hold your breath that this bill will pass -- not much does on a first try in our Congress -- but it does at least point to "good times ahead."
There's more good news for dealers and monitoring companies: Enhanced call verification has earned the support of police chief organizations in Georgia and Tennessee. This is the protocol that's supported by SIAC, NBFAA and others as a way to avoid the possibility of municipalities going to verified response. Will more states come aboard? We hope so, and we know you do too.
This is also the week of testing. For those of you who pay attention when things go "boom", the Department of Energy is loading trucks full of ammonium nitrate and exploding them to test durability of equipment like surveillance cameras, barricades and more. That's not the only test that's starting. PortSTEP, a port security testing program put on by the TSA and the U.S. Coast Guard, is beginning a scenario-driven test of 40 port facilities around the U.S. It started in San Francisco on Thursday.