Editor's Note: Let’s Take a Hard Look at Soft Targets

Aug. 12, 2015
The time has come to put our thinking caps on and devise a way to mitigate some of the risk

Sadly for the world, there’s a cyber attack/breach reported just about every day; and on the days there isn’t one, there’s a mass shooting instead. Sadly for our industry, it is becoming more and more apparent that we are having a very hard time stopping the momentum of either.

Instead of sounding like a broken record, I will leave breach-of-the-moment candidates OPM and Ashley Madison behind and focus on another daunting responsibility for our industry: protecting soft targets.

Shooting incidents, unfortunately, are pretty common in all walks of life, but when a crazed gunman aims at a so-called “soft target,” national headlines are made. As we know it in the security industry, soft targets are those facilities and areas that are generally open to the public, easily accessible, and, for the most part, relatively unprotected or vulnerable.

Schools once fell into this category — and many open campuses still do — but thankfully, our industry (and theirs) has significantly stepped up its deployment of access controls, emergency notification and other deterrents in that market. For this exercise, the focus is on places you may have seen in recent headlines: places like movie theaters, churches and small retail outlets such as military recruiting centers. Of course, all three venues experienced a mass casualty shooting in the last couple months. 

Certainly, when you hear about these incidents on the evening news or while you drive to work the next morning, it is sickening. You think of the victims. You think of the motivations of the shooter. You think about your own safety, and most definitely the safety of your children. For the readers of this column, the next immediate thoughts should be the steps we can take to improve the security posture of these soft targets. 

It doesn’t mean we have to create a police state, but the delicate task of protecting an always-open church, for example, is something security dealers and integrators can absolutely devise a good solution for.

In a recent SecurityInfoWatch article (www.securityinfowatch.com/12095906) Dr. Erroll Southers, managing director of counterterrorism and infrastructure protection at TAL Global, an international security consulting firm, says potential perpetrators are looking at soft targets from a variety of different angles — such as how difficult it is to gain access to the location, how many people are there and possible escape routes.

“One of the things you’re going to see are security assessments on venues like this — they are probably already being done,” Southers told SecurityInfoWatch. “I would hate to see us overreact and throw in a lot of policies, procedures and technologies that don’t address a threat that is not really there. No one should consider themselves safe because of the size of their municipality. This could happen anywhere.”

Patrick Fiel, owner of PVF Security Consulting LLC, added that businesses need to have some type of plan in place to deal with active shooter scenarios. So what is the solution? It is hard to be proactive when it comes to protecting a soft target, as they are, by their very nature, open and inviting. Thus, security dealers and integrators should focus on the reactive. One such technology that Fiel believes soft targets should consider is panic buttons that send an emergency signal directly to a central monitoring center or police. And we all know that hanging more cameras will make it much more difficult to escape undetected.

Southers maintains that security professionals must think like a potential adversary if these types of attacks are going to be prevented in the future. “We have to start thinking like attackers,” he said. “How easy is it to get in, how easy is it to get in undetected and how easy is it to get out?”

In the end, whether it’s your local church, movie theater, shopping mall or sprawling campus, you — as someone with expertise — have a responsibility to pitch in and help mitigate. A single incident avoided should make it all worthwhile.

Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Dealer & Integrator (SD&I) magazine (www.secdealer.com).

About the Author

Paul Rothman | Editor-in-Chief/Security Business

Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Business magazine. Email him your comments and questions at [email protected]. Access the current issue, full archives and apply for a free subscription at www.securitybusinessmag.com.