Lessons learned from the Capital Gazette shooting

Aug. 9, 2018
Incident demonstrates the criticality of having organizational awareness about threats

The media has long been an object of scorn and ridicule by politicians and those who feel that newspapers and television networks are more interested in advancing a partisan agenda than they are of reporting the facts, though never to the level of vitriol we are experiencing in today’s highly-polarized political climate. Despite the rancor, physical attacks against journalists in the United States are rare events, which made the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Maryland earlier this summer all the more shocking.

On June 28, authorities say Jarrod Ramos walked into the offices of the newspaper and opened fire with a shotgun, killing five and wounding two others. The shooting immediately sent shock waves through the media community, many of whom wondered aloud if the current level of hostility towards the so-called “Fourth Estate” had played a role in the atrocity. It was later determined that Ramos held a longstanding grudge against the paper over an unflattering article published about him years earlier. Still, the shooting raised a number of questions about what steps media companies need to take to protect their workers against these types of threats.

According to Michael Crane, a security consultant and attorney who serves as the CEO of Securisks, while TV stations have always had concerns about protecting on-air talent from stalkers and people who send in threatening letters and emails, that has now transcended television and crossed over into the print media as well. But as with any other organization, Crane says the same best practices apply when it comes to mitigating active shooter incidents in the workplace.

“In looking specifically at what happened here, you had a commercial office building with multiple tenants and best practice today says that you should have a central reception area manned by a receptionist or security officer who would get the ID of the visitor and receive authorization from whatever tenant they want to see,” Crane says. “They would then give them a visitor badge and send them on their way and when they get to the tenant, best practice says the doors should be locked.”

Ted Wade, President of security consulting firm All Hazards Security, LLC, says the shooting at the Capital Gazette should make everyone come to the realization that such incidents can happen anywhere.

“Very often organizations kind of dismiss it as a possibility so they don’t take the threat seriously or prevention measures seriously before incidents like this happen,” Wade says. “Even though the risk of it happening may be low for an individual organization, if it happens it’s such a catastrophic incident that organizations should take it seriously and make sure they’ve got prevention and preparedness measures in place.”

Wade, who previously provided security services for a newspaper located in a mid-sized city in another state, says media organizations frequently deal with what he refers to as “grievance collectors,” which are individuals that keep a mental scorecard of people and institutions that have done them wrong over the years.

“Every organization that I have seen in this category has some individuals that have made threats in the past and their interaction with these individuals can be over many years or even decades and, very often, organizations think it’s normal that they have a couple of people out there in the public that have been an issue for them or made threats in the past,” he adds. “They may ramp up security right after an incident occurs but they move back into normal operations soon after when nothing happens, but the individuals involved are often on a years-long process to get to a point of becoming an active shooter.”

Watching for Red Flags

Crane, who is currently overseeing the development of a new ASIS International/ANSI active assailant mitigation standard, says there are three things that media organizations and businesses of all kinds can do to better prepare for active shooters:

  1. Recognize warning signs – Unlike in years past when someone would just show up at a facility and begin shooting without any real advanced warning, Crane says people today who are disgruntled with their employer, former employer or some other person or business against whom they’ve expressed animosity previously now typically begin to vent their frustrations through social media pages and other outlets first. Being aware of this can help organizations know who may potentially pose a threat in the future.
  2. Implement layers of access control – As previously mentioned, organizations need to have layers of access control – receptionist or guard at front desk, locks on office doors, etc. – to mitigate the movements of an assailant throughout a building.
  3. Training for active assailants – Just like people practice fire drills to escape from a building in a timely manner in the event of an emergency, businesses should hold regular drills and tabletop exercises on whatever active shooter mitigation strategy they decide to implement.

Balancing Security and Public Access

While there is always a delicate balance that organizations must strike between security and allowing people to have a reasonable degree of access, especially in the case of reporters that are dependent upon public sources for newsgathering efforts, Wade says it is paramount that they know who exactly they are giving access to.

“If there is an individual out there making threats or posing a threat, the organization has to be aware of it at a high level and at a security level so they can mitigate that threat,” says Wade, who will be speaking at a session titled, “Planning Security for Workplace Violence Threats,” during the Global Security Exchange (GSX) conference next month in Las Vegas. “In this case, this individual had interacted with the paper for many years and, over that time, built up his grievance against them and most of these attacks are revenge attacks or retaliation attacks. If (media) organizations have an awareness plan and their staff – reporters and editors – are looking for the warning signs that an individual may be heading down the path towards violence, then they can keep an eye out for it and put security and mitigation measures in place and maybe even try to diffuse the individual.”

Crane stresses that organizations have to actively prepare for workplace violence incidents and not just pay it lip service.

“Just having a piece of paper that says, 'workplace violence prevention plan,' doesn’t cut it. You have to understand what it is and most of the time it is recognizing that behavior you’re observing from co-workers or customers coming in and doing something about it,” Crane adds. “What are the protocols and procedures for reporting and after you’ve reported it, what happens? Best practice says you should have a threat assessment team that is multi-disciplinary – legal, security, facilities – who get together and come up with a plan once a threat is made. One person doesn’t necessarily have big enough shoulders to make a decision.”

About the Author:

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at [email protected].