Is your Deadly Weapons Strategy Hope?
On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, as the school day drew to an end, the gates to the parking lots of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – a multi-acre campus of more than 3,200 students – were open to allow buses and cars to enter. When the school opened in 1990 it was lauded for its $27 million state-of-the-art campus.
Normally, visitors checked-in through the school’s main entrance on Coral Springs Drive. But the school also has a very large parking lot to the north side of the campus with an entrance far from the main entrance. Dressed to blend in, the shooter parked and approached the school.
As he was a former student and previously identified as a behavioral risk, faculty and staff knew of the shooter’s history of disciplinary problems and had been warned to be on the lookout for him. One staff member did see the shooter walking “purposely” toward a three-story building that abutted the parking lot and radioed a co-worker to alert him. Time was against the school however; within two minutes of emerging from his car, the shooting started. Seventeen individuals were murdered.
Prevention and preparedness in general is a process. Every step in that process relates to both the step before and the step after.
The first step in a true, 360-degree process, involves assessment of physical security coupled with policy and procedure. This happens at the construction phase. Engaging security expertise as an integral member of the design team allows for the predictive analysis point-of-view that mitigates damages and allows for prevention strategies from the literal and figurative foundation.
Security features are not enough. The most comprehensive physical security features will eventually fail without training for the human factor. Many times, policies and procedures don’t match the current space, climate and environment. Outdated emergency protocols may cause greater harm in an emergency or crisis. Process is key to how the pieces of safety and preparedness plans relate to each other.
We also must have something in place to allow us to predict behaviors of concern. In this instance, during the period of time that the shooter was a student of the target school, there was oversight; however, what intelligence tools were active after the student was expelled. Firestorm EVP of Professional Services, Wendy Ruffcorn, observes: “Of all times to observe behavior, whether with a terminated employee or a student that has been under behavioral observation, ceasing observation at the time of separation is counter to best practices. The period of separation and months afterward are as important – if not more-so – to predicting escalating behaviors of concern specifically regarding retaliation against those deemed responsible for the separation.”
It is easy to become distracted by the myriad issues related to the increasing frequency of deadly weapons attacks. One may be drawn into political issues, mental health issues, local and community concerns and national campaigns seeking to leverage such an event for the promotion of a specific agenda.
To allow consideration of deadly weapons attacks and prevention to be viewed solely from one observation point is like viewing only a small piece of the Earth from space and concluding it is made up of only water. Your next actions are dependent upon your view of water and purpose for the observation. An objective, wholistic view of the entire planet and purpose for the observation is needed in order to have enough information to make an informed decision. Leverage the expertise and experience of professional and objective third-parties in critical decision support.
Hope is defined as “…an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.” While optimism is a lovely point of view, it is myopic, and it is not a strategy.
As with any peril, we are faced with two tools: risk management (prevention and/or mitigation) and risk transfer (insurance). A full behavioral risk management program is needed to identify threats of violence and coordinate response to them. The creation of a sound prevention plan is the most important and ultimately least costly portion of any violence prevention program. To complement this, the insurance industry generally rises to the occasion and creates products for emerging risks. Deadly Weapons coverage is no different.
This is an evolving area however, and many crises, by their nature, do not arise from covered losses, yet they require careful crisis management in order to achieve the desired outcome, protect lives, protect brand and reputation, and limit the ultimate financial exposure and human loss.
Failure to adequately prevent and cope with violent incidents in any organization is a true matter of life and death. Recognizing the risk of violence and acting is essential.