The Risk of Not Being Prepared

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An Interview with Rocco DelMonaco, Jr., Security Expert, Firestorm Expert Council Member

Special Feature Interview by Marchet Butler, Contributing Editor

RockyIt’s hard to imagine a security situation Rocco (Rocky) DelMonaco, Jr. can’t speak to. A recognized expert in law enforcement and national security, DelMonaco started as a police officer when he was just a college senior. His path eventually led to the U.S. Secret Service where he spent over 20 years.  After working in the private sector, he was hired on as the Vice President of University Safety at Georgetown University where he headed campus security for 5 years.

During our interview, DelMonaco drew from his vast experience to address some of the security risks facing businesses and schools today–especially those on campuses. DelMonaco’s ability to address important issues with down-to-earth examples and practical experience make him a valuable member of the Firestorm Expert Council. Here are the highlights from our conversation.

Q: What is the greatest security risk that business campuses and school campuses face today?

I think the greatest risk is having some sort of major incident and not being prepared to prevent it or respond to it. It’s a process of denial. People [say], “I see it on the news all the time but that could never happen to me.” And, and that’s a very, very dangerous type of thinking because yes, anything could happen to you. The chances of something happening is statistically very low. The problem is that people rely on that. And that’s where it really gets to be dangerous.

So the major risk? Not being prepared.

Q: What are some of the obstacles these organizations face when addressing security?

I’ve always found that people, no matter what the organization is–government or otherwise–say, “Well, we’ve tried to save money so we don’t spend money on this or on that.” But if you’re not spending money on the right things to prevent or mitigate risk, typically you end up paying a heck of lot more on the back end–after something happens.

People are so busy at their jobs. Think how efficient the American worker is now with computers and being able to do three different things at once. While all of that is going on, it’s kind of difficult for you, unless the boss tells you, to [plan for an emergency.] You might think it’s a great idea, but the first thing that pops in your mind is, “Well, when would we have time to do that?” while the bosses want you to do all this other stuff.

That’s why it’s so important that . . on this particular subject, it does come from the top. You do need to have the leader of your organization–whatever it is, profit or nonprofit, government or whatever–say, “You know what, we need to always be prepared . . . We’re going to take an extra hour on Thursday after our regular staff meeting, and go through some things.” When the boss says it, it takes all the pressure off. In my experience, most organizations won’t do that.

And that’s a risk.

Q: What interested you in being on the Firestorm Expert Council?
Quite frankly, I used to be a client of Firestorm. They helped me shape the thinking of folks I was working with in a university setting about how to handle crises and incidents on campus, and how important it is to not just to have a plan written down, but to exercise the plan. And that’s the part that people really tend not [to do]. They’re not willing to test the things they put down on paper and to learn from those things.

For example, Firestorm first helped me many years ago when they came in and helped me run an exercise, a tabletop exercise–a fairly elaborate one, on purpose–but a tabletop exercise nonetheless. And by running that tabletop exercise and having that outside expertise come in and [inject] the types of things that happen in a tabletop exercise–“Okay, solve this problem. Oh, this just happened; what are you going to do now?”–it gets the conversation rolling.

Q: Tell me about your approach to campus security.

I have this holistic look on securing any campus–that campus could be a hospital, it could be a university, it could be a school in a K-12 system, it could be a business campus–places where there’s not just in one building but a cluster of buildings.

The holistic approach is very similar to what Firestorm does: predict, plan, and perform. [During the predict phase], you could find out that you’re in a very good place because you have a president and leadership [whose] priority is to have a safe environment for people to work. Or, you could find out that oh, my gosh, we have more gaps than we thought. And that assessment part, that predicting part, is where we figure out what kind of risks are out there against the organization and what we have to work though.

You not only have to have to know your baseline and what your capabilities are–and what would be best practices to fill those gaps–you [also] need to have good policy and procedure to be able to work your way through any problem or crisis or incident. You have to train your people to know your policy and know how it’s going to work. And then you have to test it. You have to have what I call . . . the continuous improvement cycle. . . and that circle just keeps going and going all the time.

Q: How did your time with the Secret Service influence your approach to security?
In the Secret Service, we say we think in “Layers of Protection.” If something gets through that first layer, they’ve got to get through other layers in the organization. If something breaks down, you have something else to back it up with.

[Many campuses] have the open European-style campus [without walls around the perimeter of the campus]. In that case, because you can’t check somebody in and see whether they belong or not, you have to have your patrol forces deployed in such a way so that when somebody walks on campus, they have a very high chance of seeing someone in uniform. That’s your first layer of protection.

Now you get to your buildings, for example resident halls or dormitories, and you have controlled access there. So now there’s that layer around the skin of that building.

Another layer of protection is that if something happens in that residence hall, [there’s a] capability of rapid response [from campus security] so that little things don’t become big things: a disagreement in a building between two people doesn’t become a riot.

Q: Will you talk a little about the recent incident at University of Central Florida? A student planned to open fire on students after pulling the fire alarm. Another student called 911 after seeing him with a weapon. The student committed suicide, but and no other people were injured. It could have been much, much worse.

When the report came out, the first thing that came to my mind was, my gosh, I’m sure there had to be some outward signs of behavior because, quite frankly, people don’t snap. It’s called a pathway to targeted violence.

[With] a lot of these things, until the investigation is done and those of us in the law enforcement service get to read the reports, [we don’t know] what really happened. There’s always a lot of speculation in the media and the press. So, I tend to not even comment on things when they’re happening because I’m very careful about saying what we know and what we don’t know.

For example, I was on the local television station here in D.C. on the day of the shootings at Newtown, Connecticut. I was even asked on the air in a live segment: what do you think happened? and what went wrong? I said, “Listen, you’ve got to let the Newtown Police and the Connecticut State Police complete their investigation.”

But, it sounded like, at the time of the broadcast, that there had to be some kind of policy and procedure [at Newtown] and they practiced it. The first thing you heard . . . was that classrooms were locked down. There were teachers taking kids into areas and hiding and being quiet. Just that preliminary information at least tells me that, they’ve practiced this, and they had a plan.

Coming back to the incident at the University of Central Florida,  [after the other student called 911], law enforcement responded quickly. . . . They got the information, and they acted on it immediately. Also, they had the cooperation of their community–the student that came in and saw the gun. He saw something wasn’t right and didn’t keep quiet about it.

Q: Last year there was a spate of bomb threats at university campuses including at Louisiana State University. In that case, evacuation led to gridlock as the campus tried to evacuate. What is your response to that?

In generalities, it’s a great example of how you should be talking about this with your own folks and those first responders there that are going to come and help you, over a cup of coffee–long before you get the phone call or the bomb threat.

It’s so important to plan ahead of time. . . I do remember that the mass evacuations caused gridlock. My assumption is that if college campuses had planned for something like that, then when their plan resulted in that gridlock, it’s a really good opportunity for lessons learned. When they got all their heads get together [they could say], “Hey, thank God nothing bad happened, but that didn’t look very smooth, did it? What could we do to improve that?”

Q: What is your advice to leadership trying to plan for events like these?

What I used to do, when things happened at other campuses across the country, [was] I would get all my command staff together that ran the three departments I oversaw and even the dean. And said, “Hey, did you see what happened? We’re going to spend about 45 minutes to tabletop this thing real quick and refer to our procedure.” That’s what I learned from my counterparts in emergency management around the country and around the world, for that matter. If something bad happens someplace else, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about it here.



Rocco (Rocky) DelMonaco, Jr. served as Vice President for Georgetown University’s Office of University Safety from 2007 through 2012. As Vice President for University Safety, DelMonaco was responsible for the strategy, planning and execution of all safety and security functions and programs at the main campus, medical and law centers, and overseas locations.  Simultaneously, Rocco DelMonaco served as the Chief of Police for the Georgetown University Department of Public Safety. DelMonaco has more than 30 years of operational…more


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