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Celebrating July 4th Should Be Fun AND Safe

Holidays and celebrations bring people together — but in doing so, create “soft targets”, i.e. locations and venues that people gather that aren’t closely or heavily monitored and protected.

Examples of large, well-known holiday gatherings include Rockefeller Center around Christmastime, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston, and the New Year’s Eve fireworks show at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.

Since we know that attackers are increasingly targeting public venues and large-scale gatherings, as security professionals, we have an opportunity to transform the way we approach security to meet this evolving threat landscape.

July 4th is a Soft Target

With one of the most popular holidays in America right around the corner, it’s important to recognize the myriad ways we create soft targets during the fourth of July. Whether the Boston Pops July 4th Firework Spectacular, a community concert, or workplace barbeque, massive amounts of people are planning to come together in celebration across the country.

On a day intended to celebrate freedom, one of the last things venues want to do is burden guests with onerous security measures. However, allowing these large gatherings to go unprotected is a sure way to create a soft target and open yourself up to an attack.

Protecting Holiday Celebrations

Here are several proactive best practices that your venue – outdoor or indoor – can take to protect your staff and guests this 4th of July.

1. Collaborate with Law Enforcement

In the event of an attack, local law enforcement is essential to mitigating damage and protecting guests. Your venue security, law enforcement (e.g. police, fire department, etc.), and venue staff should all be introduced prior to an event. Establishing relationships between these is key to fast, streamlined emergency response.

2. Perform a Security Threat Assessment

In light of recent active shooter and bomb incidents, performing a security threat assessment and establishing specific response protocols will help safeguard your staff and guests.

In partnership with local law enforcement, walk the perimeter and identify all entry and exit points. Determine if you are able to lock down the event – and if so, identify what it will take to quickly make that happen without letting unwanted persons in, or a person of interest to escape.

It’s good to ask yourself these questions while performing your assessment:

  • Where are the gaps in our security?
    • Do we have enough perimeter control measures? (i.e. gates, security personnel, signage, etc.)
    • Do we have screening systems in place to identify persons of interest and detect threats?
  • What will we do if a threat is identified?
    • How do we physically lock down the event?
    • Will communicating to all security personnel and law enforcement be easy?
    • How easy will it be for law enforcement to enter the venue/event?
    • Where should local law enforcement be placed for rapid response?
    • Do we have proper evacuation signage for event attendees?
    • If an incident occurs, and exiting the event is not an option, do we have adequate areas for attendees to take shelter?

3. Build Emergency Response Plans & Procedures

Upon performing your security threat assessment with local law enforcement and your security staff, you will want to work together to determine safety plans and procedures in the case of an attack.

Think about including the following:

  • An emergency response & communications plan – to ensure all staff and local law enforcement know what to do and are notified immediately
  • A bomb threat plan – to manage bomb threat calls and know what to do if you locate a suspicious object
  • An evacuation plan – with venue layout and evacuation routes

4. Incorporate Visual Deterrents

While creating plans and procedures, as well as highlighting evacuation routes, are an important and necessary process to ensure you are prepared, there are a few ways to keep yourself left of boom/bang.

Notifying guests that there are screening solutions upon entrance has actually proven to prevent attackers from entering or even targeting a venue. For example, the Orlando nightclub shooting that took place in 2016 was actually intended for Disney World’s shopping and entertainment complex, however the shooter became spooked by police that were on-site and instead chose the night club as his target.

Thus, maintaining a strong security presence can deter attackers from executing their plans and simultaneously show guests they’re being protected. Whether you implement visible cameras, strategically place security guards and police on horseback, add signage identifying items guests are prohibited from carrying into the venue, or simply alert guests that they’ll be subject to screening, there are numerous ways to show an attacker that the venue is prepared to deter an attack. 

As Americans look forward to sporting red, white and blue, you and your staff need to be prepared for potential attacks on your celebrations. For more resources on protecting mass gatherings, the Department of Homeland Security provides several steps venues can take to strengthen security posture. And, for future events, consider implementing next generation weapons-sensing technology to efficiently identify threats and improve your guests’ experience.

Looking to learn more about how to protect a soft target? Read our blog “Relying on 100-Year-Old Technology is Not the Answer to Stop Today’s Active Shooter.”

A Citizen’s Guide to Stopping the Next Active Shooter

Holiday Marching Band

By Juliette Kayyem, Former Assistant Secretary Department of Homeland Security, and Advisor to Evolv Technology –

It’s getting to be holiday season, a time for Thanksgiving Day parades, New Year’s Eve celebrations and other big public events. Given the almost weekly news of another mass shooting, many people—particularly parents—are no doubt thinking more about whether to just stay home given this year’s horrific events.

As a career security professional and the mother of three school-age kids, I understand the impulse. But we can’t go there. The truth is that we can’t hide our way to solving this problem. For starters, the costs are unacceptably high. Hunkering down reduces the richness of our lives as individuals and weakens the cultural fabric that holds our society together—at a time when it needs some serious strengthening. If anything, we should be making an extra effort to participate in the communal celebrations that bond us together in our open, free way of life.

I’m not suggesting we throw caution to wind, and seek out large crowds in vulnerable “soft-target” locations, in a reckless attempt to “not let the bad guys win.” On the contrary, I’m suggesting we each adopt a smarter, more engaged attitude about our role in protecting ourselves and others. We’ve been fortunate in this country to be able to consider our safety a right—something we expect our world-class law enforcement institutions, from the local cops to the Department of Homeland Security, to provide. Now is the time to admit that this right comes with responsibilities. We can debate gun control, mental illness treatment and other contributing factors of mass shootings forever (and probably will). But anyone who is serious about preventing the next mass casualty attack can best start by changing his or her own daily behavior.

Here are some guidelines:

“See something, say something” is not a marketing campaign. Barring the most obvious threats, most of us are conditioned to err on the side of inaction—either out of embarrassment, respect for other people’s privacy or, if we’re honest, in the hope that someone else will notify law enforcement of suspicious activity. This needs to change. Think of all the cases in which disconcerting actions or behaviors by a shooter were known to the community around him.  The truth is that a vigilant citizenry is one of the most effective ways to identify potential shooters before they act, and to prevent or quickly respond to attacks in the critical moments when they occur.

Talk to your kids. We all want to protect our kids from life’s dangers and evils. But they are probably already scared. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report, more than 75 percent of people between 15 and 21 say fear of mass shootings was a “significant source of stress”. So, take the time to make a family safety plan before attending an event, and talk about the best ways to protect oneself if the unthinkable does occur, such as what they should do in an active shooter situation or if anyone sees something suspicious. This way, you’re making it clear that you’re not sending them blindly into a potentially dangerous world. You’re empowering them. Just as teaching our kids to wear seatbelts and bike helmets doesn’t keep them out of cars or off bikes, educating them on active shooter risks will allow them to worry less and enjoy themselves more.

Encourage, rather than complain, about the need for common-sense security measures – I hear lots of parents bemoan the fact that our kids live in a world where active shooter drills at school are a fact of life. But that’s where we are. Encourage your kids to pay close attention during drills, and talk to them about the experience. If it sounds like the exercise was ineffective, say something to school officials. The same goes for security checkpoints, whether at airports or in corporate offices.

Help organizers keep events safe – Our job as citizens at public celebrations is to enjoy ourselves. But we can also educate ourselves as to the proper protocols for event security, so we can notify event organizers if we see gaps. At parades or marathons, for example, the gathering place and the area beyond the finish line should be secured from the general public. Only people with badges, tags or some other authorization should be admitted. There should be a reasonable number of boots on the ground along the route, in terms of law enforcement at the event.

Keep your head – The active shooter problem is by no means trivial. More than 339 people have been killed and another 1,251 have been injured so far this year. And yet, the odds that you or a loved one will become one of these statistics is infinitesimal. Seventeen years after 9/11, I know couples who insist on flying separately on family vacations so the kids could not be orphaned by a terrorist attack. This is not necessary.

Do have fun. Our family likes a parade and a party as much as anyone, and we will be attending as many as possible this holiday season. The same goes for the people at Evolv. For too long, our society — and our industry — has thought about security as a wall to separate us from potential threats. Evolv’s goal is not to scare you, but to create technologies that allow us to gather as we like, with peace of mind. By following a few simple rules, each of us can also do our part to staying safe.

Read more about Examining Today’s Threat Vectors to Address Tomorrow’s Security Threats.