Security Teams: Best Practices to Prevent Active Shooters in the Workplace

Conference Room Table

By: Neil Sandhoff

As the number of mass shootings continues to grow, the number of potential ‘soft targets’ seemingly grows as well.  One of the latest target of such violence was the workplace, where a mass shooting occurred at the municipal center in Virginia Beach, claiming the lives of 12 people. This latest attack was the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. since November.

The shooter was a disgruntled employee, who previously had given little indication of the potential threat he posed to his colleagues.  But the incident hammers home our sad new reality: the threat of an active shooter can touch us in almost every facet of our lives.

Violence in the workplace is not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing concern.  Security professionals, business leaders, human resource workers, and venue operators need to proactively plan for these worst-case scenarios to protect employees. And, the best way to protect employees = PREVENTION!

Based on recent events and our years of experience in helping organizations provide greater physical security, here are some best practices to prevent incidents from happening in the first place.

A One-size-fits-all Approach to Security No Longer Fits

Security experts generally agree the use of a venue specific Risk Based Security (RBS) approach is preferable to “one-size-fits-all” solutions. RBS balances security, visitor experience, operational efficiency, and cost considerations. This will help you plan for high-pressure, emotional situations in the workplace, such as terminations or layoffs.

Figure 1: Identifies the differences between One-Size-Fits-All Security vs. Risk Based Security

Interested in learning more about Risk Based Venue Security? Download the white paper authored by leading security experts, John Pistole and Mark Sullivan.

Know Your Facility

One of the first things any organization should do is perform an exterior physical security threat assessment. Walk the perimeter and identify all entry and exit points for your facility. Determine if you’re able to lock down the facility, 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.

Upon performing your perimeter check and identifying gaps, work with local law enforcement to make them familiar with your facility.  They will also be able to provide additional preventative measures you and your staff can take to secure your facility and reduce your threat risk.

Your People and Policy Power

Your organization should focus on developing and communicating strong policy that clearly outlines what to do to prevent workplace violence.  Departments and individuals, such as HR, Security, facilities managers and executives need to work together to define the high-risk incidents and acts of violence most likely to impact their organization. They should proactively put together multi-layered security plans for these scenarios to prevent workplace violence.

One critical example of this planning scenario is how to deal with employees upon termination or resignation. Your policy group needs to determine when it’s appropriate to have Security escort terminated employees from the building, and how to handle an employee when they have given their notice. There needs to be clear lines of communication to ensure that IT and Security immediately revoke computer and building access upon termination so that former employees can’t return to the premises, or access company files remotely. Once your multi-layered security plan is in place, educating employees on a regular basis is critical.

Visible Security = Deterrence

The National Institute of Building Science recently released a study showing that proactive building security design can reduce the risk of an active shooter incident.

Figure 1: Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

Maintaining a strong security presence can not only deter attacks from taking place in your workplace, but simultaneously show employees they’re being protected.

Adding tighter security measures, like security guards and video surveillance technology, can help protect employees and customers, while actively dissuading potential shooters from entering the premises.

Screen for Weapons Without Using a Metal Detector

The reality is, only a select few entering a facility pose a threat, which poses the question: how do you treat the majority of individuals as the non-threatening people they are, while pulling out those very few for additional scrutiny?

Increasing security measures to protect employees should not create additional hassles on the way into work or make anyone feel like a suspect.  To ensure you mitigate risks, while maximizing throughput, think “out with the old, in with the new”:

Pipe Mail Bomb
Figure 3: This Image obtained by CNN shows a suspected explosive device received at the CNN bureau in New York City on October 24, 2018.
  • Avoid Outdated Technologies

    In the past, walk-through metal detectors (WTMD) were our best option to discover metal weapons prior to an individual bringing them into a venue. However, they were simply not designed to detect and prevent today’s modern threats.

    Developed in the late 1900s, the WTMD technology has seen virtually no improvement and requires employees to stop and empty their pockets and bags. They also cannot distinguish between a computer or phone and a gun. This slow-moving, single-file security procedure creates long lines and frustrations for everyone involved, along with a soft target in and of itself.
Evolv Edge
Figure 4: Evolv Edge®, the only high-speed smart checkpoint system that detects a wide range weapons, and metallic or non-metallic items of interest.
  • The Next Generation in Security: New Advancements in Weapons Screening

    As the threats against our safety and security continue to evolve and become increasingly unpredictable, security systems must advance with them.

    Look to incorporate innovative solutions that can mitigate risks while maximizing employee throughput. New technology, such as advanced sensors and AI, are being leveraged for modern weapons-sensing physical security solutions specifically made for today’s threats.

    Screening solutions that detect guns and other weapons can help businesses better detect active shooters before they enter the building. These types of solutions ensure that security guards are better-informed of potential threats and can take quicker and more precise action to deter an attack from starting in the first place.

Neil Sandhoff Presents @ IAVM

Beyond Bodyguards: Awards Season’s Security Challenges

Paparazzi

With Sunday’s 91st Academy Awards now in the rearview mirror, water cooler talk around the countryturns to awards season takeaways. The majority of these conversations may focus on big winners, surprise snubs, and jaw-dropping fashion, but at Evolv, physical security is the main topic of discussion.

Hollywood’s awards season, held annually between October and February, culminates in a series of televised award shows. Each year, millions of people across the globe settle in to watch the year’s leadingactors, writers, musicians, and artists gather to be recognized for outstanding contributions to their industries. Venues hosting the biggest industry shows may change year-to-year but regardless of location, awards season has always been a time for Hollywood to put its most glamorous side on display — from onstage presenters and performers, to celebrity-packed audiences, red carpets, and after parties.

The polished and glamorous Hollywood environment displayed during these award shows may appear perfect, but that’s hardly reality. Any large event held at a public venue generates potential security threats. Despite the glitz and glamour, events like the Emmys or Oscars have similar physical security concerns to those of concert halls, sports stadiums, and airports around the globe.

Threats don’t discriminate

While celebrities and those in the entertainment industry can sometimes seem “untouchable,” they are not immune from the fact that any popular venue can be a potential target for active shooters and terrorists. Threats today don’t discriminate based on popularity, wealth, appearance, or talent. For venues, physical security concerns are universal, regardless of whether celebrities or the general public will be in attendance.

Modern security systems should protect all people regardless of the type of venue or event. Evolv’s customers include entertainment venues, airports, stadiums, corporations, hospitals, large scale events, and landmarks worldwide. For example, the Kravis Center, a performing arts venue in West Palm Beach, uses the Evolv Edge to ensure its audiences, artists, and staff members remain safe, while providing patrons with the best customer experience possible.

Security fit for the red carpet

Traditional security systems often detract from the aesthetic of the environments in which they’re used.The use of metal detectors, for example, requires guests to line up single file, dump out the contents of pockets and bags, and walk through the dated technology, only to be patted down later by a security guard. While it may be amusing to consider someone like Lady Gaga being patted down by security guards on the red carpet and forced to empty personal items from her clutch, this scenario accurately depicts the problem with using outdated security systems for red carpet events.

Fortunately, Evolv solutions use the latest AI and machine learning technology to enable frictionless, seamless, and effective security that can be modified to blend into all types of environments, including the red carpet. 

Be on the lookout

Many celebrities are faced with people who have the ability to do them harm, such as known stalkers, over-exuberant fans, or pesky paparazzi. The manual screening methods that traditionally have been used to identify such people require guards to memorize tens, if not hundreds of faces prior to the event, and have proven to be inconsistent and ineffective.

Facial recognition technology has significantly improved the ability of security teams to identify unwanted persons at large-scale events such as award shows. Because facial recognition technology, like Evolv’s Pinpoint, enables an event or venue to input images of people to “be on the lookout for,” guards are able to identify potentially dangerous guests almost immediately.

While this technology is ideal for diffusing threats before they occur, it provides other potential benefits too. Evolv Pinpoint’s ability to input images of people can be utilized for expected guests as well, enabling red carpet staffers to appropriately greet their A-list guests upon arrival. Facial recognition tech can ensure everyone feels like an award winner.   

Everyone, whether a celebrity at the Golden Globes or a family attending a major league baseball game, has the right to be safe. By deploying the most advanced screening capabilities, public venues can address a variety of threats, scenarios, and potential targets, so that no matter the event, guests and the overall guest experience are protected.

Another Troubling Twist in Terrorism

TV Screenshot

By Anil Chitkara, Co-Founder and President –

The security of our country, our workplaces, and our people has taken a significant turn for the worse over the past 48 hours. The unpredictable course of terrorism has changed yet again, with an expansion of the target set, modification of the means, and synchronization of multiple acts. These most recent course changes should cause us alarm.

Soft Targets Expanded from Locations to People

The 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater attack, the 2015 San Bernardino, California office building attack, and the 2016 Seaside Park, New Jersey bomb signaled a shift in targets from airplanes and iconic settings to seemingly innocuous locations in small towns and cities throughout the U.S. Earlier this week, pipe bombs were sent to a businessman, top current and former government officials, and an actor. Another pipe bomb was found yesterday at the CNN offices at the Time Warner Center in New York City.

Targets have expanded to include anybody, at anyplace, in anytown, USA.  Who’s next? Where will the target be? Will it be another pipe bomb, or something else designed to thwart our current capabilities?

Explosive Weapons Have Changed Yet Again

TV Screenshot
Source: CNN

The “traditional” explosives once used have given way to homemade improvised explosive devices. This week is not the first-time homemade explosives were used.  The 2013 Boston Marathon pressure cooker bomb and the 2017 New York City explosive belt were constructed in an individual’s home. The pipe bombs sent this week were reportedly made of plastic PVC pipe and contained glass shrapnel.  These materials are of additional concern as they can be more difficult to detect with much of the security technology that exists today.

Pipe Mail Bomb
Source: NBC
Pipe Bomb X Ray
Source: NBC

The weapons being used by terrorists continue to expand, with new configurations of explosive devices, firearms such as 3D printed guns, and knives concealed in ever more ingenious ways. Detecting these threats as they are concealed on individuals has become increasingly difficult, as most security technologies have not evolved at the same pace as the targets they are designed to detect.

Large Number of Simultaneous Targets

The third troubling concern is that eight reported attacks have been launched over the past 48 hours.  The expansion of the target set obviously expands the potential impact of these devices, creates an enormous burden on our law enforcement and counter terrorism professionals, and elevates concern among the general public.

FBI
Source: KUT.org
New York Police
Source: Washington Post

While these developments in terrorism are concerning, American counter terrorism, law enforcement, and security professionals are world class.  They continue to work diligently to identify suspicious packages, safely secure people, and remove these devices. They are also actively utilizing all available resources to identify the individual(s) responsible for these heinous acts. They will continue to work to keep us safe. They will continue to fulfill their mission with the utmost skill, professionalism, and effectiveness.

By providing these professionals with technology that helps them stay abreast of the latest terrorist evolutions, including technology that can detect the nonmetallic elements found in this week’s pipe bombs, companies like Evolv Technology can help level the playing field by keeping people safe. While new technology is being rolled out in many venues, more needs to be done. Our adversary will never stop innovating. Neither will we.

A Wake-up Call About Non-Metallic Weapons as Tools of Terror

Pipe Bomb Featured Image

By Mike Ellenbogen, Founder and CEO –

There’s probably a reason the pipe bombs sent to two former Presidents and other politicians, an actor and a businessman were made of PVC piping instead of metal and contained glass shrapnel rather than nails and bolts.

It’s because the bomber knows that the world’s weapons-screening infrastructure for the last 30 years has been based on metal-detection equipment. Indeed, anyone considering committing an act of terror probably knows this as well. It’s well-documented on radical sites on the Web, where it’s easy to find guides on how to build non-metallic bombs, including in articles in ISIS’ online magazine.

We don’t know yet why none of the bombs exploded but based on our initial analysis of photos in the media we see no reason why they couldn’t have. They have all the necessary basic components. It’s possible the bomber chose not to activate a triggering device and just wanted to send a terrifying message. Or maybe all the recipients—the intended targets and the security and mailroom staffers that handled the devices–just got lucky.

Pipe Bomb
This Image obtained by CNN shows a suspected explosive device received at the CNN bureau in New York City on October 24, 2018. AFP – Getty Images

Either way, luck was involved. And luck is not a strategy.

We should have learned this by now, since this is far from the first time a bomb that did not contain metal failed to go off. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, got his non-metallic bomb onto a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001, but couldn’t light the device. Everything about the attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, went as planned except the bomb burned rather than blew up on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009. Attacks with non-metallic bombs do happen. Al-Qaeda used plastic explosives to attack the USS Cole in 2000, and terrorists used a C-4 to blow up a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996. But the reality is that in this country, we’ve avoided casualties from some of the most potentially lethal and destabilizing attacks because of the failure of the attacks, not the success of the security.

So, what to do? For starters, any organization or citizen that has felt concerned enough about being a terrorists’ target to get a metal detector needs to look for screening systems that can identify metallic and non-metallic weapons. We sell such systems—they use a technology called millimeter wave that identifies materials by its chemical makeup – and so do other companies.

Beyond that, the solutions become a lot less clear, and a lot more daunting. This round of attacks highlights not only the threat from non-metallic devices, but the broad shift in terror tactics from attacking hardened locations such as airports and government buildings to targeting “soft targets” that typically have no weapons screening at all, such as office buildings. Indeed, the only reason the bomb meant for Robert De Niro wasn’t delivered to the actor is that an eagle-eyed security staffer at his production company saw a mailroom worker with a package that looked just like the one he saw a photo of on TV the previous day that contained a bomb.

We are lucky in this country to have world-class law enforcement and counter-terrorism people, and we will likely soon know who did this and why none of the bombs actually detonated. But as a society, we need to grapple more seriously with giving these professionals and their peers in corporate security access to more information and technology to predict and prevent such attacks. The President’s security detail no doubt had x-ray machines capable of spotting almost any kind of weapon, but do we need to upgrade, or in some cases, to introduce material-agnostic weapons screening in our public mail systems? How about scanning for private delivery services companies and distribution center offices? And what about screening for other kinds of attacks? The scary truth is that yesterday the attacks came through the mail, but tomorrow they could be delivered by a person walking through the front door.

DHS Warns of Continued Soft Target Threat in Latest Terror Bulletin

NTAS Threat Assessment Chart

By Melissa Cohen, Evolv Technology, VP of Marketing –

In September, the Department of Homeland Security issued its latest National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) bulletin, notifying state and local organizations and the public that the U.S. continues “to face one of the most challenging threat environments since 9/11.”

That sounds pretty newsworthy, yet you probably didn’t hear much around this latest warning from DHS. Very few publications covered the bulletin, because it was very similar to the last two NTAS bulletins, in May and last November. But the bulletin should not be dismissed. In fact, it reiterates the troubling, long-term shift in the threat landscape since the NTAS system was rolled out in 2011. Rather than assign their own  members to conduct carefully-planned, 9/11-style attacks on hardened facilities such as airports and government buildings, foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS are using the Internet to “inspire, enable, or direct individuals already here in the homeland to commit terrorist acts,” the bulletin reads.

DHS’s concern isn’t only about the ability of groups like ISIS to radicalize Americans to do their bidding. It’s also about how and where those attacks will be made. Recent bulletins have all warned of attacks on “public places and events” using “easy-to-use tools.” As we have seen all too often in places like Nice, London and the U.S., attacks are on the rise at lightly-defended targets such as office buildings, entertainment venues and marketplaces, often with handguns, knives and rented trucks.

This long-term shift requires a substantial rethink of the security technology needed to protect visitors to these softer targets. Traditional metal detectors can find the tiniest pen-knife if given the time, but they will also find every last key and piece of spare change. That means long lines of frustrated people, just trying to get on with their everyday lives. For our companies, schools, businesses and entertainment venues to actually invest in weapons detection infrastructure, they will need higher throughput, smarter screening systems that are optimized to find weapons and explosives capable of inflicting mass casualties.

The need is especially pressing for low-hassle systems that can reliably spot major threats. There have been more than 20,000 shootings this year alone, many by lone wolf killers such as troubled teens attacking classmates to a shooting at concert goers from a hotel window. But the NTAS bulletin is an important reminder that ISIS and its ilk are also still out there. Indeed, DHS expects that the more ground ISIS loses in the Middle East militaries of the US and other nations, the more it will focus on fomenting soft target attacks on U.S. soil.

The Dangerous Dawn of the DIY Gun Industry

3D Printer

By Mike Ellenbogen, CEO, Evolv Technology –

In the first episode of his new show “Who Is America,” comedian Sacha Baron Cohen did a surreal bit in which he persuaded three U.S. Congressmen and former Senator Trent Lott to support his character’s desire to train children as young as four years old to carry guns to help stop school shootings. “Kinder Guardians,” he called them.

Well, how’s this for surreal? On July 10, five days before the episode aired, it became legal for anyone in most parts of this country — convicted murderers, known terror suspects and, yes, even children — to easily and legally make a gun in their own basement. And not just any gun, mind you. An untraceable gun.

This development is the result of the U.S. State Department’s decision to settle a lawsuit brought by Austin, Texas-based Defense Distributed, which sued the government in 2015 for the right to publish plans to 3D print a handgun, along with other designs including milling instructions to program a desktop 3D CNC machine to create guns and gun parts. Today was the day Defense Distributed had planned to relaunch the company’s online repository of files, which is calls DefCad.

Fortunately, a Federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order yesterday in a case brought by eight states, preventing the distribution of the CAD files, pending the trial. While it turns out Defense Distributed had already started distributing the files, the website relaunch was sure to attract the attention of people who our society has decided should not have access to guns. As the blurb on Defense Distributed’s website (now turned upside down, in protest of the restraining order) proclaimed: “The age of the downloadable gun formally begins.” Rarely has the phrase “dodging a bullet” rung so true.

Defense Distributed’s vision is a big deal. While there’s been a DIY gun movement for years, you needed some expertise in metal-working and a hobbyist’s passion for guns, manufacturing or both. Not anymore. Defense Distributed has made making a real gun at home as easy as buying a home-brew kit to make your first batch of beer. Say you want to build your own AR-15 without the government having any knowledge. There are just four simple steps. First, put down a $250 deposit to get one of Defense Distributed’s Ghost Runner metal milling machines (while the full price isn’t listed on the website, this excellent article in Wired says the machine costs $1,200.) Second, buy legally-available gun parts, such as the muzzle and the grip of an AR-15, as well as a slightly-unfinished “lower-receiver” from Defense Distributed or another gun supplies website. (The sale of finished “lowers” for all guns has been regulated until now, as the lower contains the trigger mechanism and therefore is the part that controls whether a gun is single-shot, semi-automatic or automatic). When the “80%” complete lower arrives in the mail, follow the instructions to set it properly in the Ghost Gunner. Fourth, download the file for the part you want to make from Defense Distributed’s website, and then drag and drop the file onto the icon for your Ghost Gunner on your PC. With the push of a button, the machine will complete the milling of the lower, so it can be combined with other AR-15 parts you’ve purchased legally.

Note that the news today is not just about plastic guns. Defense Distributed became well known back in 2013 when it unveiled designs for a handgun called the Liberator that could be printed with a 3D-printer. While a technical milestone of sorts, this and other plastic firearms are only capable of a limited number of shots before they self-destruct. The real threat is the ability to make your own high-quality, fully functional mil-spec semi-automatic weapon.

As an American citizen, I am concerned that the State Department’s decision nullifies the one thing that everyone from the NRA to Parkland student activist Emma Gonzalez could agree on: that people who are known to be dangerous to the public should not be able to get a gun capable of inflicting mass casualties. Suddenly, every Federal measure put in place to make life difficult for mass shooters—the disgruntled teenage boy tired of being bullied at school, the furious ex-husband with a jealous grudge, the radicalized religious zealot—is rendered ineffective. Unless there are state or local laws in place, would-be murderers will not need to submit to background checks, or take the chance that a sharp-eyed gun shop owner will notify authorities of suspicious behavior. They’ll also have an easier time skirting “Red Flag” laws, such as the one passed by Massachusetts on July 3, that gives family members and house-mates the right to request confiscation of guns from people they consider to be dangers to themselves or others.

No doubt, some state and local laws will provide legal checks on Defense Distributed’s “guns-on-tap” vision. On July 30, two days before it planned to relaunch distribution of its CAD files, the company agreed to block access to the site in Pennsylvania to avoid legal action by the state’s Attorney General. It’s also illegal to sell guns and gun parts made with a Ghost Gunner to others without a Federal Firearms License, and in some cases may be illegal to even let someone else use their Ghost Gunner, according to Defense Distributed’s website.

Regardless of what happens with the lawsuit filed by the eight states and the District of Columbia, some checks on Defense Distributed’s “guns-on-tap” vision will remain. The State Department’s decision to allow distribution of the CAD files did not lift Federal prohibitions on the use of DIY milling machines for commercial purposes, without a Federal Firearms License. The machines are supposed to be only for personal use. Defense Distributed warns would-be customers on its website that it may be illegal to even let someone else use your Ghost Gunner in some jurisdictions. Many states and municipalities also have laws regulating use of DIY gun technology–and that will no doubt rise now that the topic has become front-page news.

Contact your elected officials and ask them not to lower the bar.

Read more here about today’s threat vectors and tomorrow’s security threats.

Safeguarding Against Insider Threat, Oakland International Airport Enhances Employee Screening Program

Airport on foggy day

Dave Mansel is the Aviation Security Manager at Oakland International Airport, California. –

Oakland International Airport is known for its commitment to advancing innovative solutions to complex security operations.  Recently, the Airport was selected as a TSA Innovation Task Force Site, a prestigious distinction that promotes improved efficiency and allows the Airport to try technologies to benefit its growing passenger base, to help the TSA apply lessons learned around the country.

We had an opportunity to talk with Dave Mansel, aviation security manager for the Airport about his decision to implement a new solution for threat detection and prevention. Oakland International installed an Evolv Edge system to enhance its employee screening program.

Q: What led you to seek a new threat detection solution to enhance your employee screening program?

A: Oakland International is the second busiest airport in northern California, and we’ve been growing on a consistent basis for four years. We had more than 13 million people travel through the airport in 2017, the most traffic we’ve ever seen. We expect that growth to continue. Obviously, we need more people working here to accommodate such growth, and we need innovation to make sure we provide a safe work environment and an efficient, non-disruptive screening experience for our employees.

Q: How is that threat detection screening experience different now that you’re using the Evolv Edge?

A: Prior to Evolv Edge, employees were screened using a variety of techniques and equipment, including walk-through and handheld metal detectors, and full-body pat downs. Now, employees pass through the Evolv Edge at walking speed, without having to empty their pockets or submit to invasive search procedures.

Q: How did you learn about the Evolv Edge?

A: We knew that a few other airports in the US were using it for employee screening, so we agreed to meet with the Evolv team at the ACI-NA Public Safety and Security Conference last fall. We recognized immediately that it was a good fit. Evolv helped us quickly get a test unit in place, and it has performed well.

Q: What are the main reasons you decided to proceed from testing to deploy the system?

A: We like that employees like it more than other inspection methodologies.  For aviation workers, screening is part of the daily routine during shift check in. Traditional screening methods have been slow and invasive, including pat downs and physical examination of personal belongings. Simply stated, they are viewed as inconvenient.

Being able to speed up the screening process and make it less invasive is a big win. With Evolv Edge, employees “just walk through” – the system screens the employee and their belongings which provides for a fast, friction-free screening process. This is a welcome change compared to manual screening and traditional methods that were slow and required divestment and physical searches. These features are a plus for today’s employees and will support our growth.

The fact that the system is mobile is a plus. We can use it throughout the entire airport, to try it for different use cases. Safety and security is our number one priority, and Evolv Edge provides a good balance between comprehensive employee screening and a seamless experience. With this installation, we feel confident in our ability to protect against today’s threats while also minimizing inconvenience for our employees.

Q: Do you have plans to expand OAK’s use of the Evolv Edge platform?

A:  Yes, but this is a future step that will require additional planning.

Read more about examining today’s threats vectors to address tomorrow’s security threats here.

Click here to read the corresponding press release

Examining Today’s Threat Vectors to Address Tomorrow’s Security Threats

Maps with location pins

By David Cohen, security and intelligence expert, former CIA and NYPD, advisor to Evolv Technology –

One quick scan of violent public attacks in the headlines in recent years will convince even the most casual observer that society needs an improved approach to security. Lone gunman kills 58 and wounds more than 500 in Las Vegas. Former student kills 14 students and three staff members at Parkland, Fla., high school. Coordinated terrorist attacks murder 130 in Paris. Three drivers ram pedestrians on London Bridge, killing 8 and injuring 48.

Each incident is alarming and horrific in its own right. When we take a step back, what is also alarming is that these attacks vary in style, type of target and choice of weapon. Adversaries are getting more innovative, less predictable and, thus, more dangerous – underscoring society’s need to stay one step ahead of them.

Identifying the five threat vectors

One critical aspect of combatting adversaries is more clearly defining their motivations. Motivation can range from an ideologically driven, well-planned attack to a targeted release of emotional rage. With this range of motivations in mind, we identified the five threat vectors that incorporate the range of motivations that would produce violence against soft targets:

  1. Terrorism: Homegrown or instigated from abroad, driven by ideological, religious or political perspectives. Think Paris shootings, London car attacks.
  2. Active shooter: Irrational decision to kill or injure as many people as possible. Think Las Vegas shootings.
  3. Workplace (or institutional) violence: Retribution for perceived harm to the perpetrator. Think Florida school shooting.
  4. Gang-related: Result of planned or spontaneous conflagration.
  5. One-on-one, spontaneous event: Spontaneous explosion of emotion – rage – by weaponed person.

By incorporating these motivations into a threat assessment, risk managers and security professionals can better recognize adversaries’ strategies and design security plans with a multi-layered security approach that deploys tools that cover the five threat vectors.

Adversaries are innovating…

A major change visible in today’s adversaries is the number and nature of individuals carrying out mass casualty/violent events. Terrorists are no longer trained just at specialized training camps and directed from central locations. Today, the free flow of information and communication across internet and social channels makes it substantially easier for individuals to radicalize, organize and procure weapons.

Perpetrators of mass violence are also able to build improvised explosive devices that contain no metallic content and create easily constructed homemade devices. Newer non-metallic weapons, such as 3D printed guns, pose yet another new threat that traditional security technology cannot detect – which points to the fact that perpetrators of mass murder are much more knowledgeable about the types of countermeasures defenders are deploying.

… So we, too, must innovate

To combat adversaries’ tactics, defenders need to create more versatile and aggressive security plans. Plans need to include intelligence, physical security infrastructure, weapons detection technologies and trained guards or law enforcement professionals. These components form a comprehensive counter violence plan based on both a threat assessment and a vulnerability assessment.

The elements of a new, more innovative approach to security can be found in a “risk-based security” (RBS) methodology. The RBS methodology – the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach – promotes flexibility and adaptability. This approach helps security leaders evaluate different threats based on a variety of risk factors, plan for the threats and continually revise them as new information becomes available.

Incorporating the right technology

A successful new approach to security must also include a strong focus on weapons detection. Plans should include the ability to detect person-borne weapons including firearms, explosives and other threats. New detection technologies with multiple types of sensors are capable of detecting non-metallic threats as well as more traditional metallic weapons. Ultimately, the weapons detection technologies must be able to change over time with new sensors and improved algorithms.

Security also needs to identify known individuals who may do harm to people or facilities. These may be individuals on a BOLO (be on the lookout) list, former disgruntled employees, individuals previously removed from the premises, or others known to cause trouble. Facial recognition technology can be used to identify these individuals as they enter a facility and provide an alert to the guards or the security operations center. Moving intelligence to the front line is a key enabler to address evolving threats.

The steady flow of horrifying events in newspaper headlines hammers home the point that security threats are not going away nor are they any more predictable over time. Different situations will require different tactics, and tomorrow’s evolving threats will push defenders to exercise new levels of innovation to fend off increasingly dangerous attacks – and the only way to combat the threats is to adopt a new, more holistic approach to security.

Read more here about risk-based security.

About the author

David Cohen is one of the world’s leading authorities on intelligence analysis and operations, with expertise developed over a nearly five-decade career with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as well as with the world’s largest metropolitan law enforcement organization, the City of New York Police Department (NYPD). He served for 12 years as the NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, a position established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He revolutionized the way the NYPD collected, analyzed and used intelligence, and leveraged traditional intelligence methods and relationships abroad to successfully protect New York City from another terrorist attack.

Security content kit for stadiums and arenas

A Step In the Right Direction to Protect Our Surface Transportation Hubs

Train Platform

By Mike Ellenbogen, CEO, Evolv Technology –

At various times since 9-11, the Federal government has issued mandates to require increased screening of travelers and luggage at airports. Many of these mandates spurred investments in innovative technologies that made air travel safer. When the government required advanced body scans after the “underwear bomber” attempted to blow up a Northwest flight on Christmas day, 2009, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worked with airports, airlines and technology vendors to create a process that was effective and preserved travelers’ dignity through the subsequent development and deployment of advanced automated software. Without the Federal deployment mandates, that software would still be sitting on the shelf.

Now, it’s time to start hardening the nation’s other transportation hubs – the train, bus, subway and ferry stations that are part of millions of Americans’ daily lives. I’m always hesitant to talk about potential targets for mass casualty attacks. I don’t want to give would-be terrorists any ideas, and I never want to be accused of fear-mongering as a way to generate sales. That said, it’s no secret that terrorist groups have been shifting their focus to these softer targets (Inspire magazine, Summer 2017, Issue 17). Surface transportation hubs provide big crowds in confined places, with very little security infrastructure to prevent an attack. Since there are no federal screening requirements, the ISIS-inspired lone wolf who detonated a pipe bomb during a Manhattan morning rush near the Times Square subway stations last December didn’t have to worry much about getting to his intended target. Only his ineptitude as a bomb-maker—he was the only person seriously injured–prevented a far more gruesome outcome.

The good news is that the topic is starting to be discussed where it really counts: in Washington DC. Last month, the House of Representatives passed the Securing Public Areas of Transportation Facilities Act of 2018. Should the Senate sign the measure into law, the Department of Homeland Security will be required to create a working group with transportation facility owners, service operators as well as equipment and services providers. The law would also require DHS to provide best practices and some assistance, should hub owners or transportation line-operators request it.

Clearly, this is a baby step—but it’s an important one that sends a strong signal to our industry. Now, we need continued efforts to make sure we don’t just end up with white papers and recommendations.

Ultimately, I believe we’ll need some type of Federal mandate to create the impetus to deploy technology and develop best practices, which will result in further innovation. Of course, this argument is blatantly self-serving. If every train, bus and subway terminal were required to screen even a small percentage of visitors, we believe it would create a $200 million market for Evolv and our competitors.

Self-serving or not, history suggests that the job of protecting our surface transportation hubs won’t get done without some appropriate government regulation. I know a lot of progressive, well-intentioned security chiefs who would like to make the necessary investments but can’t get the budget dollars to begin to implement screening processes.

What kind of mandates would do the trick? The key is to start small…but start. Requiring random screening of just five percent of visitors would make would-be attackers think twice before targeting mass transit and inspire pilot programs and other collaborations that could get the innovation flywheel spinning. Without a mandate, the new law could become one more authorization in a world that only pays attention to appropriations.

Mandates may be even more important to protecting surface transportation hubs, than they were for the aviation market. For airports, the TSA approves all of the screening processes, is the sole buyer and operator of all equipment and has ultimate responsibility for aircraft security. Protecting a train station is in some regards more complicated, given a patchwork of sometimes overlapping jurisdictions. The local transportation authority may own the main terminal, but rail operators are responsible for their own train cars. Other landlords may also be involved. The New York subway bomber, for example, tried to detonate his bomb in a walkway connecting two subway lines that are owned by different authorities.

Figuring out how to protect surface hubs will pay broader societal dividends. Some of these hubs deal with truly massive traffic volumes. More than 4.3 million people use the New York subway every day, nearly twice the number the TSA handles daily across all of the country’s airports. That makes them the perfect testbed for creating high-throughput screening processes, that could be used by entertainment venues, popular restaurants or any other potential targets, should the number of soft-target attacks continue to rise.

I’ve been in this business for nearly three decades. During that time, I’ve noticed that significant advances in security happen for one of only two reasons. The first is as a reaction to smart, appropriate mandates, by government agencies that understand the potential threats and the needs of the marketplace. The second is as a far-less considered knee-jerk reaction to a tragedy. That’s an easy choice.

Read about six ways screening technology can protect soft targets from terrorist attacks.

Risk-Based Security Gets in the Game

Puzzle Piece

By Chris McLaughlin, Vice President, Global Solutions, Evolv Technology –

If you’re coaching a soccer team in the World Cup this summer, you’re going to want to adapt your defensive strategies for each opponent. To stop an aggressive, high-scoring offense, you’ll keep your defenders back and play cautiously. To beat a cagey, clever foe, you’ll apply some pressure to try to force turnovers.

Successful strategists in the security arena face the same kind of tactical issues. The stakes are much higher, of course, but security pros need to deal with their own group of “attackers” who are skillful, resourceful, and motivated to succeed. Soccer coaches can’t deploy a “one-size-fits-all” strategy, and neither can today’s security strategists.

In security, this strategy has a name. It’s called “Risk-Based Security,” RBS for short. If this sounds like a simple, common-sense approach to a serious, complicated issue, it is – sort of. At its core, RBS defines a commitment to flexibility and adaptability to deal with ever-changing threats. It also values the use of “tailored” systems that are designed to mitigate risk, evoke a sense of safety for users, and not present an undue burden on the user population.

The traditional, one-size-fits-all approach to security is cumbersome. It usually involves having security officers physically inspect every person entering a facility, relying heavily on the limited capability of metal detection. This approach provides a service, deflecting obvious traditional threats. But it is costly and slow, and often ineffective without additional capabilities to screen more aggressively.

Security systems that implement a risk-based approach to screening, for example, tend to be more accepted by the public than those that don’t provide any differentiation. A good example of this practice is the TSA PreCheck program. TSA PreCheck leverages a preliminary vetting process that separates “low-risk” passengers from those who are unknown or may require additional screening. By extending the process beyond the airport, TSA has significantly increased the throughput of its PreCheck screening lanes for passengers while mitigating risks and reducing staffing and equipment costs.

A risk-based approach recognizes that while there are no perfect security solutions, those that strategically balance security, access, usability, and cost can ultimately provide the best long- term protection against an evolving adversary.

An effective RBS strategy considers changes in the environment over time, and changes in the risk profile of different groups of people – employees, visitors, and dignitaries – over time. It also puts equal emphasis on technology solutions and more people-focused factors like organizational, managerial, and operational capabilities.

It relies primarily on a short list of components: gauging threats; understanding vulnerabilities; vetting users; identifying users and attaching risk assessments to them and their belongings; routing high-, low- and unknown-risk users through the appropriate security channels; and using equipment to screen personnel and belongings.

A successful risk-based security strategy is reliant on an enterprise approach that not only provides excellent technology to perform physical screening but also ensures that the personnel performing the screening are using the technology appropriately, that people presenting themselves for screening have already been assessed, and those vetted to a higher standard are provided a screening process that is not unduly burdensome.

There is no “silver bullet” or “cookie cutter” enterprise approach. What might work particularly well in office buildings and places of worship, where it is possible to learn more about the regular user, will be different than in public venues where most people presenting themselves may be unknown, and this may present a different threat.

As attackers have expanded their focus, major sporting and public events have become more of a target. The challenge commercial entities have in implementing a risk-based program is two-fold. First, a “known patron” program must be established along with a quick way to validate membership in that program at the entry to the screening system of a facility. Second, a program must tailor the screening process to account for the different risk levels of those entering the venue.

The potential benefits to implementing a risk-based screening program are significant. This approach can create a better experience for known, repeat customers. A risk-based screening program can also improve overall brand perception of a venue by implementing “smart” security solutions. These risk-based solutions help make entering a venue easier while maintaining a level of safety, allowing faster throughput, and thereby mitigating the risk of long queues. Overall security costs can potentially be decreased since people can be screened at a faster rate, requiring less security staff.

Further, while people want the safety that screening systems provide, they do not want to lose the culture, openness, and sense of welcome that make their venue, stadium, or house of worship special. Implementing a risk-based security program provides the best option and allows an organization to tailor a program that fits their culture, so they do not have to sacrifice what they represent for safety.

“One-size-fits-all” security can work in specific, limited situations. But it’s no match for today’s attackers. Successful security strategists, like World Cup contending soccer coaches, make sure they’re prepared. They have their tools, their plans, and their training intact, and they’re ready to defend.

Learn more here about the value of balance, improved security and a better customer experience.