The Harris Poll survey shows event-goers are just as concerned about physical safety as COVID protection – and not satisfied with traditional metal detectors.
While these days we all yearn to return to some semblance of normal life, most aren’t going to feel comfortable returning to concerts, sporting events and the like for several months after the pandemic has subsided. The reluctance largely has to do with screening methods that, while necessary and welcome, create lines and crowding that are unacceptable to large swaths of would-be event attendees.
This is one finding from a survey of more than 500 people who attended a concert, sporting event or other live, ticketed event in 2019. Conducted by The Harris Poll in mid-Sept. through early October 2020, the survey made it clear attendees want to see both adequate COVID-related measures in place as well as traditional safety precautions such as metal detectors – but without the lines. It’s a result that should have sports teams, event producers and venue facility managers looking for new ways to make attendees feel comfortable with screening processes while greatly increasing their efficiency and effectiveness.
Social distancing is top of mind
Survey respondents made clear they’re more comfortable returning to events such as conferences, workshops and conventions where social distancing is more easily accomplished and enforced. On average, respondents said they’d be comfortable attending such events within two to three months after federal, state and local restrictions allow (see Figure 1). For events that are generally more crowded, like concerts and sporting events, the median was four to six months.
That finding is consistent with The Harris Poll’s ongoing COVID-19 Tracker surveys, said Erica Parker, Managing Director at The Harris Poll, who recently joined me for a webinar to go over the results.
“It’s clear from that kind of data that it’s a bigger lift to get people to ticketed events,” as compared to dining at a restaurant or returning to the office, she said. “Venue and facility managers are going to need to do some work to restore public confidence and get people back and feeling comfortable doing these activities.”
Part of the issue is, unlike some workers and school-aged children, consumers have the luxury of simply opting not to go to events. They can also be choosier about the protocols in place before they’re willing to return.
Safety concerns run deeper than COVID
What’s more, it’s not just COVID-19 that has folks concerned. While 81% of survey respondents said they are concerned or very concerned about the pandemic, other issues garner the same or even more concern:
- Mass shootings: 83% concerned or very concerned
- Street crime – 82%
- Protest-related civil unrest/violence – 81%
- Terrorism – 72%
81% of event attendees are concerned about COVID-19 but even more are concerned about mass shootings (83%) and street crime (82%).
Nearly three-quarters of respondents (71%) believe crime has increased over the past year. In the Midwest, the figure is 79% vs. 63% in the South. Residents in rural areas are likewise more likely to think crime is on the rise, 82% vs. 62% for suburbanites.
All this adds up to 69% of respondents believing the risk of violence in public spaces is higher than it was a year ago. Nearly 3 in 10 respondents (28%) say it’s unsafe to go out in public. That’s especially true in the Northeast (35%) but far less so in the Midwest (18%).
69% of respondents think the risk of violence in public spaces is higher than a year ago. Nearly 3 in 10 say it’s unsafe to go out in public.
Against that backdrop, it’s not hard to understand why 79% of survey respondents either agree or strongly agree that screening makes them feel more comfortable at events. This is the case even though they cite numerous problems with traditional screening measures, from lines that slow the process and make social distancing impossible to relying on fallible human intervention (see Figure 2).
On the other hand, respondents clearly appreciate efforts to make screening safer and more efficient post-pandemic. Asked how likely they are to return to a venue that has various features in place, 86% said they were somewhat or strongly likely to visit venues that have hand sanitizer stations and touchless screening in place along with plexiglass shields (85%). Other desirable features include:
- Walk-through body temperature measurements: 84%
- Social distancing floor markings: 84%
- Mandatory face masks: 81%
- Handheld thermometer checks: 79%
Traditional metal detector screens, which require attendees to empty their bags and pockets, and potentially be subject to a pat-down, still induce more positive than negative feelings. But the negatives are significant.
Asked how this type of screening would make them feel, 75% said “calm” but nearly a third (32%) said “anxious.” And while 73% said it would make them “confident,” more than one in five (21%) said they’d be “fearful.” Nearly three-quarters (74%) said the screening would make them feel “satisfied” but 30% said they’d be “irritated.” Anxious, fearful and irritated is no way to enjoy an event.
Respondents were also asked what risks they would be willing to accept during a mid-pandemic screening process. The answers point to more challenges for venue operators and managers, as attendees will not tolerate use of outdated technology (61%), slow or inefficient screening processes (58%), false positives, meaning mistaking a harmless item for a weapon (52%), and even the possibility of human error (50%).
Perhaps most telling, nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) said they would simply not join a line in which people were not socially distancing. Think about that: it means someone has a ticket to an event, gets to the venue, sees a line that violates social distancing guidelines and decides to forego the event.
“When you think about the intersection of COVID and metal detector screening, and the fact that it can create long security lines, [event attendees are] not interested in that,” The Harris Poll’s Parker said. Newer technology can make a difference, though. “We find that 87% are likely to return to facilities and venues if there was a touchless security screening,” she said.
The vast majority of respondents (87%) say they are likely to return to facilities and venues if touchless security screening is in place.
That makes sense because newer touchless security screening systems create an altogether different experience. There’s no need to empty pockets, because the system can detect items that are in your pockets and differentiate, say, a gun from a metal keychain or phone. By the same token, you can carry bags through the screening system; there’s no need to empty them out. The systems are reliable enough that there are far fewer false positives, which means there’s almost no need for pat-downs.
All of these attributes contribute to another big advantage of touchless systems: they’re much faster. Evolv Express, for example, uses artificial intelligence and advanced sensors to screen up to 3,600 people per hour, about 10 times faster than legacy metal detectors.
New workplace requirements
The Harris Poll makes clear that while COVID-19 is a top concern for event attendees, their physical safety is just as important. But given the COVID requirements for social distancing, it’s equally clear that we need to investigate new ways to keep attendees safe and secure.
Consumers will appreciate facilities that implement a touchless approach, given 79% agreed that knowing everyone is screened upon entering a venue makes them more comfortable. And nearly three quarters (74%) agreed that metal detection systems make it impossible to socially distance while in line.
With a system like Evolv Express, you can get ahead of the curve and ensure potential attendees you value their safety, putting them more at ease – and more likely to attend your events. Click here to learn more.
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Anil Chitkara discusses touchless security solutions for today’s entertainment venues.
Anil Chitkara, Co-Founder and Head of Corporate Development for Evolv Technology, started his company with one goal: to keep people safe from harm at events or other venues and locations where threats could exist.
For most of Evolv’s existence, those threats were violent, either from potential terrorist attacks or an active shooter situation. But COVID-19 shined a light on a different risk to the health of the public at large. When considering entertainment spaces, security checkpoints now have a new consideration: how to make the venue safe from a deadly disease.
Chitkara discussed these scenarios and how Evolv’s touchless security solutions can help.
“We’ve all been through airports. We know what airport screening is like,” Chitkara said. “We looked at all these other places where people are and [asked], ‘How can we help the security professionals in those areas maintain a safe venue or environment?’”
Theaters, performing arts centers, concert arenas, sports venues, theme parks and amphitheaters are all focuses of Evolv’s technology solutions. The company’s goal is to take a slow and manual security process and make it faster and more comfortable for the guest to enter the venue.
The security process for many entertainment venues today is not a friendly experience, and Chitkara wants to change that.
“Not only is it not what the customer entering into the venue wants, but it also is not what the band and the concert venue want,” Chitkara said. “They want their customer to be excited from the day they purchase their ticket up to the moment they walk up to the arena. The biggest pain point of the guest experience is that security screening. There hasn’t been a great solution up to now.”
Rethinking the whole approach to security through technology and doing it in a fan-friendly way is Chitkara’s mission. Evolv’s touchless security approach makes entry easier for the patron.
And, during this time of healthcare concerns, the less security needs to come into physical contact with someone entering the venue, the lower the risk of spreading viruses.
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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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
- Terrorism: Homegrown or instigated from abroad, driven by ideological, religious or political perspectives. Think Paris shootings, London car attacks.
- Active shooter: Irrational decision to kill or injure as many people as possible. Think Las Vegas shootings.
- Workplace (or institutional) violence: Retribution for perceived harm to the perpetrator. Think Florida school shooting.
- Gang-related: Result of planned or spontaneous conflagration.
- 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.
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.
We bet five years ago that soft-target attacks would become the favored tactic of terrorists, particularly if ISIS began to lose ground on the battlefield. Unfortunately, we were right.
Many stadium and arena operators no longer allow visitors to bring backpacks or other bags into their venues. Policies like these were instituted to ensure that the venue can balance the need for effective screening with the need to avoid miserably long security lines.
But there’s no getting around it: for anyone wanting to pack an extra sweater, a snack for the baby or raincoat just in case, this is a big deal–a serious degradation of the customer experience. Unfortunately, such are the compromises security professionals have had to make in this post-ISIS era. Soft-target attacks–everything from sophisticated assaults on iconic arenas to lethal “lone wolf” attacks on unsuspecting neighborhood nightclubs—are on the rise, forcing operators of public venues of all sizes to rethink their security strategies. All too often, venues have had to resort to the oldest, bluntest response: hire more security guards and request more police support and do more thorough physical searches.
We all know that’s not a sustainable response. Throwing labor at the problem is costly in the short-term and economically unsustainable in the long-term. It’s not sure to dissuade a determined terrorist, but may impact your brand. After all, your business is to provide a carefree, entertaining experience for your customer—not to turn a night out into what feels like a visit to a hardened military installation. And when customers complain, we all know who will bear the brunt of the pressure. You will.
Therefore, here are six ways that screening technology can protect soft targets from terrorist attacks:
1: Create an Enhanced Visitor Experience – Deliver security at the pace of life. Visitors are not asked to “pause and pose”. Because it uses high-speed millimeter imaging, the system can screen people at walking speed. Since we need to search for mass casualty weapons, there’s no need to empty one’s pockets and purses into “dog bowls”.
2: Don’t Treat All Threats Equal – Our industry responded impressively after 911, with powerful systems designed to find anything a highly trained terrorist could use to attempt a repeat of that infamous day. The unsophisticated lone wolves who carried out most of the more recent soft-target attacks needed powerful weapons and explosives to cause mass casualties. We’ll look for those—not screwdrivers, razor blades, or other everyday objects with minimal potential for terror.
3: Don’t Deploy Security That is All or Nothing. It’s Complicated. – In the past, the main question for many organizations was whether to deploy screening technology. Like it or not, ISIS has changed that calculation. Now, almost any place where crowds gather can be a target. Look into technology that improves your defenses at all your facilities – whether it is adding another layer of protection to a sports stadium or introducing one to a previously unprotected nightclub or corporate office.
4: Know that Flow Matters – Living in a free society means accepting some risks. Security cannot come at the cost of freedom of movement, freedom from intrusive searches and freedom from inconvenience.
5: Understand that Customer Experience Matters – Minimizing the unpleasantness of screening is not a secondary consideration—not for your customers and visitors, and not for your boss. Our working assumption is that if our technology hurts your ability to retain and attract business, you won’t use it for long. You need to protect your customers and help your business.
6: Consider Future-Proofing Through Software – Powerful software platforms help you easily adjust as new threats emerge. This is crucial to keep you prepared for today’s sophisticated terrorist networks, who use social networks and other tools to quickly share instructions for building more lethal bombs or executing new types of attacks.
It’s time the security industry stepped up with solutions for the reality of today’s world. Our technology is specifically designed to expose the threats behind mass casualty attacks that have become all too common to help your front-line personnel take quick action without inconveniencing your customers.
To learn more, read the three questions security directors need to ask before the next soft target event here.