The Pulse Nightclub Attack – The Importance of Notification Inside a Building

Looking back at the attack at the Pulse nightclub, one of the key factors that is often missed in the tragedy was the presence of armed security at the entrance.  As the attacker approached the building he was engaged by Officer Adam Gruler.  Officer Gruler valiantly and courageously exchanged gunfire with the attacker.  Unfortunately, he was unable to neutralize the shooter and stop the attack.  While all this occurred, the patrons of the club were enjoying the loud music and oblivious to the approaching threat.  In active shooter events this is a common theme; the victims are unaware of the danger until it is too late.

There is something that can be done to alert building occupants of a threat. A simple notification system with sirens and strobes can reduce casualties and save lives.  As a country, we do not have any protocols in place for alerting building occupants to this type of threat.  The OSHA General Duty Clause requires building and business owners to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards.  Chemical, fire, and climactic alert systems are in place in buildings, but a hostile intruder alert system isn’t required, even though an armed intruder event is more likely than all of the others combined.  Being aware that a threat exists is the number one factor of survival.  The second is a quick response by law enforcement.  Adding a notification system that sounds an alarm, alerts building occupants, and informs law enforcement is an essential component to reducing casualties.

We have seen this play out numerous times in active shooter events. The Pulse nightclub patrons weren’t immediately aware of the shots outside or inside.  A former marine that recognized the shots had no means to activate a building wide alarm.  At Columbine, it was a teacher, David Sanders, that ran the halls attempting to warn others of the threat.  He paid with his life.  In incidents at Atlantis Plastics and Excel Industries the employees at the front office called 911 after witnessing shootings in the parking lot, only to have the shooter proceed to enter the business.  Employees were gunned down while working unaware of the hazard that approached.  An alarm system that will sound sirens, activate strobes, turn off equipment, shutdown music, turn on lights and alert building occupants is a simple solution in each of these situations.

The SafeDefend system was designed with the express intent of alerting everyone in a crisis. The system is designed to sound alarms and strobes inside the building, send text and emails with information including the exact location of the threat, and alert first responders to the threat while providing them with specific information on where to confront the crisis.  Learning from the lessons of other mass casualties hazards has reduced casualties.  Taking those proven response protocols and applying them to workplace violence and active shooters will do the same to limit casualties and heighten response.

Protecting Employees – Strict Sign In Process at Schools and Businesses

Taking a lesson from federal buildings we should all recognize the importance of a strict visitor policy. In my years of law enforcement I was always impressed that even a properly uniformed officer was required to sign in, obtain a visitor badge and be escorted when conducting business inside the a federally controlled facility.  The important component was the fact that the person I was visiting was responsible for me and thus immediately notified when I was in the building. While this level of security seems daunting the reality is that the practical components are currently in place at most schools and businesses.  The missing component is the adherence to policy and the will to enforce them.

The tragedy at San Bernardino elementary school in April of 2017 is a good example of a good policy that was poorly executed. The school had the typical sign in process for the visitors that we expect in any institution.  The perpetrator attempted several entrances before being allowed in by a staff member that recognized him.  His nefarious intent was not obvious and he was able to walk unescorted to the classroom.  While entry to schools like this happen every day in this country the probability of something this horrible happening is miniscule.  It is the rarity of these violent attacks that leads to lax security protocols and enforcement.

The best solution to preventing this type of incident is a proactive approach by staff. All visitors should be identified via a state or official ID card that is given to a staff member.  The staff member should log in the visitor.  The visitor should have a numbered ID badge that is to be worn at all times when in the building.  Should anything happen the staff can use the numbered badge to later identify which visitor caused an issue.  The staff member they are visiting should be notified and required to appear at the front office to escort the visitor throughout the building.  The visitor will then sign out upon exiting the building and relinquish the badge.  The most important aspect of this is that the staff member is notified of the presence of a visitor prior to them being allowed access to the rest of the building.  If the correct mindset was in place, even a known visitor, like the estranged husband at San Bernardino, would be escorted all the way to the front office to be signed in as a visitor.  Security is everyone’s responsibility and cannot be dismissed for convenience.

In response to the shooting the San Bernardino school implemented a strict no entry during school hours policy.  It requires background checks and prior scheduling.  I don’t necessarily disagree with this type of policy, but fear that the extreme measures will be so cumbersome that exceptions become the norm.  Kids forget things, holiday parties are a part of early education, community volunteers are essential to school programs, and class performances for parents are vital for engagement.  It is difficult to completely remove parents from the schools and expect the students to understand it is being done for their safety.  The measures need to be strict enough to accomplish the level of needed security, without creating an environment that diminishes the educational experience of the students.

At SafeDefend we are working with schools and businesses to address the realities of the workplace violence and hostile intruders. A quick response by law enforcement and immediate notification to building occupants are the two most critical components to reducing casualties in a crisis.

The Perception of Security in Schools Isn’t Enough to Keep Kids Safe

We all want to feel that our schools are prepared for potential catastrophic incidents. We have safety committees, training drills, and procedures for response.  When we look at the numbers for fire related injuries and casualties from climatic events we can clearly see that the safety protocols are working.  Unfortunately, when we look at school violence the numbers are shocking.  We have an epidemic of violence that is being ignored.

The CDC publishes an annual report on school violence.  The numbers are staggering in the consistency from year to year. Some of the more notable findings reveal the nature of weapons in schools.  Almost 1 out of 20 students has brought a weapon to school for protection.  6.0% of students report being injured or threatened with a weapon within the last 12 months.  1 in 20 teachers were physically attacked by a student.  When you recognize that according to the FBI studies the violence in our schools is perpetuated by students, staff and domestic partners the notion of safety through external physical security measures falls apart.

When tragedies happen in schools we consider our own situation and how that impacts our facilities and students. A school fire or a severe weather event that involves a school doesn’t cause us alarm because we know that we are prepared for such events. The same cannot be said for school violence and hostile intruders.  Whenever there are school threats or incidents of violence we enhance police presence, convene meetings, and consider upgrades.  This alone is an acknowledgment that we don’t feel safe.   The clear indication is that what we are doing isn’t enough and more needs to be done.  The problem is we have been doing the same thing for the last quarter century but the numbers keep rising.

The addition of physical security measures is only a barrier that must be overcome by an intruder. If the perpetrator starts inside those barriers then the solution wasn’t viable.  The security needs to be a deterrent not just an obstacle.  Empowerment of staff and notification are the two factors that have been shown to reduce casualties in a crisis.  The SafeDefend system was designed by a school administrator with this knowledge in mind.  Keeping kids safe requires a proactive approach at the classroom level.  Assuming that the problem can be locked out is a perception that isn’t keeping kids safe.