Three Security Measures That May Have Minimized or Prevented the Aurora, CO Shooting

By Jeffrey A. Hawkins

First, let me state that our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their family and friends, and all the first responders and medical personnel who unfortunately found themselves in the middle of this heinous act.

The security profession is tough because even after the tragic incident that took place in that movie theatre this past week, it is our job to review the incident and learn from it to prevent or minimize other such similar occurrences.

During the past several days politicians, pundits and media people, who have no experience in security procedures, have gone on TV and radio and made some pretty remarkable and wrong statements about the incident, shooter and tactics.

I understand that the story is still developing, however, in cases like this they all really should try to stick to facts and ask the subject matter experts what really may have prevented or minimized casualties and the handling of the aftermath of this incident.

We all know security is never 100%. We know that the odds of this type of event happening in a movie theatre are pretty low. And we know that the lone-wolf active shooter is the toughest to guard against.

However, security is about prevention and being proactive before a crisis and having emergency procedures in place if one should take place. We do not take the “it can’t happen here” approach, because it can happen anywhere. And we don’t play “odds” of where and when it can happen. And we know that gun violence is always a threat.

The unfortunate focus has been on the guns.

Along with the many anti-gun advocates, a large-city police chief went on a Sunday morning TV show and stated that assault rifles must be banned, better gun control measures need to be put in place, and pointed to the point that the shooter in Colorado was wearing a bullet-proof vest.

The last reports I have read, is that the shooter’s AR-type, semi-automatic rifle actually jammed, forcing him to go to a handgun and that he was not “covered from head-to-toe” in bullet-proof clothing as reported, that he was actually wearing a tactical vest to carry greater amounts on ammunition.

And to further clarify this focus on the type of weapon used in this particular assault, these folks need to look at past active shooter incidents in the U.S.: Some of our most horrific have been by use of a handgun(s).

As the Governor of Colorado stated in one Sunday talk show, if this offender had not had guns, he was smart enough to probably carry out some type of bomb attack.

As security professionals we need to stay focused on measures that would have helped before, during and after any such incident.

I propose three measures that all theatres and any venue that invites the public, especially in such masses in close quarters, need to put in place:

1. Secure Emergency Exits: For as long as I remember, movie theatres have not alarmed their emergency exits. In fact, when I was young that was the way many of my friends got their friends in; one would pay and then go open the exit and let the others into the theatre. I spoke with a son of a friend not too long ago who told me that young people he knows still do this at concert venues. All institutions need to treat their emergency exits as just that, for use only in an emergency. Alarm them, so when they are open, everyone in the immediate area, and proper personnel, will know it has been opened. Don’t let people use them as convenient exits and, as in this case, an unauthorized entrance.

2. Train all staff: Not only in security awareness, but also in the five major emergency procedures: Emergency Evacuation, Shelter-In-Place, Medical Assists, Lost/Missing Child, and Active Shooter. I have to wonder what the level of training was at that Colorado movie theatre that evening? How many staff members had been instructed and drilled on all these procedures? In an emergency, people do what people have practiced.

3. Have security personnel in place: I have visited several movie theatres in different parts of the country over the last year in Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee on a weekend evening and all had a uniformed, off-duty police officer, or officers, in the lobby. If your perimeter is secured, everyone enters through the front entrance. They are a deterrent and they are excellent first responders who are already on the scene, not just for active shooters, but for all the emergencies that can happen when you get a large group of people together.

The above is not picking on movie theatres, although they will be the focus now, just as airports were after 9/11 and schools were after Columbine and Virginia Tech. These security and emergency preparedness measures need to be put in place at all public venues.



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6 Responses to Three Security Measures That May Have Minimized or Prevented the Aurora, CO Shooting

  1. John P. Leseganich, CPEA July 24, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    As an EH&S Consultant, with the emphasis placed on health and safety. My services and career has lead me into the security arena. Allow me to explain. My 30 plus years working within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at one time required me to conduct catastrophe and fatality investigations. Then came the concern and OSHA’s involvement into “Work Place Violence”. I was chosen to coordinate the WPV program while working within the OSHA consultation sector based on my training (OPATA – Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy) and my commission as a Deputy Sheriff. I took the training (OPATA) to obtain a better understanding of “First Responders” and accident investigation since those individuals are usually the first on the scene of any industrial catastrophe or fatality. It was a huge benefit back when I was working within the enforcement sector of OSHA. I was quite active within our local Sheriff’s Department (training / education sector) and have and currently continue my commission which requires yearly continuing education. After retiring from OSHA I continued my career as a private EH&S Consultant. It is quite often when hired by a client (business or organization) that security concerns come up and we develop “risk reduction” policy and procedures. The term “risk reduction” is the key. As stated by the article above (Mr. Hawkins) there are and were a few security measures which could have reduce the occurrence of the incident but maybe not totally eliminated it from occurring. The “Lone Wolf” perpetrator is something we will never be able to predict or stop. We can and should take pro-active “risk reduction” measures, but total elimination is impossible. When giving talks on “Work Place Violence” (not comparing this incident – Aurora-Co. to WPV), I often use the analogy of driving an automobile. We or most of us drive every day so it is easily understood. There is nothing, nothing you can do to stop that oncoming driver (“Lone Wolf”) who has decided to cause damage to you, others and him from simply steering over into your lane and hitting you head on, nothing feasible that is. I say feasible due to the fact that I guess if we wanted to, we could construct each and every roadway with large medium concrete barriers which would keep each side separated, but that isn’t going to happen. So, the focus at this point is to implement procedures that would “reduce” the possibility of that oncoming driver from hitting you head on and then implement procedures that would “reduce” the severity of injury in the event it does occur. This is done (in the driving example) by implementing driving requirements, laws if you will, e.g. speed, vehicle control requirements, training and licensing. We then go further and make sure that the vehicle we are in protects us as good as it can, e.g. impact bumpers, safety glass, seat belts, air bags, better braking system, steering control. All this backed up by strict and deliberate law enforcement (traffic police). These are just a few of the “Risk Reduction” measures taken, but again not total elimination, reduction. Everyone at this point begins to understand the reduction aspect of proper pro-active safety and security measure. With this example given, we all now understand how (if implemented properly) the procedures reference by Mr. Hawkins could have and will play a major role in reducing the possibility of reoccurrence. Will it happen again, in a school, in a theater, in a large group gathering situation, it can and we all pray it won’t, but it can. Do we sit back and accept the fact it will happen again and do nothing. No, we can’t. We take a pro-active approach. We look for the weaknesses, we look for the how it happen areas of concern. The access points, the control or monitoring of whom we let in or why are they there. We look at how we would respond to any incident, the training of those responders, their ability and responsibility. Many will say this appears to be an attack on our freedom and to some it may be. This great country of ours was founded on freedom. But freedom if left unmonitored can carry with it tragic results. Freedom is not easily defined. The definition depends on who is defining it [freedom]. We have heard arguments against Government involvement into every aspect of our lives, which too many attack the basis of freedom. But if we are going to provide a country where we all are free to worship the God of our choice, go where we want to go, shop where we want to shop, dress how we want to dress and say what we want to say, that freedom of choice needs to be protected, protected from others who see differently than we do. That is where and why pro-active protective measures, freedom attacking procedures if you will must be implemented. Stopping someone from entering, asking questions, monitoring activity (video surveillance) all have been and will continue to be attack under the guides of “freedom”, but as we have seen, in today’s somewhat chaotic society is needed. It is a different world than the one many of us grew up in.

  2. Randy Ferris July 24, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    This is the best discussion of preventative processes I have yet seen. No emotion, no political agenda, just straight common sense. This needs to get into the mainstream media.

  3. Doug Cheney July 25, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    I agree with Mr. Ferris! This article from Mr. Hawkins should be covered in the mainstream media, and a copy be placed in the hands of every theater owner, school district, and all operators large-group venues.

    This common sense information that can be put into place with minimal expense.

    My sons were in a theater that night, and the thought of this kind of tragedy happening here is scary beyond belief. I will be printing this article and presenting it to the managers of those theaters. I recommend that others do this as well!

  4. Donald R. Green, CPP, CEMA, CPS July 26, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    Very well written and thought out proposals. This type of attack cannot be prevented, but can, at best, be deterred, postponed, or stopped in its tracks. The ideas presented here would contribute greatly to that.

  5. Kirk July 30, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    I’ve always noted that the lack of alarms on theater doors (they are one of the only public facilities without such alarms) was extremely dangerous. The theater in Aurora had police in the lobby, which is why the shooter chose to come in unarmed through the front and then duck out the back. The police in the lobby were unable to get to the shooter because they were fighting thought the panicking crowd. So the lack of alarms was the Achilles heel that allowed all this to happen. Sure, he could have snuck his .40 cal through the front, but the shotgun (which caused horrific damage to the front couple of rows) would have been much more difficult to sneak in, never mind the assault rifle. And at the very least his ability to carry in ammo would have been constrained.

    And I hate to say it, but frankly, we got lucky in this situation – if he’d had a shotgun with clips rather than a tube magazine casualties would have been through the roof – a twelve gauge in a crowded theater with a lot of ammo would have been terrible – especially if he went into the halls where everyone from the other theaters was running. Not to mention I would not have wanted to be the LEOs trying to get go after him in tight hallways. Also, his stupidity in using a drum magazine in a weapon where a 30 or 40 round clip is much more reliable and very quick to change likely saved a number of lives. Of course he could have skipped the AR-15 entirely and gone for a Kalashnikov, between the greater reliability and the 7.62mm round he could have been far more deadly. Finally, had he not been out of ammo for the pistol, jammed the rifle, and emptied the shotgun it is likely that he would have opened fire on the LEOs rather than surrendering – which he did only, I presume, because he had literally nothing to shoot with. Once the LEOs managed to put him down, most likely fatally, they would have walked right into the minefield in his apartment. And all of this, potential and actual, could have been prevented (at least under these specific facts and circumstances) with a simple alarm setup like every building from the local grocery store to the public library has on every single exit door.

    Maybe we should fix that with a hundred dollar setup from the local hardware store before we start talking about comprehensive gun control, which would take years to implement and is of dubious legal and practical value.

  6. Kevin Williams August 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    I could not agree more. I personally don’t think we need to start screening individuals and searching all their belongings at the doors. It’s funny that you mentioned all this because I just got interviewed by our local TV station because I refused to have my wife’s purse rambled through by some pimple faced kids at the entrance. Good sound security measures are what’s needed, not a police state!
    Below is the link to the story they ran. I wanted to get the word out that people just over react and we all need to just get a grip. Only through people refusing to put up with silly regulations/procedures are we going to come to a sound security solution. I’m not the best interviewee ever, but I hope I got my word across. The anchor though thought that this theatre was trying to protect us by searching us!

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