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.