Engaging Stakeholders in Security Planning: Common Hurdles Part I

Guy Sapirstein, PhD
Resilience Consulting, LLC

Security is Polarizing:
Feeling safe and secure is something most of us have strong feelings about. Some feel vulnerable personally and as Jews, while others have equally strong feelings about our strength and integration into the communities where we live, and resulting sense of security. Engaging people in conversation about security often elicits polarizing feelings, similar to those we see when talking about topics such as Israel, domestic politics, or in some circles Red Sox – Yankees (or Patriots – Jets / Giants). As a result of this polarization many conversations are avoided and resources are not allocated wisely (or not at all).

Engaging Stakeholders:
The first step in security and preparedness planning has to be engaging stakeholders and creating an environment where people can express personal as well as professional opinions safely. Most of the professional staff I have encountered have fairly reasonable assessments of the safety and security issues facing their program or community. Their challenges are determining priorities and dealing with the diversity (and intensity) of approaches and feelings in their communities (with respect to security).

It is important to keep in mind that when discussing safety and security, communities tend to divide into three main groups: ~60% do not have strong feelings and will accept most reasonable plans; ~20% will strongly advocate for heightened safety and security measures; and finally, ~20% will advocate with equal strength for a more “open” approach. In synagogues, it is common to see the senior administrative staff advocating for more stringent procedures, while the clergy advocate for a more open approach. In Religious and Day Schools as well as pre-schools, parents have strong opinions in both directions.

When bringing the different stakeholders together to engage in the “security conversation” it is important to emphasize that the goal of preparedness and security planning is not only to decrease the likelihood of adverse events, but also to increase the subjective sense of safety and security of the people who could be affected. Very few Jewish communal buildings are designed such that they could afford complete or near complete protection to their occupants. In fact, most are designed with many open spaces (conducive to community building) and provide a view (and access) to the outside. It is important to shift expectations from maximal protection to optimal response.

Past Incidents:
In examining past incidents of shootings involving Jewish organizations it is difficult to detect a pattern.  The Seattle Federation shooting in July 2006 involved the gunman entering the office using a hostage and shooting people indoors. The Kansas City JCC and retirement community shootings in April 2014 were outside in the parking lot. The terrorist attack against the Jewish Museum in Brussels involved a highly trained gunman standing at the entrance and shooting inside and then fleeing. The shooting at Otzar HaTorah School in Toulouse, France in 2012 involved a single gunman shooting from outside the playground. The January 2015 attack at the Hyper-Cacher supermarket in Paris involved one trained gunman who entered and created a hostage situation. The February 2015 attack near the JCC in Nice, France involved a knife attack outside the JCC. Finally, the attack in February 2015 in Copenhagen involved a radicalized former gang member who first shot at a free speech gathering at a café, and then later at guards standing outside a synagogue (killing one guard and injuring two others).

Should we hire a security guard?
Based on these events communities wonder about employing an armed security guard. The cost of a trained, contracted security guard is about $35 an hour, which would translate to about $1400 a week (full time) and upwards of $70k a year. Most Jewish organizations cannot afford that. In addition, it is unclear whether the guard should be inside, outside, or patrolling the perimeter. An interior based guard would not prevent shooting at an outdoor playground, or during drop-off or pickup. An exterior guard could be either in a different place than the shooter or be shot, leaving the organization with no protection from that point on.

Having a guard raises additional issues. The first is the tradeoff involved: if $70k+ a year is going towards paying for the guard, what is not getting funded? Is an armed guard the best use of funds from a security as well as an organizational perspective? $70k could represent another teacher or a substantial upgrade to safety and security infrastructure. The second issue is known as “risk compensation”: the false sense of security (“someone’s looking over us”) that at times leads to increased risk taking and lessening the sense of personal responsibility and resourcefulness (“someone will tell me what to do”). Although the two (guard and personal resourcefulness) are not mutually exclusive, it takes an intentional and deliberate effort to ensure the vigilance and preparedness of staff. A non-security example of risk-compensation is risk taking while riding or skiing with a helmet (versus without).

It is important to state clearly that this is not a recommendation against engaging a security guard, but simply highlighting that engaging a guard is not a simple straightforward decision. While it makes sense to have a guard (or several) during high profile events (higher risk), having one permanently is not feasible for most. Irrespective of whether your organization (or community) decides having an armed guard is necessary, it is important to consider all the other factors mentioned (guard location, staff training, contingency planning, etc.).

Should Staff be armed?
Some organizations have grappled with allowing staff to carry firearms. In talking to local police safety personnel they unequivocally recommend against it. There are two main reasons: the first relates to effectiveness.  Only 20% of shots fired by highly trained police officers actually hit their target in actual active shooter situations. This means 80% of the bullets fired miss their intended target. The potential for collateral damage to bystanders is huge. The second reason, supported by a review of the past incidents, is that often the weapon ends up being used against victims by the perpetrator. In a hostage situation, most people would opt to give up their weapon than to try and shoot their way out, risking the hostage death and their own. Alternatives to firearms are nonlethal weapons (e.g., pepper spray, etc.) and even those require training and procedures (e.g. what do you do after the person is temporarily disabled?).

Optimal Response:
To summarize, since semi-automatic rifles and handguns are available to anyone who wants them in the US, it is virtually impossible to completely secure any facility from a determined gunman – hence the need to focus on optimal response as opposed to maximal protection. Optimal response involves developing a set of procedures (Preparedness Planning) that provide people with alternative action plans. One option could be evacuating, the other could be locking down, a third could be hiding, and finally if no other option exists – fighting back. The use of these options depends on a variety of factors such as personal abilities (or limitations), location in the facility, responsibility for others, etc. These actions plans should be appropriate for use to deal with all hazards (fire, weather/environmental hazards, and violence).

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