Safety & Security - Prep - November 2017

1711_SS2_1Preparation Without Paranoia

How attractions should respond to the current active-threat environment

by Keith Miller

In recent years, we have witnessed increasing numbers of violent attacks against tourism-related sites like airports, hotels, concert venues, and public squares. As part of the tourism sector, amusement parks and other attractions must be mindful of this threat environment, take steps to mitigate this risk, and effectively respond to attacks if they do occur.

Dr. Kathleen Kiernan is founder and CEO of Kiernan Group Holdings in Alexandria, Virginia, and advises government and industry clients, including tourism venues, on how to prepare for a range of “active threat” situations. The firm’s Preparedness Without Paranoia concept emphasizes the importance of understanding today’s threat environment, recognizing telltale signs of evolving threats, and empowering people to take effective action. 

Dr. Kiernan is a 29‑year veteran of U.S. federal law enforcement. She previously served as the assistant director for the Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). 

Funworld spoke with Dr. Kiernan regarding the nature of the current “active threat” environment, the risks parks and attractions face from active threats, and the steps they should take to reduce the likelihood of threatening attacks and respond to them if they do occur. 

How do you define an “active threat”? 

1711_SS2_2Active threat is an umbrella concept that includes four threat dimensions: active shooter, workplace violence, insider threat, and terrorism. These four dimensions of active threat, previously viewed as singular dimensions, now signify a more complex and lethal hybrid threat. As an example, the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando demonstrates an attack made up of three of the four threat dimensions. Omar Mateen was an active shooter because he used firearms to carry out his attack; since Mateen had previously patronized the club as a customer, the attack meets the definition of insider threat; and, finally, Mateen claimed allegiance to and an affiliation with ISIS, which further classifies the attack an act of terrorism.  

“Research shows the two most important steps any organization must take in the process of committing to a safer workplace is, first, it must recognize there is the potential for an active threat; second, it must commit resources to prepare a response to a potential threat. ”—Dr. Kathleen Kiernan, Kiernan Group Holdings

What threat level do you believe tourist attractions currently face? 

Overall, tourism, which includes both deliberate and casual travel, contributes to the economic viability of a community, state, or country. It forms part of the life cycle of the venue, which hosts artifacts of historical significance as well as locations for leisure and family adventure, places where memories are made, and where revenue that sustains employment and growth is generated. By design and intent, these locations are open and accessible to all visitors, and while security infrastructure is present, it is often meant to be secondary to the openness of the venue. Unlike other vital assets to a community, these locations are considered relatively soft targets. Much of the recent targeting has been directed against locations where individuals, including tourists, congregate during travel, in airports, mass transit stations, and hotels.  

How much does this threat level vary from continent to continent, country to country? 

In the most extreme cases, countries or regions that experience frequent and large-scale terrorist attacks, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, have virtually no tourism industry to speak of. The sector of tourism that has been most often attacked by terrorist groups includes hotels (especially Western hotel chains), restaurants, and tourist resorts, which parallel the soft targets that one would expect to find at attractions. Attractions, however, are not immune from violence as there are no boundaries in today’s security climate. As a symbol of Western entertainment in general, attractions should prepare like any other tourist industry [segment] and develop emergency response plans as well as evacuation and response procedures that are specific to active threats.  

What can attractions learn from recent attacks in public venues? 

When significant business sectors are attacked and severely damaged, this accomplishes one strategic objective for the attacker: to inflict damage on its victims’ critical infrastructure. As part of the business sector, tourism venues (to include attractions) constitute one primary strategic target of attack because attacking it can cause severe and cascading economic damages not only to the targeted business, but also other sectors in a country’s overall critical infrastructure as well. It’s important to note that each sector has its own unique characteristic and a specific risk profile. 

What is the first step parks and attractions should take in learning about and mitigating these threats? 

Research shows the two most important steps any organization must take in the process of committing to a safer workplace is, first, it must recognize there is the potential for an active threat; second, it must commit resources to prepare a response to a potential threat. The resources need to extend to training the workforce and then incorporating that training into drills and evaluation exercises. I like to compare preparedness training to a fire drill. You don’t need an actual fire to prepare and exercise the skillset necessary to report and evacuate in an efficient and effective way. Most organizations have an emergency evacuation plan already in place in case of a fire. The same should hold true for an active threat. 

What does active-threat preparation involve? 

Organizations can and should develop a plan, similar to an emergency evacuation plan, to ensure individuals understand what early indicators of anomalous activity look like, know to whom to report those indicators, and take on security as a personal part of their employment activity. The security mindset then becomes an organic skillset that transcends to other areas of an individual’s activity. You must drill your workforce to know what to do in the event of an incident. Developing a capable and confident workforce that knows what to do when an incident occurs will not only save lives, but will also make individual and organizational recovery that much more effective. 

What is the role that executives and other leaders at attractions should take in preparing their organizations for active threats? 

For business executives, ranging from CEOs to security directors, managing and mitigating the risk from potential active threats should now be considered part of their overall business decision-making process. Business managers need to prioritize the types of threats likely to challenge their businesses and allocate appropriate resources to develop an emergency response plan, implement that plan, and then practice that plan. Security directors are keenly aware that effective defensive and preventative responses to the challenges presented by terrorism require their enterprises to be continuously vigilant, regularly exercised and updated to outpace emergent threats. They also need to ensure their commercial property insurance policies include, if possible, active threat/terrorism insurance to cover losses that might follow an attack. 

Some attractions fear that actively taking steps that are visible to the public to reduce and/or deal with attacks actually scares away visitors. How valid is this concern? 

In today’s security climate, travelers and tourists are well aware of the increase in attacks on the tourism industry. The fact that a park or attraction is focused on keeping its employees and guests safe should encourage rather than discourage visitors. Security sense is really common sense. For that very reason, we call our approach to prepare for potential attacks Preparedness Without Paranoia, and we seek to foster and develop an educated and engaged citizenry, from the kitchen table to the boardroom table. 

In what manner would guests be expected to respond to such security measures? 

Security is personal. If individuals, from children to adults, are trained on how to survive an active threat, they will react as they have been trained if and when an incident occurs. Preparedness Without Paranoia teaches heightened situational awareness and increases everyone’s security efficacy by emphasizing the importance of understanding today’s threat environment, recognizing telltale signs of an evolving threat, and empowering people to take effective action.