See Something, Say Something. Report suspicious behavior. What, or perhaps who, doesn’t belong? Great advice, but it’s not quite that simple. The solution takes a little more work, but can be summed up by understanding the environment based on baseline, situational awareness, demeanor and understanding the threat. Each is closely related, and usually takes boots on the ground and eyes on the target to establish an action plan that goes beyond words on paper. Understanding the importance of baseline, situational awareness, demeanor and understanding the threat is not difficult; applying them to individual, and possibly unique, areas of responsibility can be more challenging.
What’s normal for a community, population, event, etc.? Think of it from a scientific perspective. Before deploying radiation detectors, you must establish the baseline, or normal, amount of radiation, for that area. Once this is established, it can be determined when there’s been a deviation.
Establishing a baseline takes experience, and often a historical background. Setting a baseline for various areas and activities takes work, and often is different within larger components of a community, especially as it relates to special events.
Similar to baseline, situational awareness is important to fully grasp what is going on, including additional factors that may complicate the threat picture. A large outdoor sporting event that includes an honor guard with military equipment and weapons, unexpected protestors, VIPs in attendance or a nearby festival with thousands of people dressed in costumes may cause added concern, especially if any of these activities was not included in the original incident action plan. Imagine that the night before a football game at the stadium, there was a concert that included fireworks, and the effects that it might have on the next morning’s sterility sweep.
Situational awareness helps avoid surprises and unexpected consequences.
Do the atmosphere and people’s actions match the environment? Demeanor, too, fits in with baseline and situational awareness. How should someone be acting, or reacting, in a particular environment? We all know that a person walking through a parking lot looking into car windows may be getting ready to break into a car. But what about a student walking in a hallway, a person attending a concert or fan at a basketball game? How should they be acting? The fan attending a conference championship game will likely be excited, attending with friends and perhaps be quite animated; what about the person at that same game who comes alone, doesn’t watch the action on the court and spends significant time walking around in various different locations?
Threats often differ depending on the target, environment, event, time of year, opportunity (soft versus hard) and “call to action.” Situational awareness helps public safety officials know both their area of responsibility, and how the greater threat may apply. Those charged with providing security know the importance of understanding the threat picture, when a threat becomes credible and knowing when the threat becomes localized based on the current situation. Federal, state and local agencies continue to provide detailed, and often specific, threat bulletins that provide both indicators and suggested protective measures. Area-specific security measures, threat assessments, vulnerability assessments and threat-based exercises provide additional information related to gaps and resource needs.
Andy Altizer is the director of emergency management at Kennesaw State University in metro Atlanta.