A Capitol Breach

A Capitol Breach

What the security community needs to take from the Capitol Hill breach

On Jan. 6, the U.S. Capitol security perimeter was breached and the nation watched as multiple levels of security failed. The events were distressing and shocking but it is important that we learn from this incident to ensure a more secure future, not just for our legislature, but for any building where people gather to live or work.

As the details of the insurrection continue to unfold, we are gaining insight into where things went wrong. There was intelligence regarding the possibility of attack, but not the proactive preparedness needed to fortify or defend against it. With so many pre-event warnings, why weren’t the Capitol Police and the Capitol itself more prepared? What should have been done differently?

As security professionals, we believe that everyone has a right to feel safe at work. The greatest responsibility for the security community is to ensure that all employees, customers, students, residents, and constituents feel safe under our duty of care. Secondarily, it is important to protect the physical space and ultimately the reputation of the people who use the space. Unfortunately for many of us, the Capitol Hill breach shines a light on how fragile safety can be and how quickly relatively normal situations can change. The reality that was illuminated is that preparedness is our best line of defense.

It seems that for the Capitol Police, hindsight is 2020. According to an NPR article, Yogananda Pittman, acting Capitol Police Chief said, “In light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol.”

While exterior fences and additional visible police presence are strong deterrents, security professionals know there is much more unseen security involved in any building’s physical security infrastructure. It seems like an obvious first step is to evaluate the access control, video surveillance, and emergency lockdown technology that is currently in use.

TECHNOLOGY AND THE DUTY OF CARE

Technology gives security professionals control of a building and can enable quick action at the threat of danger. Using the right set of technology tools can also help detect anomalies and suspicious behaviors that trigger preemptive alerts. The fact that none of these technologies were employed during the insurrection is puzzling, and reiterates the need to reevaluate current technologies and the emergency procedures that are in place.

The best offense is a good defense. Security professionals need to be prepared for threats of all kinds, even ones that seem improbable. Your security plan might also include barricades and guards, like the U.S. Capitol requires, but it should definitely include access control, video surveillance, and emergency technologies and protocols.

Lines of defense. It seems like an obvious first step is to evaluate the levels of defense you have available to intercept a potential security threat. Preparedness is not just the presence of physical barriers and guards at a site, it is the sum of all layers of defense. That includes not only monitoring for potential threats and assessing current guards and fences, but also reviewing access control infrastructure and video surveillance capabilities to ensure you have proactive control and eyes on site.

Security professionals must always be aware of warning signs. Being prepared is the comprehensive steps we take to ensure safety. Whether it’s unusual chatter on the internet, unexpected activity around the site outside of normal patterns, or security access points and response plans. Being prepared requires all lines of defense, not just the fences, locks and guards.

Comprehensive plan. A comprehensive plan needs to include a coordination of all lines of defense from monitoring and evaluating risks, establishing the right perimeter hardware needed to the technology required to protect a space. A modern access control plan would include requiring credentials to enter a building, video surveillance used to spot unusual patterns, and an emergency response plan in the event of an unplanned attack.

The right equipment. Having the right equipment for the job is also critical. Does the hardware and software you employ in your security plan meet the needs of what you are trying to protect? It would seem the seat of political power in the free world would have the right equipment for all layers of defense, but that was not the case.

Police were without helmets, strong fencing and other physical equipment. The fact that the Capitol also has no metal detectors prior to the security breach seems like a mis-match in having the right response for the right situation. Assessing the requirements of a secure location demands a balance of the correct modern equipment to the value of what you need to protect.

WHAT’S THE BACKUP PLAN?

No security plan can be 100% foolproof. For all the fences and deterrents, breaches still occurred. What then? The security plan does not stop there; having evacuation plans, lockdown procedures and backup support is also part of the comprehensive plan.

You need to plan for if your layers of plan fail, what is the fi- nal last-resort? The burden for security teams is to think through those scenarios, sometimes to the unthinkable, and what happens after a breach.

ACCESS CONTROL SHOCKINGLY ABSENT FROM THE CONVERSATION

In the coverage of the events of January 6, the discussion focused solely on the failure of the Capitol Hill police force to stop the advancing crowd. Politico characterized the day as, “a textbook example of cascading mistakes of intelligence, preparation, training, and most of all, police leadership.” Most of the video footage seen across the news and social media was from personal cellphones. There was no discussion of the technology that was in place that failed that day.

Did the Capitol have video surveillance of suspicious behaviors the day before or the morning of the breach? Are there lockdown procedures in place at the Capitol in case of an active shooter or other armed conflict? How are the multitudes of staff and workers cleared into the building on a daily basis? A review of the standard operating procedures is a place to start and incorporating those into the physical police presence would help form a better understanding of the security posture of the Capitol itself.

The United States is not new to armed intruder situations or acts of public violence. We’ve watched for years as schools, churches and other community institutions have been breached and violated with very tragic outcomes. Many of these cases came without direct warning.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen a hiatus from violent attacks due to the lockdown and lack of public gatherings. In an article for BISNOW on Active Shooter Situations Have Paused during the Pandemic. What Can That Teach CRE?, writer Dee Stribling noted, “While some cities have suffered an increase in gun violence overall, the scenarios involving one active shooter unknown to victims have been scarce. It turns out that 2020 has provided a rare test case that might have never happened but for the pandemic....”

There is reason to believe there will be a return to more potential violence in the wake of the Capitol Hill riot and as the pandemic wanes. It is of critical importance that we start now to rethink security in a post-pandemic world.

Preventing the next incident is the goal of all security teams and having access control in place is key. Take for instance the case of Rancho Tehama, where a school shooting was thwarted by reverse evacuation and lockdown procedure.

At the sound of gunshots, the school was able to quickly react and potentially save many lives “...always err on the side of caution when it comes to enacting lockdown or evacuation procedure,” said Paul Timm, PSP, vice president at Facility Engineering Associates and a member of the ASIS School Safety and Security Council. Taking a note from the lesson learned of the Capitol Hill riots is a way to begin the process to be prepared for better security in the future. A holistic approach to physical security today needs to include a conversation on access control technology and how the larger scurity strategy is achieved.

This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Security Today.

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