Deterrence versus a System of Protection

A little note about the difference between a deterrence and actually implementing a comprehensive system of protection - particularly when it comes to protecting soft targets, including schools, from active shooters.  Lately, the bulk of my work has been centered around providing threat, vulnerability, and risk assessments.  A big part of the process involves developing effective countermeasures to mitigate the assessed risks.  I have supported various agencies and entities across the range of critical infrastructure sectors.  These include commercial nuclear reactors, large gathering venues (e.g. stadiums), schools, and mass transit systems.  Soft targets, such as schools, malls, and mass transit system, are those locations whose operational features or requirements may make them vulnerable to a malevolent actor. 

The spate of mass shootings has driven a number of decision makers to implement a variety of security measures with the objective of “deterring” the threat.  Unfortunately, deterring a threat, such as an active shooter does not equal slowing down or interdicting the threat.  A number of decision makers, to include many in the physical security world, conflate deterrence with a comprehensive system of physical protection.

A system of physical protection must comprise detection with assessment, delay, and interdiction - within the given adversary sequence timeline.  This principle is to a physical security professional, what Newton's Laws of Motion are to a physicist –– you can change the variables but you can’t get around the rule.  There are no exceptions to building a true physical protection system.  Many lack an understanding of what a deterrent is and most conflate deterrence with what a physical protection system does.

For example, qualitatively, you can say that if you install some CCTV over here and lock the door over there, you will deter an attack against your office building, facility, school, etc.  And qualitatively, this may be true - if (and this is a big if) the threat element does not have a specific or causal reason to attack the place in question.  They see the countermeasures and decide to attack the place down the road that has no visible countermeasures.  The problem with this approach is that you end up overlooking the causal relationship that malevolent actors, such as active shooters, often have with their targets.

When I assess a facility quantitatively, the deterrent value of individual countermeasures is rated 0 or very close to zero. The reason is that I cannot anticipate the causal relationship that a threat actor may have with the target – when a threat actor decides to attack a target regardless of visible countermeasures, the deterrent effect of the countermeasures is 0 and the efficacy of the physical protection system defaults to the aforementioned ability to detect and assess that there is a threat, delay the threat, and interdict the threat before they reach their intended target.  This approach drives the countermeasures and courses of action that I advise leaders, when it comes to protecting their schools, offices, facilities, etc.

S. Mentler CPP, PSP.

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