Our worst fear: hostile presence


Howard B. PriceThis week’s violent incursion by a disturbed, homeless man at the studios of WIBW-TV/Topeka KS is just the latest incident raising serious questions about the security of the country’s broadcast facilities – and the training provided to staffers for dealing with the scenario known in crisis management as “hostile presence.”

As the Poynter Institute’s distinguished faculty member, Al Tompkins, wrote in his column following this incident, it’s not unusual today to find trained security officers, lobby isolation architecture and other access control systems at larger broadcast stations and networks.

But in smaller markets where such incidents may be thought less likely to happen, they are not universal. In such locations, it’s also rare to find staffers formally trained for response to such incidents.

Al’s piece also points up a key change in the relationship with our audience brought on by social media. While it’s hardly a new phenomenon for broadcasters to position themselves in the public’s mind as “friends” and “problem solvers,” Twitter, Facebook and similar services now make that relationship more real and more personal than ever before. Viewers can actually have online conversations with station personnel, on-airs and off-airs alike. The risk is that delusional individuals with no sense of social boundaries could take those online ‘relationships” too far, and believe that their favorite broadcasters are their own personal advocates – “real” friends, with whom they can talk or visit at any time.

So what to do? Here are a few suggestions:

•           Ballistic Glass. This is a must, particularly for any station using a street front studio. If your facilities are accessible at street level, you must have impact-resistant glass around your facility. There are various options in a range of price points; consult a security expert for guidance on the right product for your facility. If your facility is on a busy thoroughfare, consider adding concrete- or steel-reinforced bollards to prevent vehicles from penetrating your building.

•           Lobby Isolation. Vestibule interlocks and badge-activated (remote-controllable) turnstiles are essential to slow an intruder down or keep them from invading your critical facilities altogether. Ideally, the space above these turnstiles should be protected with a barrier to create a sterile zone behind which a receptionist or security officer can work safely.

•           Recorded Video Surveillance. High-resolution cameras with low-light capability should be installed at all building access points, and at all sensitive or isolated operating areas. All cameras should be digitally recorded fulltime, and monitoring should be fully-remotable via IP to allow professional first responders to maintain awareness of conditions during a fluid emergency situation. Cameras should have pan, tilt and zoom capability.

•           Proxcarding. No one should be able to move from floor to floor in your plant, and certainly not enter any sensitive operating facilities, without using a “prox card.” a chip-equipped badge encoded with digital access credentials that determine where someone can and can’t go. The advantage of such systems over simple key locks is they can’t easily be duplicated, and can be immediately modified or disabled as necessary. They are also trackable…which allows management time-stamped visibility on the comings and goings in restricted spaces.

•           Live Security. Simply put, it’s the best protection you can buy. Still the most effective deterrent. Any uniformed presences is good – up to you to determine if you want your security officer to be armed while on duty; there are liabilities. But many police departments allow their officers to moonlight in security roles when off-duty; hiring such a person rather than a private security officer not only gets you someone with a high level of training and experience, but also someone legally able to make arrests and use force as needed. Some departments even allow their officers to take marked cruisers home at the end of their shifts; a marked police car parked proximate to your station is also a great deterrent.

•           First Aid/CPR/AED Training for all Staff. I have made it a goal where I work to make sure there’s at least one trained first aider on every shift in every business unit. You should, too. Here’s a great way to get your own staff trained, and do some good for your community as well. Have your sales and community service departments work with your local Red Cross or Heart Association chapter to co-sponsor “Save a Life Saturdays” – and have your air talent fan out across your coverage area to get your entire community trained! It’s great public service, generates great publicity – and shows your staff how important it is to have this training when emergencies strike. Remember, too, that these skills can be employed on or off site – the life you save might not be just that of a co-worker, but someone you love. Follow up by making sure there are defibrillators and fully stocked first aid kits installed strategically throughout your facility.

•           Joint Tactical Exercises. The sheriff of the county where I live offers free tactical site surveys to help organizations better assess and mitigate their risks. In addition, they’ll even stage a multi-agency exercise better familiarize first responders with the tactics and resources necessary to secure your facility and its people in the event of a hostile intrusion. See if any of your local law enforcement agencies offer such a service – then, take advantage of it. And make sure they have current floor plans of your plant.

•           Response Protocols. If all else fails, and you find yourself confronting a disturbed and possibly armed intruder, have a plan. The best plans are written in concert with security or law enforcement professionals – and are exercised at least twice a year. Make sure every staffer knows the plan cold – that includes knowing how to invoke it, make the appropriate notifications, and de-escalate. Coded PA messages are a great idea, and all stations MUST have a standing, well-rehearsed protocol for “closed-circuiting” an intruder who demands to be put “on the air.” Whenever possible, the plan should concentrate on isolating personnel from the threat, securing them in a lockable space, under a desk, with a telephone or other communications device close at hand. Take the time NOW to identify “areas of safe refuge” in your building.

•           Emergency Notification Systems. An offsite, web- and mobile-enabled emergency notification system is a critical communications asset – and there are vendors who can provide solutions for any budget. These systems can mass-message an entire staff via e-mail, text and voice within seconds.

•           Staff Accountability. Know who was in the building at the time of an event. A simple Excel grid pre-populated with the names, floor and office locations and cellphone numbers of your staffers is a fine start. Establish a check-in procedure. if sheltering in place, staffers should call 911 and tell dispatchers where they are. If they’ve evacuated, they should report to a pre-designated reunion area, and their managers should take a headcount to make sure the whereabouts of everyone are known. The last thing you want to do is have first responders risking their lives and wasting their time searching for people in the wrong places, or searching for people who safely made it out of danger.

•           “What to Do If This Happens When We’re Live On the Air?” That’s when a business continuity plan kicks in alongside your disaster response plan. Know how you’d fill time, or transfer operations to an alternate location, should your facility come under siege while you’re live.

Of course, there are many other options to consider. Remember, too, that in the end, the cause of a disruption is less important than its immediate impact, And for most businesses, in any area of endeavor, the impacts are pretty much the same:

•           Loss of building

•           Loss of technology

•           Loss of people

•           External Stakeholders

•           Reputational

•           Cash Flow

Have a verified plan for each of these impacts, and you’ll be well prepared for any surprise that, literally, may come flying through your doors.

–Howard B. Price, CBCP, MBCI

Dir., Business Continuity & Crisis Management

ABC News