Arizona shooting highlights difficulty of protecting public spaces

Monday, January 10, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz.—A shooting spree during a political event that critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, killed one of her staff members and five others and wounded 19 people, has resulted in a Congressional call for review of security measures.

The new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, asked the Sergeant at Arms, the U.S. Capitol police and the FBI to "conduct an in-depth security overview” for Congressional members, according to CNN.

Some lawmakers said they believe more dramatic security measures should be taken to help protect them, their families and their aides, suggesting the use of the U.S. Marshals Service, which protects federal judges, to provide security as needed for lawmakers when in their districts.

Ensuring security in a public setting is far from simple. “Unless you put a wand to screen everyone and have someone in uniform with a weapon, I don’t think you could ever guarantee safety,” said Dan Hoffman, SVP of human resources and legal for Andrews International, who had a 30-year career in law enforcement.

While events like this are certainly tragic, they are often reminders of the importance of security planning, said James McGinty, vice president of training and safety for Covenant Security Services. Similar to the way school security changed after the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, an event like this should remind politicians and others on the public forefront about the importance of security. “If there’s any weaknesses when these things are planned, it’s often the security aspect that’s overlooked,” said McGinty. “Security has to become a big part of the plan.”

McGinty, a developer of the ASIS International Active Shooter program who is currently contracted by the Department of Homeland Security for active shooter and workplace violence programs, knows that preparing for an active shooter in a public space is extremely difficult. It’s critical to evaluate the “what ifs” that could occur at this kind of event, and unfortunately an active shooter should be at the top of the list. “In any type of public venue, one of the major obstacles is determining who is coming to these things and the exposure people may have,” McGinty said.

Having law enforcement present at such events can be an effective way to both deter a gunman and provide immediate response. “Involving law enforcement in the pre-planning should be a big part of it,” he said. “The mere presence of law enforcement at such events may absolutely in fact prevent something from taking place and the presence of law enforcement once an episode does start, means they can directly intervene and hopefully stop the carnage like we saw in Arizona.”

Another important measure is continued education. McGinty said he has seen a growing number of corporations taking proactive measures to educate employees about what to do in an active shooter scenario as part of their workplace violence programs and thinks there needs to be a growing awareness by the public about what to do during such incidents.

But unfortunately, there’s only so much anyone can plan for. “There’s preparation and things that can be done, but at the end of the day there are people who are outside the control of sanity and will do these things,” said John Petruzzi, SVP of operations in the Northeast and Canada for Andrews International. “Where there’s a will there’s a way and we’re a country based on freedom of access to public spaces and there’s only so much security and enclosures you can put in before you begin encroaching on that freedom.”