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Exercise: weapons attack at an iconic venue

NZ Security Magazine, Aug-Sep 2017

AOS members clearing the venueAOS members clearing the venue

 

ASIS New Zealand Chapter Chair and Auckland Live’s Safety and Security Manager, Dean Kidd, presented on “Weapons Attack at an Iconic Venue” at the ASIS Wellington Breakfast Meeting in June, providing his insights into the staging of a NZ-first training exercise.

 

Weapons attacks involving the indiscriminate murder of multiple innocents in public settings have punctuated the pages of history for millennia. Yet as ancient as this threat is, our competence in preparing for and responding to it does not appear to have evolved a great deal.

“This has been going on for a long time,” Dean told his audience in Wellington, “and we still don’t know what to do.”

Attacks can happen anywhere, at any time, and they have been on the rise. Global terrorism and lone wolf attack trends have seen the frequent targeting by attackers of iconic venues and places of mass gathering for maximum effect – in terms of both publicity and devastation.

Stadiums filled with spectators or concert goers in Paris and Manchester, streets teeming with pedestrians in Nice and Melbourne, the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya, schoolyards across the US… the indiscriminate murder of civilians where they congregate is an unfortunately ubiquitous theme in news bulletins.

Perpetrators who use firearms are often referred to as an ‘active shooter’, which the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area… there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.”

According to FBI figures, 160 incidents occurred in the US between 2000 to 2013. In Australia, the increase in weapons attack frequency is well documented. In New Zealand, the attack on the Ashburton WINZ office was the last recorded incident, resulting in a shake-up in government physical security measures.

 

Researching preparedness

After the Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) Board raised concerns regarding its organisational preparedness for such attacks, a business case was raised for Dean to lead a project to visit Australian counterparts at Federation Square and the Melbourne Arts Centre, the Sydney Opera House and the Arts Centre Gold Coast, to research a way forward.

In July 2016 Peter Middenway, Federation Square’s Security Manager, had reported at that time that there hadn’t been any type of weapons attacks on the site. “Roll forward to 22 December 2016,” said Dean, “and Police stated that they had uncovered a plot to explode improvised explosive devices in central Melbourne in the area of Federation Square, on or about Christmas Day.”

Only weeks later, a vehicle rammed into pedestrians in nearby Bourke Street Mall. “Sadly, what followed in January 2017 was the vehicular attack,” he said, “in which Dimitrious Gargasoulas drove a Holden Commodore into the Mall, resulting in the deaths of six people and injuring over 30 others.”

“Prior to 2016, there was not a great deal of guidance on how to prepare for these scenarios,” Dean said, “however, more information is becoming available, and if you’re a member of ASIS you can login to the ASIS website and search their online resources.”

Apart from conducting research via the ASIS network and library, he recommends that security managers looking to develop active shooter and weapons attack plans should talk with other security professionals and to NZ Police.

 

Putting processes in place

As an initial step, he suggests putting a temporary process in place, such as simple advice to employees and visitors on steps to follow in the case of an incident. The DHS recommends the widely acknowledged aide memoire “Run Hide Fight” as the proper response sequence to an active-shooter situation.

The phrase is a quick way to remember what to do in an active shooter situation: (i) run if you can; (ii) if you can’t run, hide; (iii) if the shooter finds you, then fight — with whatever you can. Popularised by a six-minute active shooter training video produced by the Houston Mayor’s Office and funded by the DHS, entitled "Run, Hide, Fight”, this model is endorsed by multiple federal agencies in the US.

But, as Dean points out, there is a whole range of such models. Apart from “Run, Hide, Fight”, there is “Lock out, Get out, Take out”, “ALICE - Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate”, “ONE – Observe, Navigate, Escape” and “Run, Hide, Tell”. They’re all variations on a theme – and they demonstrate that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

In many cases, the situation is over almost as soon as it starts. According to the FBI, 69% of shootings are over in under five minutes. Within such a compressed timeframe, mnemonics such as those above can save time – and lives.

The preparedness work being undertaken by Dean and his team led ultimately to the staging of a large-scale training exercise in partnership with NZ Police, St Johns and the New Zealand Defence Force. The scenario: an active shooter attack. The venue: Auckland Live’s Aotea Centre.

 

First of its kind exercise

The purpose of the exercise was to: (i) test the venue’s ASB Theatre emergency procedures relating to a high threat incident; (II) test the on-the-day process, from incident start through to an all-clear state (approximately 2-3 hours); and (iii) provide a close to real life experience to participants, under strict controls.

Carried out on the evening of 22 May, the staging of the exercise had been preceded by an exhaustive process of planning and communication. Apart from a concept paper and scoping and planning visits by the NZ Police AOS Team, and the planning and conduct of external communications and stakeholder engagement, a number of internal processes were involved.

A security awareness program, for example, was rolled out within the organisation four months prior to the exercise. “Ultimately, it’s about getting people to a stage of preparedness where they are prepared and alert, but relaxed,” Dean said.

To demonstrate this, he utilised the widely recognised colour-coded situational awareness chart devised by Jeff Cooper, a US Marine Colonel. According to Cooper, the most important means of surviving a lethal confrontation is neither the weapon nor the martial skills, but rather the combat mindset.

 

Dean’s advice: stay in the yellow

Involving a cast of staff and other stakeholders, the training exercise itself needed to be adequately risk assessed and managed, including the development of a Risk Assessment, Health and Safety Plan, Executive and Staff briefings, and the briefing of role players and on-the-night support staff.

To counter the risk of public misinformation, information staff and signage were positioned outside of the venue, and role players were briefed in relation to social media policy. To manage potential staff anxiety levels, a warning card system was implemented, staff briefed, and a welfare team and support systems were put in place.

The warning card system was deployed for staff to utilise in the event that they needed to exit the live exercise at any point. Staff were issued with two cards. Flashing a red card meant “I need immediate support”, while a yellow card indicated “I'm out of here and out of the exercise.”

The night itself was a tremendous success, with the exercise generating “a huge amount of awareness and internal managers wanting to take the next steps.” Key takeaways identified the need for further meaningful discussion within the organisation and with external stakeholders, design changes to work spaces, development of further training resources, and the embedding of attack preparedness into business norms.

From the exercise, the ‘Quadsec group’ has been founded as a security collective comprised of organisations operating around Aotea Square, including AUT, Auckland Art Gallery, Millennium Hotel, Aotea Centre, and Auckland Council.

 

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