THIS IS(N’T) AMERICA
Updated: Aug 10, 2019
The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) estimates that every year, around 1500 firearms are stolen or “diverted” from legal channels into illicit trade and criminal groups, leading to a significant shift in the demographics of gun crime in Australia.
For years – particularly during the “Underbelly” crime “wars” of the 1980s and 90s – the use of firearms by criminals was typically restricted to targeted, discrete activities within the criminal community. Now, the rise of what are derisively called “Facebook Gangsters” by hardened criminals have seen an increase in firearms at much lower levels – being introduced into petty offences or arguments, being viewed and used as a status symbol.
With this shift, the likelihood of being involved in a violent incident with a firearm remains low, however of course the consequences of such an encounter is also dangerously high.
The Australian Government, through the Australian National Security (ANS) initiative, maintains guidelines for responding to an Active Armed Offender (AAO) in public places.
The Armed Offender Threat
Compared to the USA, where an average of 1.153 mass shootings (per FBI designation) have occurred every day this year, violent gun crime is rare in Australia. But the low likelihood of the threat also risks increasing the consequences if a violent armed incident does occur due to the complacency that is developed by individuals and organisations. Yet even today, as the shocking availability of illicit and diverted firearms to criminal networks and malicious actors becomes apparent by hard work in the news media, Australians generally have little interest or concern in planning to mitigate or prepare for the worst-case security scenario.
According to the ANS website, Australia faces two primary threats from terrorists or other actors: Low-cost, relatively simple weapons often improvised out of common items, such as knives, axes/machetes, or vehicles; and legally or illicitly acquired firearms.
The significant issue facing Australia and Australians in this threat model is the difficulty our law-enforcement and security agencies have in detecting and disrupting the individuals or small groups likely to carry out these low-signature actions. Consider the Nice Truck Attack of July 2016: with little planning other than renting a truck and carrying out a reconnaissance there was little to alert authorities to the imminent attack, executed over three days.
What this means to organisations and the public is that in the rare event that an armed terrorist or criminal launches an armed attack that the burden for mitigating and surviving a violent encounter lies with us, giving responders the best chance to effectively neutralise the threat actor.
A visit to the ANS website - www.nationalsecurity.gov.au – provides considerable information on Australia’s threat levels, as well as basic guidelines for responses to Active Armed Offenders, Improvised Explosive Devices, and Security in Public Places. To summarise, civilians caught up in a violent encounter are advised to Escape (if possible), Hide (until it is safe to escape), and Tell (Communicate details to 000 or other contacts, if safe to do so). With this in mind, organisations – especially those with property interests or responsibilities – should seek counselling and advice on considerations for lockdowns and safe egress routes (bearing in mind a common tactic of school shooters in the US has been to trip fire alarms and target the emergency exits), processes for offering safe havens or “ratlines” for other fleeing civilians (during the June 2017 Borough Market attack in London, many restaurants and other businesses locked their doors, denying many fleeing persons an alternate safe route away from the attackers).
The key outcome of these guidelines isn’t, it must be stressed, to confront the offender, or disrupt the attack. The aim for the civilian/bystander is to survive and escape the violent encounter, doing what you can to help others if it’s safe to do so.
Security Professionals: Roles and Expectations
Looking back to our articles on stress inoculation last week, and earlier to when we discussed what it takes to be a security professional, we see some trends developing. If a guard or EPO’s first experience of a violent encounter is when an incident is “live”, then they are likely to be no more than another bystander – focused on their immediate survival and actions on an as-they-come basis.
In most cases, where guards are engaged in an unarmed role, the main responsibility we can assume is that of a facilitator. Security personnel need to be well versed in robust, practiced responses and actions, such as marshalling bystanders to safe zones or egress route, ensuring access is barred to offenders or lockdown procedures are followed, and using their communication skills and equipment to ensure as much relevant information is passed to the authorities and emergency services as possible. Guards also need to consider the locations and carriage of first aid kits and stretchers for any post-incident first aid or evacuation.
In a specialist armed guard role, the security guard may have a greater role in resisting armed offenders. If this is the case, serious questions should be asked about what training and experience guards have. Most armed guards will not do much firing of their weapons beyond the annual requalification of 60 rounds on a flat range. Is this likely to be sufficient in countering an armed criminal or extremist, intent on causing harm and trauma?
A key factor for armed guards is that the responsibilities outlined above will still take priority – your role isn’t to seek and apprehend an armed offender – leave that to the police. As a security guard, armed or not, the primary objective always remains preserving life by ensuring those you have a duty of care to protect survive and escape the incident. Being armed, as part of a client’s security plan, is simply a tool to enhance that survivability in response to an assessed real risk.
Once an Active Armed Offender incident has been concluded, there are understandably going to be significant issues to deal with. As security professionals, consideration needs to be given to rendezvous points for ambulances and other emergency services vehicles. It may be necessary to hold persons onsite in a quarantine (although this is usually the responsibility of the police, security staff may be asked to assist in managing group dynamics), and the initial stages of psychological first aid should begin (see our earlier article: Look, Listen, Link). Finally, it is prudent for security personnel to at least conduct an informal hotwash, or debriefing of the incident to determine what processes or responses worked well, what failed and needs replacing, or what could be improved upon.
Because the only thing worse than thinking “it’ll never happen to us…” is thinking “it’ll never happen to us… again.”
Are you a security professional? Are you energised in your career prospects in the security industry?
Do you manage security operations? Do your guards have all the tools they could need to not only survive, but to keep others safe in a violent encounter?
This has been a brief look at the importance of developing a robust, rehearsed plan for surviving an Active Armed Offender incident – if you would like to learn more, call or email us to start a consultation with our experts.
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