A Collective Approach to Securing Public Places

Author: Brian Harrell, Assistant Director for Infrastructure Security Division, CISA

Our nation has experienced too many violent attacks against the places in our communities where we should feel safest. These attacks have targeted crowded places and community members in public venues where they gather to learn, socialize, worship, and patronize local businesses. Over the course of 2018, the country experienced 27 mass attacks, which collectively took the lives of 91 innocent people and injured over 100 more. Whether inflicted by terrorists or other violent extremist actors, these attacks not only threaten innocent life and safety, but also essential American liberties. They target places where individuals of all backgrounds should be able to assemble safely, freely, and without fear of harm. Such violence has no place in our society.  That is why all levels of government and the private sector need to partner to train and prepare organizations and individuals to better identify behavioral indicators and implement protective measures.

November is Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month—a time to raise awareness about the importance of a whole-of-community approach to ensuring that the risk of an attack on our public spaces and entertainment venues is mitigated. The challenge in securing public venues, or “soft targets,” is that the open nature of these locations makes them vulnerable to attacks. The number of people in these locations and the desire to make these places inviting and welcoming to the public makes it difficult to use traditional risk management measures to deter attacks. The answer is not to turn soft targets into fortresses, but to protect people and property, while also maintaining safety.

The nation must come together to try and prevent these acts of violence, protect our communities, and insist on the continued ability to enjoy American freedoms safely, even in the most open and public of settings. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to partner with communities, churches, businesses, and all levels of government to achieve this vital shared goal. CISA has made securing our nation’s public venues and areas of mass gathering a priority, and we offer free tools and resources to support both the security and resilience of these spaces.

In September, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan released the Department’s “Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence.” The Framework further underscores the Department’s commitment to securing the homeland from nefarious actors, whether domestic or international, and provides specific actions that will be undertaken to address new and emerging threats. The goal is to enhance existing capabilities and establish new initiatives that align with the evolving threat environment.             

CISA provides free expert counsel, resources and recommendations that local businesses and government partners can implement to protect entertainment venues, houses of worship, schools, and other areas where people gather. These measures leverage the principles of the Hometown Security Initiative, which provides an easy to remember approach to enhancing security: Connect, Plan, Train, and Report.  

  • CONNECT with local responders to establish a relationship and enhance response efforts in the event an incident occurs;
  • PLAN and put in place the policies and procedures your organization needs to follow in an emergency;
  • TRAIN staff and volunteers on emergency plans and procedures; and
  • REPORT suspicious activity to local authorities.  

The resources that CISA provides include both proactive measures to help reduce risks of a successful attack and tools to help communities and organizations respond to an incident, mitigate consequences, and save lives. The Agency offers a  robust resource guide focused on securing soft targets and crowded places, active shooter preparedness training and videos; information on how to identify potential signs that someone is on a path to violence; vehicle ramming mitigation solutions; bombing prevention reference materials and training; and many more.  Resources can also be accessed at CISA’s Hometown Security page.   

In addition to these online resources, CISA’s field staff across the country, known as Protective Security Advisors (PSAs) –work with communities and organizations to provide vulnerability assessments and technical assistance. They act as a local gateway to the broader set of resources that CISA, the Department, and other federal partners offer. PSAs also work with state and local law enforcement, industry partners, houses of worship, and others to provide in-person active shooter preparedness trainings and assist partners in developing and facilitating exercises at the community-level.

The threat to our nation’s public venues and areas of mass gathering is not going away, but neither is the determination of the federal government, first responders, law enforcement, local leaders, businesses, and others dedicated to protecting our communities. During Infrastructure Security Month, you can take the first step by visiting CISA.gov to learn more about the resources we have available and  as always – if you see something that doesn’t seem right, speak up and say something to someone with authority to act.