Securing Soft Targets and Crowded Places

Soft targets and crowded places are increasingly appealing to terrorists and other extremist actors because of their relative accessibility and the large number of potential targets. This challenge is complicated by the prevalent use of simple tactics and less sophisticated attacks.

In order to support these venues in mitigating potential risks associated with the dynamic threat environment, the Department of Homeland Security developed a number of resources focused on improving security and implementing protective measures. Through training, resources, and direct subject matter expertise, the Department collaborates with public and private sector organizations to enhance risk mitigation capabilities.

Threat Environment

Terrorists and other extremist actors, who have demonstrated the intent and capability to attack soft targets–crowded places, continue to pose a risk domestically and abroad. These adversaries have the ability to access and surveil potential targets with relative ease, and use various tactics to carry out attacks, including:  

  • Small Arms — Require minimal preparation and experience.
  • Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) — Complexity and effectiveness of the devices used in explosive attacks are highly variable, and depended on the expertise of the attacker and their access to explosive components.
  • Edged Weapons — Require minimal preoperational planning due to their accessibility and ease of use. Edged weapons have primarily been used as a secondary attack method.
  • Vehicle Ramming — Require minimal preparation and experience, and past attacks have occurred with little to no warning.

Risk Mitigation

There are simple steps that any organization can take to strengthen their overall security and preparedness. The Hometown Security Initiative leverages an easy to understand concept to encourage small and medium size businesses to enhance security practices through four principles: Connect, Plan, Train, and Report. For additional information, visit https://www.dhs.gov/cisa/hometown-security.

The Department also maintains a multitude of programs and resources that assist organizations in mitigating the risks of an attack.

Understand the Basics 

These resources provide an introduction to facility security, and can serve as a good first step for businesses. Resources include fact sheets, guidance, and online training and instructional courses that cover a wide range of topics.

Identify Suspicious Behavior 

These resources help understand what suspicious behaviors may pose a threat and what steps to take to report the behavior to appropriate authorities.

Protect Against Drone Attacks 

Drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems, can be used to benefit a community by transporting supplies or assisting search and rescue operations; however, they can also be used for malicious purposes. These resources provide an overview of this evolving threat and steps that can be taken to enhance risk mitigation.

Prepare and Respond to an Active Shooter 

These resources help prepare for and respond to active shooter incidents, including in-person and online training, videos and fact sheets, emergency action plan development templates, and guidance on the actions to take during an incident.

Protect, Screen, and Allow Access to Facilities 

Many large facilities want to screen patrons before allowing them to enter facilities; while others may want to employ a credentialing process. These resources provide suggestions and guidance on how to put these types of security measures in place.

Prevent and Respond to Bombings 

These resources are designed to increase the capabilities of everyone—the public, business owners and staff, government employees, and law enforcement—to prevent, protect against, and respond to bombing incidents.

Connect with the Infrastructure Security Division         

The below resources identifies additional resources available through the Department of Homeland Security. These contacts can help you identify resources and trainings that are right for your facility and its risks.

Active Assailant Security Resources

The following active assailant action guides provide the critical infrastructure community with information regarding attack vectors used by terrorists and other extremist actors as well as corresponding suggested protective measures. The “Mass Gatherings: Take Charge of Your Personal Safety” action guide increases the general public’s understanding of the immediate actions that can be taken during an incident to mitigate its impact. This action guide can also serve as a poster for the critical infrastructure community to use during events.

Security of Soft Targets and Crowded Places - Resource Guide

Segments of our society are inherently open to the general public, and by nature of their purpose do not incorporate strict security measures. Given the increased emphasis by terrorists and other extremist actors to leverage less sophisticated methods to inflict harm in public areas, it is vital that the public and private sectors collaborate to enhance security of locations such as transportation centers, parks, restaurants, shopping centers, special event venues, and similar facilities.

The resource guide is a catalog of CISA soft target resources, many of which were created in collaboration with our partners to ensure they are useful and reflective of the dynamic environment we live in.

Additional DHS Resources

Federal Emergency Management Agency/ Grants 

Preparedness and other grant programs support our citizens and first responders to ensure that we work together as a nation to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards. These grants support our grantees develop and sustain capabilities at the state and local, tribal, and territorial levels and in our nation’s highest-risk transit systems, ports, and along our borders to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate terrorism and other high-consequence disasters and emergencies. For additional information, visit https://www.fema.gov/grants.

The SAFETY Act (Liability Protection) 

The SAFETY Act provides incentives for the development and deployment of anti-terrorism technologies by creating systems of risk and litigation management. The purpose of the Act is to ensure that the threat of liability does not deter potential manufacturers or sellers of effective anti-terrorism technologies from developing and commercializing technologies that could save lives. For additional information, visit https://www.dhs.gov/science-and-technology/safety-act. For a brief overview of the SAFETY Act, its purpose, and the types of protections available, view the SAFETY Act Postcard.

Transportation Security Administration

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) provides several resources for industry stakeholders to help prepare for and mitigate against potential threats to the transportation networks. These resources include trainings and programs for the airline industry, as well as for intermodal connections. A key document available to stakeholders is the Public Area Security National Framework. For additional information, visit https://www.tsa.gov/for-industry.

Critical Infrastructure Security 

Whether it’s a planned event like the Super Bowl, or a catastrophic event such as a hurricane, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Infrastructure Security Division is ready to work with businesses, communities, and local governments across the United States to enhance the security and resilience of the nation's critical infrastructure and to prepare for and recover from various threats. For additional information, visit  https://www.dhs.gov/cisa/infrastructure-security

National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center 

DHS's National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) is a 24x7 cyber situational awareness, incident response, and management center that is a national nexus of cyber and communications integration for the Federal Government, intelligence community, and law enforcement. For additional information, visit https://www.dhs.gov/cisa/national-cybersecurity-communications-integration-center.

United States Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center 

The National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) conducts research on threat assessment and various types of targeted violence; provides training on threat assessment and targeted violence; facilitates information-sharing among agencies with protective and/or public safety responsibilities; provides case consultation on individual threat assessment investigations and for agencies building threat assessment units; and, develops programs to promote the standardization of federal, state, and local threat assessment processes and investigations. For additional information, visit https://www.secretservice.gov/protection/ntac/.

Contact Information

For more information on how DHS can assist in Soft Targets and Crowded Places security, please contact SoftTargetSecurity@hq.dhs.gov.

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