Safety vs. Security: Understanding The Difference May Soon Save Lives

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In the wake of violent threats, there is often a costly, ineffective and ill-advised response to security, rather than a well-thought, practical and preventative approach to safety.

Safety and Security are too often used interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. This can be a losing proposition.

What does it mean to be safe?

To answer this question properly we must first realize that safety has both emotional and physical attributes, and that both must be in agreement for safety to be achieved.

Parents know this all too well. From the moment a child is placed in their arms, parents devote themselves to not just ensuring the emotional well-being of their child, but they also dedicate themselves to protecting their child from harm.

A small child tucked in their bed at night doesn’t feel safe if they believe there is a monster hiding in the closet. And while the warm embrace of a mothers hug may make a child feel safe, a mothers love alone is not enough to protect her child from the world which surrounds them.

Only when certain of our emotional and physical protection are we – in effect – SAFE.

So where does security come into play?

Think of SECURITY as if it were the overarching umbrella protecting our SAFETY:

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Security is therefore the process of ensuring our safety; responsible for maintaining the safeguards we expect will always be in place. In order for security to be effective, the components of how our safety is defined need to remain unchanged.

Like the temperature in your home, security is the thermostat making sure your settings stay constant. This also means that the failures of security mostly result from the parameters of safety being improperly managed. The inside of your home is easy to keep a cozy room temperature, but the outside world is not so easily controlled.

Personal Safety vs. Public Safety

A reactive approach to public safety works well. This is what the police and fire departments do best. This is also why so much of their funding and training is dedicated toward helping them effectively react and respond to a reported problem.

This is a completely different methodology than how the Secret Service keeps the President safe. They employ a preventative approach which is required for the assurance of personal safety. They identify the most realistic threats and then they employ safeguards to reduce that risk.

The assumed expectation that both personal and public safety can be achieved at the same time, by doing the same thing, is where almost all of the safety concerns on the nightly news originate.

A reactive approach to personal safety is as ineffective as using sunblock to prevent frostbite.

Think about the difference in how safety is defined and ensured at an airport vs that of most concert venues:

  • The TSA screening check-point not only ensures that all who pass through their station have the appropriate ticket for the correct day and time, but they also conduct a rather thorough screening for any items that could possibly be used to harm other passengers.They are concerned with your personal safety, and have taken the appropriate measures to prevent something from happening.
  • Now think of a concert venue where the security team stands at the entrance to make sure that everyone who enters has a ticket, but does nothing to otherwise ensure no contraband is being brought into the venue. Their role as security is therefore to protect against unauthorized entry, but that does nothing to protect your personal safety. Once inside the venue, event security will likely employ more of a reactive methodology – like that of a “bouncer” at a bar. Their priority is the safety of the venue and the overall assurance of public safety.
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More of the same

When public outcry demands immediate action, it is easy to revert back to antiquated practices. The most dangerous of which is the age-old, ‘but this is what we’ve always done.”

After Sandy Hook, the authors who proposed legislation to ban certain types of firearms admitted their bills would not have prevented those shootings from taking place. They all but confessed they just needed to show that “something was being done.” Without an informed electorate asking the right questions, it was just easier for them to put more police on the street with bigger guns and faster cars and improperly label it as ensuring your personal safety.

Everyday in the news we see more reports of police conducting active shooter drills. This promotes how they will REACT to an active shooter, but we so rarely hear of what schools and offices are doing to PREVENT an active shooter from happening in the first place. This is the equivalent of trying to lower the homicide rate by solely giving ambulances faster engines.

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Is it too difficult to take a look at the actual problems we face, and then employ the practical solutions that would immediately enhance the safety of our everyday lives?

The best scenario, of course, is to stop an attack from happening in the first place.

The two best options available to ensure Personal and Public Safety in schools, offices, and other public venues are Access Control and Threat Assessment.

Access Control

Lets take schools for example. When a school is in session, there should only be one way for guests and visitors to approach, and a specific process by which they are allowed to enter. A school in session should mimic a Broadway theater after the curtain has gone up: lots of ways for the audience to leave, but only one way for a patron to enter.

It is perfectly possible for a place of business to have an open and welcoming environment, but there is no need whatsoever to give all who enter free-reign throughout the entire facility. Banks do this well. While the lobby is relatively “open” to the public, few have access to get behind the teller desks, and even less have access to the vault.

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Threat Assessment

A bank robber employs violence for profit, but an active shooter employs violence for the sole purpose of displacing their own pain and suffering onto defenseless victims.

This is why an effective threat assessment and management program is so important.

According to the FBI, most active shooters do not have a violent past, but almost all have experienced a recent emotional hardship where they felt betrayed, harassed, or tormented. They may have been recently divorced, fired, or suffered a recent financial hardship. In most cases, the violent offender has engaged in some sort of behavior that identifies them as being likely to escalate from disruptive behaviors to destructive action. They may even involve efforts to get classmates, coworkers or friends to help them prepare.

It’s easy to think of a threat as a disgruntled employee mumbling “If they fire me I’ll burn this place to the ground” but in reality, an effective threat assessment goes beyond the attention paid to a singular incident and focuses more on the pattern of behaviors that an individual or group of individuals display display over time.

The entire point of threat assessment is to identify an emerging threat BEFORE it becomes a violent act, and then effectively manage that threat toward peaceful resolve.

Preparing Today for a Safer Tomorrow

Only when empowered with the truth of what it means to be safe will the securing of our safety be made possible. Doing the same old thing will not change the future. It will only force us to repeat the past. Partisan politics need not get in the way of the effective initiatives required to prepare today for a safer tomorrow.