3 Ways Cities Can Protect Soft Targets

Evolving city police agency approaches can better protect soft targets against future threats. Pictured are victims photos on paper flowers placed at a mass shooting memorial. active shooter response
Image: AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File

It’s become critical for municipal law enforcement agencies to evolve operations to mitigate the risks of an attack to soft targets. Here’s how to approach.

Given the dynamic and evolving threats law enforcement officers in the United States continue to see on a more regular basis, it is critical for municipal agencies to evolve operations to mitigate the risks of an attack.

In every city, there are multiple soft targets, and in order to fully understand the vulnerabilities of these areas, police departments need to continually assess them and document the threat assessment in order to understand their level of risk. For example, public transportation — whether it’s metro rails, trains or airports — continue to be soft targets for terrorists and lone actors.

Here are three things city police agencies should consider in identifying soft targets and updating threat assessments in every jurisdiction.

#1. Identify Vulnerable Soft Targets 

Police departments must regularly identify vulnerable soft targets within their jurisdiction and share these vulnerable areas with key city personnel. Use a database to store and maintain details about the area, including location, two to three points of contact for that location, date of the most recent assessment, date of the next assessment and related emergency response plan.

Based on the horrific incident at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, all police departments should declare baggage claim areas at airports as soft targets. Other soft targets include shopping centers, movie theaters, schools, universities, hotels, hospitals, places of worship or other areas of large assembly.

#2.Vulnerability/Risk Assessments 

Vulnerability/risk assessments, which rank or categorize vulnerabilities, are common in technology and critical infrastructure. Police departments can apply the same criteria and fundamentals in ranking the vulnerability of any soft target within their jurisdiction. The general concept is to identify the target, identifying possible threats that can occur and create a response plan.

Once the soft targets are identified, there must be a routine assessment done to understand current vulnerabilities. If new security or access control systems are in place, then those should be documented.

For example, if a university grows from 20,000 students to 30,000 students, that information should be documented. Or if a university receives national media attention for refusing to fly the U.S. flag on campus and there is resulting public outrage, the vulnerability assessment needs to be updated.

#3. Heighten Situational Awareness at Soft Targets 

Areas identified as soft target should have measures in place to heighten situational awareness. This may include posters about a number to dial if you see suspicious activity, overhead announcements (the See Something, Say Something announcement is commonly heard in government transit locations) or an increased presence of security or law enforcement patrolling the area.

Law enforcement needs to share information with the community about what to do if an incident occurs in that area, how to respond to a mass murderer with “Move, Escape, Attack” and make bleeding control kits with tourniquets as ubiquitous as AEDs

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