Asymmetric warfare: A type of warfare in which an opponent leverages inferior tactical or operational strength against the vulnerabilities of a superior opponent with the aim of undermining the opponent’s will in order to achieve the asymmetric actor’s strategic objectives. Examples of asymmetric warfare include the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the Islamist terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
Since 9/11, our nation has hardened consequential targets viewed as “critical” from a threat perspective. In an asymmetric war (see definition above), these soft targets provide terrorists an opportunity to amass a large body count, along with garnering plenty of media attention. Coordinated active shooters or a suicidal/homicidal bombing of a police station would spread panic among the public and impede our ability to respond. Remember: Police exist to protect the public in crisis. It’s therefore imperative that police agencies install necessary measures to protect their facilities.
The Minnie Mouse Doll Incident
In 2003, while attending a homeland security symposium, I viewed a case study on a tourist video of Disneyland. In this video, you could hear the video cam operator state in Arabic, “This place will be a graveyard.” Disney Corp. has since taken the threat of a terrorist attack seriously. In fact, the Disney chief of security visited Israel to learn how that nation conducts its homeland security.
Although Disney has implemented solid and secure threat-mitigation applications, employees still fail to recognize the most obvious of threats. On several occasions, when my family and I visited Disneyland, my oldest carried into the park a fairly large Minnie Mouse doll. Security personnel were vigilant in searching bags, strollers and wheelchairs, but failed to check their own merchandise. A doll of this size could have concealed a weapon or even a large amount of explosives. Given the traditional target redundancy of several Islamic terrorist groups, a few well-placed explosive dolls around a crowded Main Street Disney parade could have devastating and lethal ramifications.
As law enforcement professionals, we’re acutely aware that criminal activity usually occurs when an opportunity presents itself to a person capable of acting on it. Terrorists are no different in regard to target selection. Terrorists are resourceful and conduct a lot of target surveillance. They’re keenly aware of how we, as law enforcement professionals, operate. They know what measures protect access into our parking areas (especially underground lots) and how we check people coming into our buildings. These are just some of the opportunities terrorists watch so they can choose police targets on the basis of probability of success.
Hardening the Target
Fundamental to securing a law enforcement target is expanding the security perimeter around a given target. This mitigates the opportunity and likelihood of an attack. Example: Visitor parking should be pushed far from the police building and its personnel. This way, if the parking area is attacked because it’s more vulnerable, the police station won’t be jeopardized, and police can respond to the attack.
Using the Israeli’s’ “Circle Security Concept,” the Los Angeles Police Department has learned to incorporate different layers of security methods around the target.
According to the Israeli formula—effective since 2002 in mitigating successful terror attacks—the outer circle is intelligence. The next circle is the outer perimeter, which may or may not be a physical boundary. Several internal circles guard around the target, which may include vehicle access, access control (several layers) and the final scrutiny measures into the target.
This approach can strain personnel deployment, but it’s effective. Remember: The intelligence circle can come from internal contacts, as well as outsourced law enforcement contacts, such as the Department of Homeland Security. Forward posted guards (sworn or non-sworn) serve as lookouts who can check the public coming into the police target.
A specific force-option plan that includes lockdown procedures will assist in hardening agency facilities, personnel and resources. Let’s not forget that even the best plans are useless if they aren’t based in reality or drilled on. Note: Frequent drilling alone may cause terrorists to consider moving on to a different target.
Access control and parking vehicle access are the most vulnerable areas in any police facility. Proper attention needs to be paid to access to a police building: Even in these bleak economic times, law enforcement agencies must change codes, alternate badges and colors, and increase video surveillance.
Internal security measures provide safety for personnel and protect critical information. Reinforced doors and bullet-resistant glass are essential for any police facility. Consideration should be given to how the doors lock and how they open. Simply adding blocker plates over the doors can improve standard security measures. Grills and shatter film on windows can save lives in an explosive attack. Both protection and emergency egress must be carefully considered with regard to window locks.
The most important thing about target hardening is to make it visible and known. The LAPD’s new police administration building has been globally recognized for its target-hardening measures, from its access controls to its bullet-resistant glass and counter-sniper measures. This type of publicity sends a clear signal to terrorists and criminals: An attack will not happen here.
Hardening the target is only as strong as its weakest link. If you probe the weakest link, maintain vigilance and frequently test, you can mitigate several vulnerabilities. Otherwise, a watchful terrorist may do it for you.