By Johnathan Tal
From the May/June 2022 Issue
According to a report on MSN, Johnson County, KS, located just outside of Kansas City, is one of the 50 best places to live in the U.S. Among its key attributes are very low poverty and crime rates.
Nevertheless, on March 30, 2022, the board of commissioners overwhelmingly voted in favor of hiring more security guards to protect the Johnson County Administration Building. According to Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden, the commissioners’ main concern is “keeping guns out of this building, plain and simple.” He adds that “this building is the most at-risk building in Johnson County government.”
Before making this decision, in 2019, the board of commissioners asked Sheriff Hayden to conduct a building security assessment. Although the sheriff made a range of suggestions, such as adding more security cameras, his main recommendation was to limit the number of people allowed into the building.
That was a suggestion the commissioners refused to accept. According to the commissioners, limiting who has access to a public government building is a complex issue. And although the board ultimately approved hiring more security guards, not everyone agreed with that decision. County Commissioner Michael Ashcraft said, “I’m still not convinced hiring full-time employees [as security guards] is the only best option.”
So, what is the answer?
How can this “most at-risk” building in the county be protected?
Obtaining a security assessment was a good first start. However, asking a sheriff to perform the assessment was a potential misstep.
A sheriff is a law enforcement officer, and while the sheriff’s job is to protect people and property, in most cases, sheriffs are called on to respond to motor vehicle accidents or incidents, investigate crimes, collect evidence, and make arrests—after an incident has happened. Conducting a security assessment is not something most sheriffs are trained to do.
The answer, then, is not a “security assessment,” as it has been referred to here, but a risk assessment conducted by professionals trained and experienced in the security field. There are six critical reasons for this:
- A risk assessment is designed to minimize the chances that an incident will occur in the first place.
- “Fresh eyes” examining a property, a school campus, or an office building will invariably uncover facility vulnerabilities not detected by those using or working in the facility regularly.
- Risk assessment professionals are up-to-date on the latest technologies and methods designed to protect people and property.
- These professionals are also up-to-date on the latest techniques and methods used by those planning to commit crimes or cause harm to people or property.
- Reduce liability insurance.
- Ensure a facility is following “industry standards” and “best practices” to ensure facility safety. This can prove invaluable should there be litigation or court challenge if an incident occurs.
Understanding Risk Assessments
Let’s start our discussion of risk assessments by first defining what they are. A solid working definition is as follows:
A risk assessment is a detailed examination of a facility, looking for vulnerabilities that could allow people or property to be harmed. A thorough and professional risk assessment helps identify these risks and then suggests ways to minimize or eliminate them systematically.It is also a process. The critical steps in the risk assessment process include the following:
Setting goals and objectives. What are the strategic objectives of the risk assessment? This can vary significantly. For instance, in a distribution center, the goal may be to prevent in-house theft or workplace violence. In a school or public building such as the county building mentioned earlier, it could be to prevent a shooting.
Mitigating known risks. In some cases, facility managers are already aware of potential dangers but have not taken steps to minimize or eliminate them. Possibly they do not believe they are a “serious risk.”
Risk assessment professionals view any risk as a serious risk and look to find ways to mitigate them.
Evaluating likelihoods. How likely is a hazard to result in harm? A professional risk assessment looks at this question from a broad angle, and for good reason. For an example of why you don’t want to narrow your focus, consider the California developer that hired a risk assessment firm for one reason: to determine if a housing development he was planning was at an elevated risk for an earthquake. It was not. But the planned development was near a heavy-crime area. Once completed, the development became known for its high crime rate. This slowed sales and reduced asking prices. It also had negative financial consequences for the developer. He would have been better off having the risk assessment firm look into all risk likelihoods and plan his development accordingly.
Setting priorities. Once a risk assessment is completed on an existing building, if weaknesses and vulnerabilities are uncovered, the risk assessment professionals will analyze the risks and then prioritize the vulnerabilities. Often, they put the potential hazards into three “buckets”:
- Those that are least costly to solve with initiatives that can be implemented now.
- Those that are more costly but should be implemented within six to twelve months to ensure the security of the area.
- Big-budget items that may take a year or longer to address. Often these are vulnerabilities that require actual structural changes to a facility or its surroundings to mitigate.
No matter which bucket the weaknesses and vulnerabilities fall into, the most important thing to do is to act. This is especially true right now, with more employers calling their workers back to the office.
Although the ability to work remotely saved many businesses at the start of the pandemic, for most businesses and organizations, it is not a long-term solution. Some workers are reluctant to return. Ensuring the safety of employees—both their health and personal security—while at work is a big step forward in welcoming them back to the office.
Tal is president and chief executive officer of TAL Global Corporation, an international investigative and risk-consulting firm. He served as a military field intelligence officer for the Israeli armed forces during the 1970s. Tal has also served as an anti-terrorism security specialist. He is a licensed investigator, Certified Private Investigator (CPI), and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), and he holds a Bachelor of Science degree.
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