As a child playing the hand-slapping game I quickly learned that action is always faster than reaction. A clever kid may try to game the system a bit by anticipating the opponent’s move and proactively moving, but that proactive move is an action itself, and not a true reaction. I am certain that most of you reading this now also learned this same lesson at an early age, either by playing athletics or other games.
This observation we made as children has been confirmed by a number of scientific studies conducted at places such as the Force Sciences Institute. When it comes to an armed attack, studies have conclusively proved that action is ALWAYS faster than reaction. Once the knife is moving, the bullet fired or the bomb initiated, all law enforcement and security officers can do is react. Sometimes luck or the incompetence of the attacker – or perhaps a little of both combined with divine intervention – may save the target of an attack.
But let’s face it, it is always better to see the attack developing and take action to stop it before it can be launched. And like the aforementioned kid trying to gain an advantage in the hand slapping game, this leads us to the need to be proactive. Don’t get me wrong, reaction drills are vitally important to any world-class security team. Attackers have an even better chance of success if security forces are not alert and well trained. However, it is always preferable to take action to stop an attack before it is launched rather than depend on reacting to an attack in progress.
With that in mind, let’s examine some of the basic elements that contribute to a good proactive protective security program.
The first and most critical element is education. This includes teaching employees about the general and specific threats that are facing them. General threats include things like workplace violence, criminality, intellectual property theft, protest activity and grassroots terrorism.
A specific threat would be information that a certain actor is planning or has threatened a particular type of activity against a specific target. Such education not only needs to be provided to security managers and personnel but also to the workforce in general. A group of employees practicing good situational awareness can be an incredibly powerful collective security tool.
I learned this lesson the hard way shortly after I left the U.S. State Department. I was assigned to work a red team operation against an executive protection team. I did a great job staying out of sight and off the radar of the EP team, but unfortunately, I got burned by a plain old office worker who spotted me lurking in the parking lot and called security to alert them to my presence.
I had gotten tunnel vision and was focused on the principal and EP team. Unfortunately, I had not been careful about how my actions appeared to outsiders. Criminals often make this same mistake. Security forces only have so many eyes, even when augmented with cameras and other technological tools. The workforce will always have more eyes and in more places than the security staff.