By Mary Kate McGrath - June 24, 2020
Gun violence in the United States results in thousands of deaths and injuries annually, and almost no public space - including schools, churches, or outdoor events - has been untouched by the threat of an active shooter incident. Libraries and government buildings, such as city or town halls, serve as community centers, making them easily accessible to the public. As a result, these spaces are classified by the Department of Homeland Security as “soft targets,” meaning heavy foot traffic and a lack of security measures or protocols leave them vulnerable to attack. The DHS has increasingly turned their focus to securing these locations, encouraging libraries, government buildings, or other soft target locations to enhance preparedness through a “whole community approach” that emphasizes products, tools, training, and resources to prepare for and respond to an active shooter incident.
In January of 2017. The American Library Association (ALA) council passed a resolution to encourage libraries to collaborate with appropriate local agencies providing training and resources to library workers related to gun violence, as per the organization’s website. The resolution also encouraged libraries to support discussions around guns and society, led by research by national agencies on the causes and effects of gun violence, as well as mitigation of firearms injuries and deaths. Public safety managers must empower library workers to identify threats and manage building security, allowing individual librarians to feel confident communicating an emergency to appropriate public safety agencies as necessary.
Government buildings have also recently come under scrutiny as potential soft-target locations. In April, protests over lockdown orders related to COVID-19 began across the United States, and armed demonstrators renewed concerns about security in legislative buildings, according to NPR. Armed protestors gathered at the State Capitol building in Michigan, with some demonstrators entering the Senate gallery during a legislative session and stood above lawmakers.
Following the incident, officials reopened conversations about government building security and other “soft target” facilities, a task that is often complicated by state and local open carry or concealed carry laws. Proactive planning is required to understand state and local policy, and with this knowledge, library or government building managers can begin to implement a comprehensive “hardening” plan for their facility .
Libraries must provide an open and inviting space for patrons and staff, and facility managers need ensure the branch is both accessible and secure. Before developing a security policy, libraries must be familiar with firearm laws not only for their state, but also for their local jurisdiction, as per the ALA. For example, some local laws include “no carry” exceptions, such as schools or college campuses, but it’s possible libraries are not included in the policy. When developing policies, libraries need to consider the community that they serve, creating a locally-developed security policy that focuses on facility hardening.
The Department of Homeland Security’s recommendations for soft target hardening can provide a useful framework for library and government building managers. The Department encourages soft target locations to follow four steps in advance of an incident or attack - connect, plan, train, and report.. Below are several of the agency’s recommendations for each step:
Management of library safety and security requires constant vigilance, as gun laws and protocol for responding to gun violence is constantly developing. In August of 2018, the ALA issued policy recommendations for patrons who want to use a 3D printer to print a gun, prompting state and local officials to block organizations from publishing blueprints online that would allow individuals to print weapons. Librarians should have jurisdiction to review and approve 3D printing projects, and safety managers should establish a protocol for reporting inappropriate or potentially dangerous printing requests to local law enforcement.
Technology can be a valuable tool for bolstering security on a library or government building campus. A panic button app can be a powerful way to boost security for librarians or government workers, allowing them to immediately communicate emergencies to 9-1-1, on-site security personnel, or first responders. The app has five emergency call button types, such as active assailant, fire, medical emergency, police intervention, or other, and will immediately inform public safety teams of the nature of the situation. 9-1-1 will also receive additional information about the location of the incident, facility data for the library or government building, and any other relevant informatoin that can expedite response.
Many other tools - such as a traditional 9-1-1 call, or physical panic button - do not provide dispatchers with critical response data. Often, a call from a physical panic button will be routed through an alarm company, further slowing down first responders in a situation where every second counts. A panic button app delivers location data to 9-1-1 and first responders,enabling them to respond faster and more efficiently when arriving on the scene.
A panic button app can also improve internal communications, allowing authorized employees to communicate with on-site groups or individuals without initiating an emergency call or contacting 9-1-1. If a patron is causing a disturbance or appears to need assistance, government building workers can seek help from a supervisor or security personnel without involving outside agencies. If an emergency does require intervention from public safety teams or law enforcement, other library or government workers can be notified immediately to avoid confusion.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.