Should We Rethink State House and Capitol Building Security?

On January 6th, protestors breached the barriers protecting the U.S. Capitol and broke into the building. The event brought to light several vulnerabilities in capitol building security and raised a bigger question around protecting government buildings, in general.

At the time the protesters entered the Capitol building, a joint session of Congress certifying the Electoral College vote had just split to consider an objection to Arizona´s electoral vote – a pivotal point in proceedings that could have led to further objections, which may have affected the outcome of the Presidential election.

As the extent of the breach became apparent, both sessions were called into recess and both chambers were evacuated. Legislators were told to put on gas masks, as law enforcement officers had started using tear gas in the building and were escorted to secure areas - some subsequently choosing to return to their offices to social distance from colleagues.

“Every Panic Button in my Office had been Torn Out”

One of those who choose to return to her office was Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Pressley's entourage barricaded the doors to the office and attempted to activate the office's panic buttons to no avail.

Fortunately, Congresswoman Pressley and her entourage were not harmed. However, since the incident, the unexplained removal of the panic buttons from Ms. Pressley´s office has made global news due to the suggestion they were removed for sinister motives.

One week after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Boston Globe carried a news story describing the experiences of people from Massachusetts who were at the U.S. Capitol on the day of the attack. Several Massachusetts´ Representatives and their staff contributed to the story, along with Sarah Groh who reportedly told Globe staff “every panic button in my office had been torn out”.

Despite only occupying one line of the extensive news story, the unexplained removal of the panic buttons went global and has caused several government and public safety leaders to evaluate whether they could prevent similar breakdowns in communication. An investigation is currently underway.

Related Blog: Why Internal Communication for State & Local Governments is  Critical Amid a Crisis

FBI Warns State Capitals to Prepare for Attacks

Following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the FBI issued an internal memo warning of plans for armed protests at all fifty state capitols in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden´s inauguration. While the threat was regarded to be greater in some states than others, every state was reported to have responded to the memo by increasing police presence surrounding their legislatures.

As it turned out, protests on the same scale as those at the U.S. Capitol failed to materialize. Indeed, in many state capitols, law enforcement officers and journalists outnumbered protesters, and there was no repeat of the violence that saw five people die in Washington. Nonetheless, many states are now reviewing existing policies and procedures to better prepare for future social unrest.

One of the options being considered is the increased use of technology solutions. Several jurisdictions have already taken advantage of mass notification software, mobile panic buttons, and public safety apps to enhance the safety of legislators, staff, and members of the public.

Related Blog: How Do Cities Protect Libraries and Other Soft Target Government  Buildings?

The Advantages of Mobile Panic Buttons

There are three types of panic button – wall- or desk-mounted panic buttons similar to those removed from Congresswoman Pressley's office, wearable panic buttons that connect to a mobile device or Bluetooth transmitter, and mobile panic button apps that are downloaded onto a smartphone. Of the three, downloadable mobile panic button apps are the most reliable for enhancing the safety of legislators, staff, and members of the public.

The issue with wall- and desk-mounted panic buttons is that the person seeking assistance may have to place themselves in danger in order to activate them if they are not standing by the wall or sitting at the desk where a panic button is located.

Wearable panic buttons have dual issues inasmuch as users have to remember to wear the panic button and – if connecting to a mobile device - keep both the panic button and the mobile device charged at all times. If the wearable panic button connects to a Bluetooth transmitter, the risks exist the transmitter could be out of range or inexplicably removed. Furthermore, Bluetooth transmitters may not provide the most the most accurate location of the person in need of assistance.

By comparison, mobile panic button apps are easy to download and use, and most people keep their mobile devices fully charged and within arms´ reach at all times – making them instantly accessible.

Mobile panic button apps also have the advantage of informing law enforcement of both the location and the nature of an emergency with just two taps of a screen – expediting emergency response and better preparing emergency responders for the situation they will encounter.

Mobile panic button apps are already in use by state legislatures and local agencies in South Carolina, Arkansas, Nevada, and Wisconsin as part of their comprehensive safety and security best practices. If you would like to know more about how mobile panic button apps can better protect public officials in your jurisdiction, do not hesitate to get in touch with our team of safety experts. 
Panic Button Demo

Terri Mock
Terri Mock

Terri Mock is Rave's Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, overseeing strategy, product, and marketing. She is an executive leader with achievements in delivering revenue growth, driving go-to-market, innovating products, and scaling operations from high-tech startups to global companies.

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