A great deal of conversation regarding "soft targets" was created last week after the shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale - Hollywood International Airport. Because of that, I want to take this opportunity to explain what soft targets really are and what actions you should take when in a soft target area.
What is a soft target?
Soft targets are places where terrorists can easily access and blend in to cause large-scale devastation. Some examples of soft targets are stadiums, churches, schools, movie theaters, malls and, as we've recently seen both in the US and abroad, the baggage claim areas and front of security checkpoints at airports.
Of course, this list of soft targets is definitely not all-encompassing. Any place where people gather in large numbers inside a civilian setting (i.e. carnival, block party, parade, etc.) fit into that category.
How do you harden soft targets?
To harden a soft target means to reinforce the electronic, physical, mechanical and structural security features surrounding that facility or area to the extent that terrorists would have a difficult time conducting their criminal acts. Something to understand here is that a terrorist attack is not a random act of violence. There is a saying within the counter-terrorism community: No terrorist act is conducted without prior planning or surveillance. This is quite true.
For the terrorist, their skills are learned, whether from the internet or at a foreign training camp. There is nothing random about what they do. We know this, in part, because the very first training manuals used by al-Qaeda were U.S. Army Field Manuals.
When I conduct security surveys for businesses, I let them know that they do not have to have the most hardened facility in the country. They just need to be more secure than the businesses around them. Why? Because criminals, like water, always follow the path of least resistance. Remember when I said that terrorism is a learned skill? One thing that is taught to the bad guys is that they must be able to predict a high level of success from carrying out an attack. That's the reason our military bases are not attacked. Not because they aren't prime targets, but because their defensive security posture is so well developed, that the probability of success for a terrorist attack is very low. Can you say the same thing about your office, or place of worship?
What can we do when entering a soft target?
No individual can maintain a high level of vigilance 24/7, and it doesn't matter what profession you're in. You can modify your focus when you enter into a soft target area. And when you do, that is the time to increase your level of situational awareness and overall vigilance. Follow your gut instinct, if something doesn't seem right, move away from it and like the saying goes "If you see something, say something".
Always have a plan while in a soft target area. Take a page from the playbook of professional protectors. We're always playing the "what if" game. It goes like this; when I enter into a soft target area, I immediate begin to ask myself, what if an attack occurs right now? Where do I move for cover, where do I evacuate, or as a legally armed citizen, from where do I launch my immediate counter attack?
It's a shame that we must think like this, but you need go no further than the evening news to find a reason to increase your vigilance in today's society. Hindsight is always 20/20. Think back to the last terrorist attack you saw on TV. Have you ever asked yourself, "If I had been there, what could I have done?" Good question. What would you have done?