People across the nation are on edge. Understandably so: as of September 2019, the U.S. had seen 283 mass shootings since the start of the year. Even chaotic false alarms are becoming more common. In order to placate and protect citizens, security teams must take immediate measures. And in times of heightened public fear, the natural response is of course to add more personnel and more resources. 

But while additional personnel can go a long way in producing a more visible presence and easing some citizen anxiety, security teams should consider whether this is the best investment for public safety. The real questions we face are not necessarily around how many officers are present, but how relevant personnel will communicate in order to take effective action. When the worst happens, how will key information be delivered to enable efficient response rather than panic and chaos?

In periods of crisis, communication is already prone to breaking down. A unified collaboration workspace can go a long way in terms of integrating key information and delivering actionable alerts. To neutralize active shooters and prevent harm to the public, it’s time to focus not on more security, but better security — by providing a digital collaboration tool equipped for persistent communication and real-time data visibility in high-pressure scenarios.

The Problem With Adding Security Personnel

After a mass shooting, there is renewed pressure on security teams and police departments to ensure that a similar event will never happen in their community. Whether in public spaces like malls, enclosed environments like schools and universities, or special events like concerts and conferences, security expectations are changing. In response, a typical plan of action might be similar to that of Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey, where safety officials decided to increase the number of security officers on-duty to patrol the mall. 

In general, increased personnel can be useful for achieving certain objectives. For instance, additional visible security personnel (as opposed to plainclothes officers) could serve to deter people from committing dangerous acts. These high-visibility measures are also meant to appeal to the public. As the Police Chief of Cherry Hill explained, “We’re trying to give [shoppers] a sense of calm and reduce any anxiety they might have based on national events.” 

As security teams explore their options, they’ll need to consider that simply adding additional personnel may not be the best use of budget. For one, there isn’t yet definitive evidence to suggest this is the most effective approach, and it can come with downsides for sensitive environments like schools. Rapidly increasing team sizes may also mean less thorough training or integration with the existing team. And while it seems intuitive to add more people on the ground to prevent events like mass shootings, this can actually contribute to more chaos and confusion if the right communication tools aren’t in place. 

If an actual emergency does occur, just having more of a security presence is not necessarily sufficient for mounting a successful response. Before spending money on more personnel, security teams should consider how technology that enables situational awareness might be a better investment to empower their existing personnel.

Optimizing Crisis Communication

All security personnel can learn from the best. For instance, Navy SEAL teams are highly-trained special forces that deal with high-risk situations. These are small, elite teams that often function with limited resources but that are able to contain massive dangers thanks in part to the power of communication. They can’t rely on the power of force alone — they must rely on each other. That means communicating well, trusting each other’s read on the situation, and making decisions as a unified team. They are able to “move, shoot and communicate” without a hitch in chaotic situations. 

These kinds of highly-effective, small security forces show that simply adding personnel to an environment isn’t necessarily the best way to remain effective in the face of danger. Communication is key. But how can you ensure that your team will be able to communicate and collaborate in emergency situations — without undergoing the grueling training of Navy SEALs? 

Prepare. For security personnel, effective emergency communication is based on both preparation and in-the-moment strategizing. Beforehand, security personnel should work to train the group, establish team trust and create emergency action plans. That includes setting evacuation and shelter-in-place locations and educating those within the building as much as possible. 

Stay mobile. Teams also need to support real-time communication within the moment of the emergency. This step means having technology that can be used at a desktop or on a mobile phone. For instance, crisis communication tools should always support instant messaging with text, audio and video to allow for direct discussion. 

Use a Common Operational Picture. Common operational pictures allow entire teams to work from the same understanding of the current situation, helping them avoid data delays, miscommunications, or lengthy explanations. An ideal common operational picture could include a shared view of a map of the area, the location of the suspect, fellow officers and critical real-time data received from gunshot sensors, cameras, or other real-time inputs. 

Reach the Public. Communication tools can also send alerts to nearby team members or additional law enforcement agencies, apprising them of the situation. In some cases, these tools can integrate with devices, screens, alarms and social media platforms used by the public, allowing for the effective and immediate distribution of critical information. 

Support Collaborative Decision-Making 

To truly achieve better security in the face of an active shooter scenario, security teams need persistent and immediate communication. In a moment of crisis, clear, fast and accurate communication is critical to allow everyone to make better decisions that could diffuse the situation and potentially save lives. 

With the right communication capabilities, decision-making can be more collaborative for everyone. The chaos of an active shooter scenario is more than any one person can handle. Instead, teams need to share critical information in real-time so everyone knows what’s happening, as it’s happening. Where is the shooter located? Are there additional shooters? Which exits are clear? No one person has all this data, but an effective communication tool can ensure a real-time common operational picture, keeping team members on the same page.

Indeed, for security forces, communication is the key to an effective and collaborative response. Seamless communication and a common operational picture populated with real-time data ensures that each officer knows their position, role and proximity to other resources. This allows teams to function more efficiently and eliminates potential redundancies or miscues. It might make more sense for nearby officers to address the shooter, while others work to evacuate the public. To distribute responsibilities in this way, teams need a unified workspace which integrates relevant data sources, delivers actionable alerts and provides appropriate voice, video, or text communication methods.