Thursday, September 2, 2010

Armed and Dangerous

There is a good summary article on about Wednesday’s standoff at the Discovery Building in Silver Springs, MD. The incident points out the value of having a plan for dealing with active shooter situations. Prompt communications with building occupants, an initial lock-down while the situation is stabilized and then an organized evacuation. All of this allowed the authorities to focus their attention on the attacker.

Lone Terrorist

I have yet to see anyone label Lee a terrorist, probably because he had a unique political statement without an affiliated organization. Some people maintain that a terrorist must have some sort of group affiliation to distinguish the violent political act from more common personal delusion that leads to violence. Personally, I fail to see that the distinction has any practical use; people killed or injured by the lone wacko with a political agenda are just as dead as those killed by a small group with a common political delusion.

There are a lot of similarities between Lee and some of the smaller eco-terrorist groups. There is a loose linkage between the manifesto and some of the views of more mainstream ecology groups. The distortion and exaggeration of those links is gross enough and punctuated with enough violence that no mainstream organization will voice even grudging support for the positions. Nor will they do anything to distance themselves from the outrageous ideas until the violence reaches an unacceptable level. We have seen similar responses to the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front.

The main difference between Lee and ALF/ELF is that Lee decided to make his first violent act personal and readily identifiable. If he had instead anonymously attacked the Discovery Channel building, he would have been practically indistinguishable from the active attackers in those organizations.

What will be interesting to see in the coming months is if there is anyone else that take’s up Lee’s manifesto and carry’s on in Lee’s name. This is not an unheard of phenomenon in the political fringes, especially in this country. The internet postings of Lee and the wide spread discussion of the more unusual of his ravings may make this a higher likelihood than it would have been without the publicity.

Practical Lesson

The first thing that everyone needs to learn from this incident is that anyone can become a target for wacked-out political attacks. What triggers some one like Lee to fixate on a particular target is hard to predict. What is clear is that there is usually a well defined escalation of the ‘attacks’ on the target. Recognizing the potential for further escalation allowed the security personnel to mark Lee as a potential threat and ensure that all security personnel were aware of who Lee was. This allowed security personnel to limit Lee’s access to just the lobby of the building.

Of course, not all people who have a disagreement with a facility or organization are expected to escalate to violent attacks. Security personnel do need to be aware of anyone with increasingly strident disagreements with facility management. Still the trainers for those security personnel need to insure that the difference between wariness of potential for violence and the response to violence are clearly delineated. Inadequately trained security personnel can easily cause a premature escalation to a violent confrontation.

Chemical facilities are at special risk of attracting the attention of those with delusions related to environmental issues. This is especially true of facilities that have attracted the attention of legitimate mainstream environmental groups for releases or other actions that may have damaged the local environment or potentially harming local neighbors. The legitimate complaints of such organizations may be enough to set-off a delusional person with real or imagined complaints with that facility.

Active Shooters at Chemical Facilities

One last thing to remember is that many chemical facilities are at special risk for enhanced effects from the actions of an active shooter. At most non-chemical facilities the number of people that will be killed or injured will be relatively a small handful of people. At chemical facilities the random fall of bullets can result in chemical releases. Just the muzzle flash at some facilities can ignite flammable atmospheres resulting in major conflagrations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Personally, I fail to see that the distinction has any practical use; people killed or injured by the lone wacko with a political agenda are just as dead as those killed by a small group with a common political delusion."

The difference may be in the terror they would cause. Terrorism isn't defined by killing people, but by causing terror in the general population (often by killing people). A lone killer who is arrested or even killed in an incident usually fails to do so, since the chances of him repeating the act are low. However, an organized group may strike anywhere, anytime again. Which leaves people in terror.

But you may well be right that the distinction is rather theoretical and in practice doesn't change much in how we should be prepared to handle such incidents. The follow-up probably is different, but immediate response is the same (after all, at the time of the incident you probably don't know whether it's a loner or a part of a group).

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