Protection against media terrorism, violence and hostility
By Howard B. Price
ABC Television Network
Director, Business Continuity
NEW YORK — The horrific terror attack on the satirical Parisian newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, has shaken the public at large, and the media most especially. The paper long has been in the crosshairs of extremists; its offices were firebombed in late 2011 after it published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. The BBC characterized the paper as “irreverent” in its coverage of current events and controversial issues – so irreverent, in fact, that its editor-in-chief was placed under police protection after receiving death threats.
Today, the police protection and physical security not withstanding, its offices were breached during an editorial meeting – and at least a dozen people, including the editor-in-chief and some of the paper’s most prominent cartoonists, were assassinated in a hail of automatic gunfire.
While there is no specific threat against any American media organizations, more than a few no doubt are reviewing their own security provisions and protocols right now. And with good reason. In recent years, a number of US media outlets have seen violence visited upon them:
- 1976: Investigative reporter Don Bolles of the Arizona Republic, en route to a meeting with an informant on a story, is gravely wounded when six sticks of dynamite hidden underneath the car are set off by remote control. He dies 11 days later. (The shattered Datsun is now part of an exhibit dedicated to Bolles at the Newseum in Washington, DC.)
- 1984: KOA, Denver talk host Alan Berg is gunned down in the driveway of his townhome. Authorities say his name is on a “death list” kept by the neo-Nazi group, The Order, because he was Jewish and challenged the anti-Semitic assertions of the group on the air. Two members of The Order are eventually convicted in connection with the case.
- 1994: An armed assailant trying to gain access to NBC’s Rockefeller Center studios in New York shoots and kills a stagehand as he exited through a stage door.
- 2002: A WAJZ, Albany, NY disc jockey is shot and slashed outside the station by a man said to be a club DJ who had an ongoing professional feud with the radio jock.
- 2005: A man said to have harassed WDIV-TV, Detroit employees in the past shoots a former WDIV employee in the station’s lobby.
- 2007: A domestic dispute explodes in gunfire at CNN Center in Atlanta, when a man shoots and kills a woman who worked at the nearby Omni Hotel. The suspect is subsequently shot by an armed Turner security officer. The incident forces the temporary evacuation of the CNN.com newsroom.
- 2009: A man carrying four knives charges into the six-channel Clear Channel cluster in Modesto, CA and terrorizes several employees before being taken into custody.
- 2010: A man with a sawed-off shotgun invades KBEZ, Tulsa. He demands to speak with an air personality before responding police officers shoot and wound him.
- 2011: More trouble for WDIV when a suspected explosive device forces an evacuation of the station, disrupting WDIV’s broadcast operations.
- 2012: A deranged man upset with the VA and demanding news coverage of his plight breaks through lobby security at WIBW-TV, Topeka wounding two employees with a knife and biting a third before being taken into police custody.
- 2014: A hostage siege across from Australia’s Seven Network in Sydney forces a transfer of operations to another facility.
These incidents prove that even with the best security resources and procedures in place, no broadcast facility is immune from criminal acts or terrorism. And being in a small place doesn’t necessarily reduce the risk.
But, there are common sense things we all can do to help deter such incidents, mitigate their impact and help assure an investigative trail in the event one takes place.
- Harden Facilities. If you maintain street-side studios, secure them with ballistic glass; place bollards between the studio and the street to prevent vehicles from driving into your facilities.
- Secure Entrances. Use trackable cardkeys for access and egress, and even consider using such technology for interlocks between floors in multi-story installations. At minimum, use intruder-proof locks at your most sensitive operational areas. DO NOT SHARE ACCESS CODES, DO NOT “TAILGATE” (allow a person to enter immediately behind someone else without “swiping in”).
- Protect Personal Information. For goodness sake, don’t ever direct strangers to vehicles, offices or property belonging to staff without first verifying the identity of the visitor and getting authorization from the staffer.
- Surveillance. Place high-resolution, low-light color cameras at all entrances and exits, and in your parking facilities. Record the output of these cameras 24/7/365. If you have a large parking lot or garage adjacent to your facility, consider “blue light” call boxes to summon assistance quickly in emergencies.
- Trained Security Personnel. Former law enforcement personnel, in my view, make the best security officers. They are experienced observers of human behavior; are licensed to carry and trained in the use of firearms; and know when and how to engage an intruder. Many are also trained in first aid/CPR/AED as well. Many departments allow their off-duty officers to moonlight as corporate security officers, and retired officers are also good candidates for these positions.
- See Something, Say Something. Establish a system for reporting unusual events that affect your personnel on- or off-premises. And put training in place to make sure your people know what to look for and how to respond to it safely. Consult the US Postal Service website to learn the warning signs of suspicious packages and how to handle them; consult the US Dept. of Homeland Security website to learn what to listen for in threatening phone calls. Forward that information immediately to your security department.
- Establish Areas of Safe Refuge and Reunion Areas. Identify and designate secure areas of your facility as safe refuge in the event of a hostile incursion. Generally, these are rooms without glass walls and with lockable doors. They should have a wired phone and an emergency kit containing non-perishable food, water, first aid supplies, a flashlight – and if your facility is so equipped, a two-way radio. Outside your building, designate a reunion area in the event you must evacuate your building, and establish a protocol for taking a departmental headcount to make sure everyone got out safely.
- Know What to Do in Case of Hostile Presence. Get Out of harm’s way if you can. Lock Out the assailant if you can’t escape. Hide Out under or behind furniture in darkened, quiet, secure rooms. Call Out to inform first responders of your location, your condition, and provide information on the assailant — and others with you (but put cellphones on vibrate to avoid alerting intruders). And if there are no other options, try to Take Out the assailant if your life is in imminent danger.
We broadcasters are the first line of defense for the First Amendment – and that can make us targets for those who fear free speech as an ideological or political threat.
Preparedness, vigilance and training can reduce our risk exposure. And the time to plan and resource your readiness and response – is now.
Howard B. Price, CBCP/MBCI is director, business continuity for ABC Television Network. He can be emailed at Howard.B.Price@abc.com or phoned at 212-456-1073.