Emerging Issues in Security

A Case for Pessimism for the Future of Mass Attacks

Workplace violence and school violence prevention practitioners have been assessing their efforts and speaking with their educational, public, and private sector clients after the attack in Las Vegas. Schools and companies have new fears and are struggling to find the right solutions through training and support from threat assessment experts.

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Johnny Lee, founder of Peace at Work, a violence prevention, training, and consulting firm, discussed what he is seeing in the new light of the post-Las Vegas incident:

“The notoriety challenge has been set. The headlines spouted the worst statement—‘largest mass shooting in America’—because many mass shooters reviewed previous tragedies with the specific intent to ‘beat their number.’ The challenge is that now some disturbed person will see their goal to beat the previous casualty count. The number was so high due to the mass gathering settings we often see—concerts, parades, and festivals. These are extremely difficult to protect given the large area and sheer number of people to manage. Established locations such as Disneyworld have good access control but city streets and parks are another matter. It’s only a matter of time before we see truck assaults on crowded pedestrian walkways similar to what has occurred in Europe.

“The perceived risk lends to drastic security measures (bag searches, TSA-type pat downs at any large gathering), which feeds the concerns (some legitimate) about the development of an Orwellian police state, something that some potential mass shooters are targeting. For these ‘Black Swan’ events, is it reasonable to live and enjoy public venues in such a way? Related concern is the fear of over-reaction and a zero-tolerance mentality that actually reduces disclosure and reporting.”

Lee says his clients, “do have a concern about these rare occurrences and tend to guide their protocols in these worst-case scenarios. As such, there is the popularity of active shooter response programs which have a limited ability to actually impact the ability to survive. The problem is that there is less concern on prevention, as opposed to preparation, which is a mistake. There is sometimes a difference in concerns between the company or school administration and those in charge of security/safety. Those who deal with it every day have concerns about low-level threats such as verbal violence, simple assaults, harassment from intimate partners, and drugs.”

Lee is mostly pessimistic when it comes to his sense of the future for mass attack prevention in this country: “On the bright side, these media-deluged events increase awareness and I believe that now, more than ever, people are willing to come forward to report, despite my above-voiced concerns. However, the same awareness has shown that anyone can be a household name in under an hour and there definitely is a drive to increase fame about themselves and/or their cause. Regarding that point, promoting their cause or carrying out justice has reached delusional levels. There is a real problem with what and why people feel outrage. A deranged sense of entitlement has infected a large swath of people, particularly the young, leading to greater and more vehement expressions of effrontery that the extreme (but growing) edge will believe that violence is an acceptable solution. While most mass shooters are ‘lone wolves,’ there is a community (often online) that promotes or encourages them. As for terrorism, I consider it as a technique in warfare and we are at war with radical groups such as ISIS. We are wide open to such attacks, and I’m surprised that there have not been more so far. Far too many opportunities, too many locations/settings to manage, and they only need to commit a few assaults/acts of sabotage to have the impact intended.”