After Arizona, Does Congress Need Gun Legislation, or Just More Effective Security Risk Assessments?

The terrible shooting in Tucson this week was widely seen as a wake-up call for members of Congress who probably spent at least part of the weekend wondering if their security was enough.

 I can answer their question – it is probably NOT enough.  The morphing of politicians into celebrities (call them Pol-ebrities??) is great as long as you get lots of TV time and the cameras are flashing and the contributions are rolling in.   The downside is the same one that led to John Lennon’s death – Celebrities draw the crazies.  Now that elected officials are becoming Pol-ebrities – they are becoming targets.

With proposals rolling in from all quarters, including putting a giant Plexiglas shield around the House floor, limiting the distance a constituent can stand in relation to a congressperson or senator, and many other ideas, it is clear me that what is missing is the use of standardized Threat/Risk Assessments.

 Security is always a trade-off.  How much money to spend to protect a public servant and legislator?  Is it worth an extra $25,000 per year per person, or should it be $100,000 per person per year – or should it be a million dollars?

Ask the potential target and I guarantee they are voting for the $100,000 solution.  Ask a beleagured taxpayer and they would think maybe $5000.00.  The problem is that it is impossible for an individual to do a true cost benefit analysis and decide how much money is enough?

Enough to provide ‘adequate” and ‘reasonable’ protection. 

Enough for a ‘normal event’?  What about a high-profile event?

Can you analyze it based on the numbers of people who attend a certain event?

All these questions are about 1/15th of a security risk assessment. 

Like the Department of Homeland Security – the executive protection should move to a more quantitative, risk-based model.  Traditional executive protection checklists are no longer enough.

There are so many elements that go into a threat risk assessment of an public, or private event.  We can look at the Tucson shooting and see that if the usual checklists were used, someone might have:

Checked the crime rate around the location (which turned out not to be at all relevant.)

Checked to see if any other congressperson had ever been attacked
at a town hall meeting in the last twelve months (perhaps more relevant).

These are just a few of the many checks that would have been performed prior to the event, but whether these were done partially, completely, or not at all, they are not risk-based, instead, the classic protection model is more threat-based than risk-based, when what you need is a combination of the two.

If we can create a standardized risk-based scenario for protection of these high profile Pol-ebrities, it would include all the basic information, plus data on the number of phone threats received by that individual legislator; and also, an aggregate of threats received by all legislators.  It would include blog and web searches to see how many times a particular name was mentioned or cited in a negative way.  (And yes, finding a web site that includes a rifle target signal over your district counts).

In addition, it’s interesting to get a historical perspective to see how many government representatives have been threatened, shot, stabbed or murdered in the last five years, and to see whether that trend is increasing or decreasing.

The shooting in Tucson was a workplace violence incident by a totally deranged person who had total access to his victims.   There was no advance screening, no physical barriers, no bodyguards waiting in the wings in case something went wrong.

Many of these missing elements, along with others, can be used to create useful threat risk assessments that can be standardized,   and automatically generated for all our high profile public servants to provide much more effective security for the people who need it most.  

Instead of treating each of these violent incidents as a completely isolated event, society needs to recognize these patterns that are emerging as legislators become celebrities, and that there is an increasing acceptance of violent solutions to individual problems.  These patterns need to be watched, tracked, and applied to each individual’s protection profile to improve personal security and prevent future violent attacks.