One of the best ways to develop new countermeasures and enhance your personal or your organization’s security is by studying security incidents that have occurred to learn both from the mistakes of others and also from what they did well. Rightly or wrongly there is often a tendency to focus on the mistakes and things that went wrong as these sometimes provide the most cogent lessons learned. When doing this we need to do it dispassionately and we need to avoid the appearance of blaming the victim. All hindsight is 20/20 and it is easy to look at all the details of an event after it has transpired and pontificate about what someone did wrong and why we would have done it differently. It is much different when the event is unfolding and you are wrapped in uncertainty and trying to make decisions under pressure. It is also different when you don’t have the ability to see a threat clearly due to other events or distractions that may be going on.
The horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut brings this principle to the forefront. While information and details are still coming in as of this writing it demonstrates the need to study these events to look for areas of improvement and consider how things can be done in the future to mitigate the risk. This is not intended to be a discussion of the Sandy Hook massacre as this is being covered extensively in other venues and discussed by people much more knowledgeable about school security and active shooter situations than I am. Those of us who are parents though are searching for information and perhaps answers and solutions to make our children safer. Interestingly it appears from current information that the Sandy Hook Elementary School did a whole lot right in terms of their security program and perhaps exceeded what is in place at many schools. Still we need to do a close examination to see what might be implemented to reduce the risk at other schools in the future.
One of the most valuable things we can do is to look at case studies concerning criminal and terrorist incidents and look at why the victim was vulnerable and what they might have done to reduce or even eliminate that vulnerability. If we are looking at confrontational crimes targeting individuals we might look at a robbery incident where the victims was distracted and fumbling with her car keys when she was approached and victimized. Looking at a kidnapping we may find the victim habitually departed for work each day at the same time and used the same route. We should also look at our own experiences where we had near misses or close calls and look at areas where we could have done something differently. In these cases we need to be frank with ourselves if we were lazy, complacent, overconfident, disregarded our own intuition, or whatever.
What separates armchair or Monday morning quarterbacking from thoughtful lessons learned? As much as anything it’s the spirit in which it’s done and the mindset. Armchair quarterbacking is pontificating, sometimes accusatory and not done with a constructive goal in mind. Analyzing lessons learned on the other hand is thoughtful, constructive and done with the intent of not repeating past mistakes or missteps – others or our own – but rather learning from them to develop new procedures tactics and approaches that will reduce the risk and make us more effective.