September 11, 2016 Several countries, including the United States have recently issued alerts warning law enforcement agencies that based on intelligence, the Islamic State or ISIS is eying stadiums or arenas as potential terrorist targets. In the event of an attack, the true first responders on the scene would not be traditional first responders, such as fire department medics or law enforcement officers, but in most incidents it would be a private security guard.
Fifteen years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American soil, private security guards largely remain an untapped resource in the nation’s counterterrorism efforts. With a whopping 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure being privately owned public space, and therefore privately protected — why not? Research shows that treating victims in the critical first minutes after an emergency occurs, whether it is a cardiac arrest, first-aid, or a natural disaster, workplace violence or a terrorist attack can result in lives saved. Armed security guards with training in fire safety, terrorism awareness, emergency planning and evacuation already at the scene would provide invaluable assistance to trauma victims while waiting for police, fire and rescue units to respond.
Since the 9/11 attacks, international terrorism experts have repeatedly warned the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that terrorist groups could easily use carry out attacks on shopping malls and other soft targets in America. Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI distributed a joint bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies across the country warning that ISIS sympathizers or “homegrown” terrorists have shifted their focus to civilian targets instead of government and military instillations. More specifically, the bulletin states that ISIS may target sports stadiums or arenas. The bulletin said that according to analysis, more than 75 percent of homegrown violent extremists disruptions and attacks over the last 12 months have focused on civilian targets. In August, British officials also warned that intelligence suggests that ISIS is plotting attacks on shopping malls and stadiums. Worldwide, shopping malls and stadiums, where hundreds or even thousands gather have long been favored targets for terrorist attacks.
The U.S. government’s role in protecting the public at stadiums and shopping malls and other soft targets across the country, because they are privately owned — is limited to suggestions and initiatives such as tax breaks for businesses that invest in bolstering security for anything other than shoplifting. U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants allocated to local government agencies can be used to bolster security at high risk targets.
For businesses, armed and properly trained private security guards require more pay. And it’s a hard sell to convince businesses or shopping mall managers to spend even a small percentage of the budget on preventative measures for an event that will probably never happen.
Some international experts argue that it not a question of if but when another large scale attack occurs on American soil. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security must provide additional financial assistance to protect the American citizenry. It is essentially invest now or pay later.
Cynthia Hodges holds a M.A. in Political Science from NEIU in Chicago, Illinois and a Post-Grad Professional Certificate in Disaster and Terrorism Management from University of North Carolina -Chapel Hill. In addition to a successful writing career, Cynthia is in the process of writing a book on the role of private security guards as first responders in the post 9/11 America. "My career has been a balance of security and education, and my passion for Homeland Security while protecting individual's Constitutional rights has grown as a result of the two."