Schenectady County

Shooting shows need for secure workplace

Experts say everyone, from rank-and-file workers to security guards, should be aware of the need for

The videos have all the charm and subtlety of a government-produced presentation — because they are.

In one, an employee opens a secured door when a man walks up, arms full of boxes. The employee cheerfully lets the man in. She’s a lifesaver, the man says. The employee is just glad to help.

In the other, the same scenario is presented. The man with the boxes asks the employee if she can let him in. But this time the employee tells the man she’s sorry, she can’t do that. She then abruptly goes in herself and closes the door behind her.

The videos, part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency course on workplace security awareness, stress the importance of keeping secure areas secure.

The experts say everyone, from rank-and-file workers to security guards, should be aware of the need for a secure workplace. And policies aimed at keeping the workplace safe must be followed by everyone.

An example of what could happen when policies are disregarded occurred last weekend at the offices of The Daily Gazette, when a security guard allowed an unknown man into the building so he could get a drink of water.

That act of kindness violated the newspaper’s weekend policy barring anyone without an access code from entering the building. It also set off a chain of events that ended when police shot the man, who they said had a knife and lunged at an officer with it.

The man’s actions, police later concluded, was an attempt on his part to commit suicide by forcing the police to shoot him. The man survived and has since been charged.

Security policy

It’s a prime example, experts say, of what can happen when security policies aren’t followed. Businesses, they say, must have clear policies and ensure that those policies are followed.

“Sometimes things seem cumbersome,” said Jeff Flint, executive director of the National Association of Security Companies, an industry group. “But an incident happening like this is why those procedures are in place, and it’s important to follow them every time.”

Making sure a business or office building is secure is an ongoing struggle, experts say. It’s not only a matter of ensuring security procedures are followed, but balancing those with the courteous handling of customers and others who come to conduct business.

An important aspect of security is proper training, and refreshing that training through discussion of possible scenarios, experts said. What happens if this happens? What happens if that happens?

There are also physical barriers that can be put in place to control access to most of a building, and there are ways to monitor and control access.

But even those methods can fail when the human element is introduced, experts said.

Rick Mathews, director of the National Center for Security & Preparedness at the University at Albany, suggested it’s precisely the weaknesses in the system, like the kindness of individuals, that intruders look for.

“A policy is only as good as people who enforce them,” Mathews said. Employees going through secure doors can’t let others go with them, even if their visit is for seemingly legitimate purposes, he said.

“There can’t be exceptions,” Mathews said. “When there are exceptions to a rule, bad guys will exploit the exception.”

Human element

It’s that human element that introduces much of the risk, said Harry Buffardi, former Schenectady County sheriff and now an assistant professor in the Schenectady County Community College criminal justice program.

It’s possible to eliminate the human element altogether, Buffardi said, but not for a business that depends on customer traffic. An ATM, he noted, is a pretty secure banking outlet, but it’s not very good at customer service.

To minimize the risk that human element introduces, Buffardi said there must be clear training on what the policies are and what the potentials are if those policies are not followed.

Every business must assess its own security needs, from the building to the landscape to technology. There must be protocol for who can enter what area and why, and there should be drills or discussions about what would happen in different situations.

“It’s almost impossible to prevent all possible circumstances,” Buffardi said. But he said you can limit a business’ exposure.

Flint, of the security companies trade group, echoed the need for a review to balance security and the needs for access by the public.

For security guards, Flint said it’s important they get constant reminders and training on the procedures for the facility where they’re working.

“The only defense against [a security breach] is having the proper procedure, constant training and reminding yourself why those procedures exist and of the importance to follow them every time.”

At The Daily Gazette, management is reviewing all those things.

The security guard who let the man in was immediately replaced. The paper is also reviewing its security company itself, meeting with others last week, General Manager Daniel Beck said.

Beck saw the consequences of the security breach firsthand. He was called to the office by the security guard and later witnessed the shooting. The incident, he said, put employee safety at risk and was a serious breach of security.

“You can’t put a price on a person’s safety,” Beck said. “It’s just something that the company is committed to, keeping its employees safe.”

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