ISIS says they will attack the nation’s capitol but intelligence agencies say, “all quiet” or thereabouts.
Meanwhile, a recentÂ New York TimesÂ op-ed tells us that we are no Europe with their porous borders; all is safe, sort of.
They also remind us that so-called “lone wolf” self-radicalized jihadists are a persistent concern here because assault rifles and maximized magazines are a dime a dozen.
Means, motive, opportunity: all present and accounted for.
AÂ Confined Space
Terrorists seem to strongly prefer a confined space for obvious reasons.
The innocent can be easily herded, and are easier to target.
In fact, the last twenty-two US mass shooter events occurred indoors in such circumstances.
More “sophisticated” attacks involving teams of terrorists also target groups who are inside or can be moved there quickly.
Perhaps the best (or worst) example is Beslan, North Ossetia in 2004, where 385 hostages were killed.
The same is true of the Bataclan venue in Paris, where 89 died.
This weekend’s attack at the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs also follows that pattern.
Lack of “Adequate” Security?
It’s unknown whether Paris’s Bataclan theater had security and if so, how much.
We do know that the Stade de France, a large-venue stadium, had “pat-down” security and that that was enough to stop three suicide bombers.
The Parisian Charlie Hebdo offices apparently lacked security when they were attacked onÂ January, 7, 2015.
Not surprisingly, terrorists avoid fighting their way in by choosing a venue where that would not be necessary.
“Soft” targets, they call them.
Deterrent security has to be properly positioned in order to be effective.
So-called “bouncer” security with a stool at the front door is too little, too late.
No Way Out
Many interior spaces in older buildings may have one way in and a half-hearted secondary exit.
I was in a very popular Washington sight-seeing venue recently and it occurred to me that I had never searched for Â the emergency exit.
What I discovered was not pretty: the secondary exit was up a set of steps that were partially obstructed at the top by equipment.
It’s not good enough to just “look around and find the exit nearest you.”
You need to find out what is behind that door and plan your rapid departure accordingly.
Find the tertiary exit, or at least try to.
And, as always, when your instinct tells you to leave, do it.
Don’t wait on the crowd.
Often Well Done
For my money, the safest tourist venues in the city may not seem so at first glance.
North and south “outside the fence” White House exteriors, much of the U.S. Capitol and grounds and the Supreme Court all have security (and defense) in depth at least against firearms and packages.
Secret Service Unformed personnel at the White House viewing points are especially vigilant about packages and behavior.
They are likely to spot serious trouble (and react to it) in very short order.
(I continue to applaud their professionalism and restraint when dealing with fence jumpers.Â It takes a professional to calmly access the situation in real time and to not over react.)
Many other Washington venues require some version of deterrent security, perhaps enough to turn away a would-be attacker.
The Smithsonian Museum System, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the Newseum, the Archives and the National Gallery of Art all offer various levels of screening, hopefully based on accurate, timely and professional threat assessments.
For obvious reasons USHMM may have the best security with outside sentries as an initial presence and “airport” style screening on entry and armed officers on post.
The National Cathedral has better security than many “official” sites.
Some Work Clearly Needed
The memorials, Lincoln, WWII and Vietnam, especially, are high profile and vulnerable spaces with little or no consistent deterrent security and no apparent real-time package security.
These venues are vulnerable in part because they are not ground level.
At Lincoln, visitors ascend steps to an enclosed chamber and at WWII and Vietnam they are in a below grade setting blocked by walls.
Any venue with barriers to an easy and fast escape should receive additional security attention.
Which makes Ford’s Theater a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Ford’s offers no deterrent security, no package security and hundreds of visitors are often herded downstairs via a narrow and winding stairwell into a basement where they are held until they then ascend a different stairway into a theater space, all the while navigating unfamiliar territory.
It should make the hair stand on the back of your neck where safety is concerned.
Whose Minding the Store?
Ninety-nine percent of the venues mentioned here are under the direct or substantive control of the Federal government though it seems apparent that they have no over-arching approach to threat assessment or the provision of deterrent security.
That fact argues in favor of an informed and aware visitor.
Do we live in a time when taking security into account is simply a matter of commonsense?
It would seem so, though not excessively.
It pays to pay attention to where you decide to go and when you do so.
Be mindful of what you would do in an emergency and trust your instincts.
Venues with difficult exit options should be especially subject to scrutiny.
Your judgment can be your best (or worst) resource.
See you out there.