Credit Union Security: 4 Ways to Beat the Bad Guys

Spencer Coursen of Coursen Security Group provides expert commentary to credit unions looking to beat the bad guys.

Matthew Yussman, CFO for the $122 million Achieve Financial Credit Union who also doubles as the Berlin, Conn.-based cooperative’s security training officer, was a victim of an unusual criminal plot that he never saw coming.

Last February, Brian Scott Witham and Michael Anthony Benanti took Yussman hostage, duct taped a bomb to his chest and forced him into a failed attempt to rob his own credit union. They targeted Yussman, as well as two other credit union employees and their families, via social media sites and used portable cameras to case their victims.

Although executives and employees who work in the financial services industry may be at a higher risk of becoming targets of criminals, security experts say credit union employees can take steps to protect themselves and reduce their risk of becoming the next victim. Security experts also shared what employees can do to survive a hostage situation.

1. Don’t be a soft target.

A soft target is someone who is distracted or not paying attention to their surroundings, even in their own neighborhood.

In Yussman’s case, for example, he parked his car in his driveway and unloaded some stuff to place in the garage. While he was doing that, he was rushed by Benanti and Witham.

Yussman acknowledged that if he had driven his car into his garage and closed the garage door, he may have been able to prevent the incident from happening.

Randy Spivey, CEO and founder of the Center for Personal Protection and Safety in Reston, Va., said his company will watch executives and their daily habits to determine if they are soft or hard targets and make recommendations.

“A hard target is going to be somebody that is not paranoid but they’re not oblivious,” he said. “When they’re walking around town or they’re coming out of their house at night, they are aware of their surroundings.”



2. Take simple security steps.

Spencer Coursen, president/CEO of the Coursen Security Group in New York City, said even the most basic safety and personal security precautions can significantly reduce an employee’s vulnerability.

“Something as simple as modifying your daily movement, taking alternate routes to and from work, school or the gym, or even every so often driving around your block before pulling into your driveway sends a clear message to anyone taking notice that your actions are not overly predictable,” Coursen said.

If you suspect someone is casing your home, call the police, Spivey said.

Spivey also recommended that in addition to a home security alarm system, you should consider installing security cameras around your home. For a couple of hundred dollars you can invest in a basic camera system that can make your home a hard enough target for criminals to avoid, he said.



3. Ask yourself, “Is somebody following me?”

If you believe someone is following you, Spivey recommended that you don’t confront the person.

Instead, stop and look in the general direction of that person from a safe distance of about 20 or 30 yards away.

“I’ve seen people who sense that somebody is following them and they look at them and pretend that they’re dialing their phone as if they are reporting it to somebody, which can be a deterrent,” he said. “That makes you a hard target versus a soft target.”

Keep an eye out for safe havens such as police and fire stations. Restaurants, hotel lobbies, public libraries, community centers and hospitals can also be safe places where you can get help.

4. Restrict your social media information.

It’s also important to limit the information you post about yourself onsocial media sites.

“We’ll see individuals that sometimes will have two different profiles. They may have one that’s open to the public and the information that’s on there is very generic and very controlled,” Spivey explained. “Executives also may have very private social media sites that they use only for very close friends and family members.”

Spivey said executives need to understand that if they post information on social media, criminals may be able to use it as an opportunity to commit a crime.

“Think about your teenage daughter and what information you’d want and wouldn’t want her to put on social media,” he said. “Think about all the guys who might be looking at that information and how you’d want to control that.”

In addition to changing your passwords every quarter; updating software, security and privacy settings; and never opening unsolicited links or connecting with someone you don’t know, Coursen said it may be a good idea to protect your online browsing habits from being tracked or monitored.

Coursen said software exists to assist with this effort, including free options that provide access to a network of anonymous proxy servers. It was originally intended to help journalists, spies and students who live in regions of online censorship, he said.

It’s also very important to regularly run virus scans on your computer and update the security features on your wireless router at home.

5. Surviving a Hostage Situation

To survive a hostage situation, it’s important to remember the three C’s: Calm, connect and capitalize.

“The first C is that you want to be a calm influence, because it’s going to be a very nerve wrecking experience,” Spivey said. “The reality is that most hostages survive.”

What Spivey means by connect is to help the criminals see you as person, not as an object.

“You don’t want them seeing as you as the CFO of a credit union. You want them to see you as a dad, a husband, a brother, something that connects you as a person,” he said. “The reason is, it’s easier to kill an object than a person. You want to engage them in a way that makes you seem like a likable person. You don’t want to be rude. You don’t want to be arrogant.”

And then capitalize, which means to encourage the criminals to a peaceful solution that is going to meet whatever they want.

“If they want money, then you may say, ‘OK, well, let’s see what we can do to help that,’ Spivey explained. “Whatever you do, you don’t want to argue with them. You want to be a calming influence as best as you possibly can to encourage a peaceful resolution.”

Although it is risky, the opportunity to escape from a hostage situation may be another option depending on the circumstances.

“The best opportunity for escape may occur in the first moments of a kidnapping,” Coursen said. “Kidnappers will sometimes let down their guard momentarily or do something that can afford the victim the opportunity to escape. The kidnapper may not have considered that a victim may react by fleeing or taking a chance. If circumstances permit, try to get away.”


This article by Peter Strozniak originally appeared here:

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.



“Soft Target” Safety: Protecting Your Business From Targeted Attack

Security Expert Spencer Coursen of Coursen Security Group discusses how soft targets can help protect themselves from being targeted.

Renewed concerns for “soft-target” safety dominate the news cycle today after terrorist took hostages at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali.

This tragic news comes as Paris is still processing the deadly attacks in the city of lights, and one can’t help but be reminded of similar attacks on a popular hotel in Somalia that left more than 14 people dead and dozens more injured, or the attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunisia that left 21 dead.

The argument will always be made that we can’t protect everything all of the time.  If that statement is true, than the converse must also be true: They can’t attack everything all the time. What we must understand is that for the violent offender, their act of violence is of greater significance than the target of their action. This makes ‘likelihood of success’ the single most influential factor of target selection.  We can no longer afford to live in a world where they simply hope that nothing will happen, and then solely rely on the first responders to save the day once something does. Our focus needs to shift from being reactive to proactive. To do our best to prevent these tragic outcomes from ever becoming a reality in the first place.


What we CAN do is lower the likelihood of being targeted.  We CAN ensure that the policies and procedures we have written down as doctrine are the same as what are being put into practice.  We CAN raise our level of awareness to the vulnerabilities which surround us, and then bring those concerns to the decision makers so that those issues may be effectively addressed. We CAN prepare today for a safer tomorrow.


Take An Honest Look At Your Current Protective Measures

Most business leaders are aware of the risk associated with bringing their services into the marketplace, but what about those concerns inherent to their actual place of business? However unlikely it may be for a business to be directly targeted, the reality is that too few businesses have taken any proactive measures to effectively reduce their vulnerability.  Today’s owners have a responsibility to understand the limitations of antiquated and reactive security measures and learn as much as they can about more proactive practices that today’s operating environment requires. The modern marketplace offers a host of consultative and technological advantages to help ensure the safety of all involved.


Promote A Positive, Personal Interaction

Greeters, information providers, security guards, or a host who simply says hello to every person who comes near your venue is an effective yet non-invasive approach to promoting a positive protective posture. The everyday human interaction resulting in an unshared concern is arguably the greatest untapped source of protective intelligence available to any business of any size.  The psychological deterrence of a simple inter-personal communication carries much more weight than the thought of “being watched.”  Human interaction offers an immediate notification of potential harm. If a personal interaction triggers something suspicious, immediate attention can be called to the situation. This human approach is a much more practical application than sole reliance on  someone in a command center noticing something suspicious.


Access Control

Access Control saves lives. A venue’s ability to pre-determine where an initiation of violence must first take place allows for a venue’s protective resources to be allocated where they will be most effective – at the point of entry! 

It is perfectly possible for a place of business to have an open and welcoming environment, but there is no need whatsoever to give all who enter free-reign throughout the entire facility. Banks do this well. While the lobby is relatively “open” to the public, few have access to get behind the teller desks, and even fewer have access to the vault.


Keys, Doors, and Locks

Keeping people out is easier than getting them out. Effectively controlling who’s allowed through your front door is especially important if once someone is allowed inside there is nothing preventing them from having free-reign throughout the rest of your establishment.

The problem with keys is that they work all the time. Keys are cheap, frequently lost, and easy to copy. Keys don’t validate their user the way card readers and key-codes do. Consider dual-authentication options to limit and monitor access.


Social Media Awareness

Geofeedia  has perfected a method for providing real-time, location-based, social media intelligence to small business owners, hotel managers, restaurateurs, and security teams that helps to promote a better understanding of the social postings inherent to their specific location.  This kind of real-time intelligence can be invaluable in helping a business to ensure that your customer needs and concerns are being effectively addressed.


Safe Haven

A safe haven is nothing more than a place you know you can go to be safe. Everyone knows if there is a fire to evacuate the building. What most people don’t know is where to go next. In an emergency, it’s always best to go from unsafe to safe. The parking lot fifty feet from the building may be a safe distance from a fire in the break room, but it is not a universal safety precaution from other threats that are just as likely to occur. During an active shooter event, hiding under your desk or behind an office door likely won’t do much good either (bullets travel through doors and walls.)

If you have the physical ability to run…RUN. A moving target – especially one gaining distance with each step  —  is hard to hit. Take some time to talk with your staff about where you can all go for accountability, continuity, and safety should you ever have to leave the office in a hurry. Even if it’s just to the Starbucks down the street, make sure everyone knows where to go and knows how to get there. Identifying safe havens is a lot like wearing your seatbelt: Often just a precaution, but invaluable when needed.

Read: Bomb Threats: How safe is your evacuation plan?

Protective Intelligence

Protective Intelligence is the process for collecting and assessing information about persons who have interest, motivation, intention and practical capability to do harm. When it comes to identifying and assessing those events that are most likely to be a concern, information is invaluable:

  • The creepy, curly haired guy you noticed going through the work trash out back, write it down;
  • The flower delivery guy who for-whatever-reason made the hair on your neck stand-up, write it down;
  • See the obsessive gym guy who won’t take no for an answer driving by your office, write it down.

Someone may not see everything, but everything is seen by someone. The smallest things can be huge indicators when viewed through the prism of space and time. If you see something, say something, because chances are that others saw something too. Even if you talk about it with your coworkers in the break room, writing it down while it’s still fresh in your mind will not only serve as confirmation of what you saw, but will provide a time/date stamp to compare against similar reports.

Those wishing to act with violent intent must engage in some aspect of research and planning that makes their behaviors observable to the general public. Trespassing, surveillance, and attempting to breach security are all pre-incident indicators of violence.

Start a simple email address at work that can be universally used by all, like “” The more puzzle pieces you provide, the more likely a potential hazard can be managed toward peaceful resolve. After access control, an effective protective intelligence and threat assessment program is the next most important precaution for reducing risk and preventing violence.



Everyday vigilance is a small price to pay for the liberties and the freedoms which flow so freely from peace, but the burden is ours to bare. Safety is a communal responsibility, and there is still so much more we can do to help ensure the certainty of future safety.

Taking a few moments to put a plan in place is sometimes all that is needed to prepare today for a safer tomorrow.

Awareness + Preparation = Safety

Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert who has an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, domestic and global security operations, investigations, policy authorship, and protective strategy.

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert

School Safety Made Simple

Teacher Intelligence -- Human Intelligence with a Teacher's Touch. Security expert Spencer Coursen of Coursen Security Group has developed an anonymous reporting application that improves administrator awareness of evolving concerns within an a school's ecosystem.

Awareness + Preparation = Safety


Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security advisor, threat assessment consultant, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help corporations, non-profit organizations, schools, and at-risk public figures ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

 @SpencerCoursen / @CoursenSecurity

Fear Is A Lie, But It’s Story May Save Your Life

Fear Is A Lie, But It's Story May Save Your Life

The survival skills one acquires after living in Manhattan are comparable to those of a CIA training program; a mastering of the Secret Squirrel training trifecta:

Know your surroundings. 

Trust your instincts. 

Always have a plan.

Three simple skills that are proven to increase survivability, but for whom many outside the concrete jungle are rarely utilized and often never honed. A “City Sense” akin to a “Spidey Sense” or a “Gift of Fear” becomes second nature. A level of awareness that matures with each day spent ignoring everyone yet noticing everything.

A walkable metropolis requires a keen sense of awareness. An innate ability to perceive and to feel. To be conscious of events which may not involve you — but which may nonetheless affect you.  A knowingness that tells you when something is “off” even if there is no tangible proof as to what that “something” is.

Conflict will always have better ratings than peace, and tragedy will always be more sensationalized than success, so it’s no secret the twenty-four hour news cycle does their part to chum the waters with fear. If it bleeds, it leads. But just because the lead story on the evening news comes crafted as a slickly produced story about another terror alert, another senseless shooting, or another bad guy doing bad things to good people, does not mean you are in direct danger. Yes, car accidents happen every day, but that doesn’t mean you are going to be in one tomorrow, the next day — or even ever.

Here’s something else you already know: Fear isn’t real.

Fear is your imagination preparing you for a possible conflict. It’s a physiological preparedness that gets you emotionally prepared and physically primed should the moment of fight or flight present itself.  Fear is a liar, but it tells a story that may one day save your life.

Fear remembers. Fear reminds. Fear prepares you on a subconscious level to save yourself — taking the necessary steps to safety often before you even realize the danger you are in.

Fear may be a liar, but it tells a story that may one day save your life.

Safety is a byproduct of awareness and preparation

You don’t have to be a Carrie Mathison or a Jason Bourne to live a life protected. All you need is an awareness of your surroundings, a trust of your instincts, and a practical plan  that will keep you safe should the moment arise.

You want to train your mindset to be proactive, not reactionary. Every time you get that sense that something may not be right, you want to be thinking to yourself, ‘How will I react?’  “What will I do?”  “Where will I go?” You want to be prepared before something happens, so that if something does, you know exactly what to do, where to go, and how to get there.

Far too often – especially in the wake of national tragedy – we vacillate from being complacent to  hyper-vigilant than back to complacency. Safety lies in the middle, a byproduct of awareness and preparation. Everyday vigilance is a small price to pay for our safety of self. It’s those three simple skills that make all the difference:

Know your surroundings. 

Trust your instincts. 

Always have a plan.

Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert who has an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, domestic and global security operations, investigations, policy authorship, and protective strategy.

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert

Safety and Security | Spencer Coursen

Austin Texas Spencer Coursen Coursen Security Group Logo Safety and Security Emblem

Safet_Coursen_Security_GroupIn the wake of violent threats,. there is often a costly, ineffective and  ill-advised response to security, rather than a well-thought, practical and preventative approach to safety.

The difference between security and safety is this:  Security is the umbrella over however safety has been defined.

Think of a concert venue where the security team stands at the entrance to make sure that everyone who enters has a ticket, but does nothing to otherwise ensure that no contraband is being brought into the venue.  Their role as security is therefore to protect against unauthorized entry, but that does nothing to protect your personal safety.

The Congressional response to Sandy Hook was to pursue legislation to ban certain types of firearms even though their authors admitted the very legislation they were fighting for would not have prevented these shootings from taking place.

So, why don’t we take a realistic look at the problem we face and then employ a practical solution which would immediately enhance the safety of today’s schools and office buildings

The best scenario, of course, is to stop an attack from happening in the first place.

To do this, we must understand the motives of the violent offender and then empower ourselves to employ effective safeguards to ensure our safety.

For the violent offender – likelihood of success is the single greatest factor in selecting which target to attack.  More than personal grievance, rage or anger – the act itself is of much greater significance than their target.

When we look at the history of active shooters – not just in schools – but in workplaces as well…

With overwhelming similarity we see that the violent offenders are not tactically trained but are rather emotionally disturbed individuals trying to perpetuate as much pain as possible onto defenseless victims.

And let’s be clear – these violent offenders are not employing a super spy guy bag of tricks to get inside, they aren’t repelling from rooftops, or sneaking in through windows in the dark of the night… And how are they gaining access?  they are walking through the front door in the middle of the day. 

Even the most basic employment of access control measures could have prevented so many lives from being lost.   

Lets take schools for example.  When a school is in session, there should only be one way for guests and visitors to approach, and a specific process by which they are allowed to enter.  A school in session should mimic a Broadway theater after the curtain has gone up: lots of ways for the audience to leave, but only one way for a patron to enter -and if you leave – someone has to let you back in.

Unlike a bank robber who’s motivation to employ violence is for profit, an active shooter engages in a violent act for the very purpose of displacing their own pain and suffering onto defenseless victims.

This is where an effective threat assessment and management program could help to identify emerging threats.

According to the FBI, most active shooters do not have a violent past

However most have experienced a recent emotional hardship where they felt betrayed, harassed – or tormented

They may have been recently divorced, fired, or suffered a recent financial hardship.

But in an almost all of these cases,  the violent offender has engaged in some sort of behavior that identifies them as being likely to escalate from disrupting behaviors to destructive actions.

We do not need to be heroes

But we do need to know we can save ourselves

Much more than heroics, we must employ common sense.

When confronted by violence – When moments matter most.

We must already have a plan in place.  We must know where to go and we must know how to get there.

We must also be mindful to not mistake accountability for survivability. 

Sometimes police-trained administrators promote a “shelter in place” policy because police don’t want the active shooter to run away with all of the people who would otherwise be evacuating.

The reality is that most active shooters have no plan to escape.  They have only one plan…hurt as many people as possible until killed or captured.

In most cases involving active shooters three outcomes are most likely:

  • The first is they will commit suicide
  • The second is they will be killed by responding police
  • The third is they will be unexpectedly subdued or surrender in the face of an active confrontation.


Too often instruction are given to shelter in place during an attack. But sheltering in place was conceived to protect against external threats, natural disasters, high winds, falling trees and other non-human dangers. It is an absurd idea for surviving a physical encounter.

Would you hide under your bed if there was a burglar in your house or would you do everything you could to get out and run away?

Quite simply, you cannot outrun a storm, but you can outrun a person, especially one not chasing you.

Every organization practices fire drills.   Well, a building fire is more violent and unpredictable than an active shooter – yet we don’t train hide from a fire, we train to run.  We must not mistake a game of life and death for a game of hide and seek.

The certainty of our safety requires our participation to not only be aware of the realistic threats we face, but also to promote a practical approach to the assurance our safety requires. 

Working together, I know we can help prepare today for a safer tomorrow.


Spencer Coursen helps manage unfavorable circumstance toward favorable resolve. He is a security advisor, analyst, consultant, and strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help corporations, non-profit organizations, private individuals, schools, and at-risk public figures ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

 @SpencerCoursen / @CoursenSecurity

Empowering Parents on School Safety Precautions | Spencer Coursen


“With any important issue, there will always be aspects no one wishes to discuss.”

~George Orwell

Dear Parents,

For those of you I know personally, I write this with you in mind.

Many of you are my friends, whom I love very much and will spend my lifetime watching over with a ready sword. I empathize with the growing burden that comes from raising a child in today’s world. You deserve to be recognized and rewarded for your endeavor, your accomplishments and your unwavering willingness to do all that is required to keep your child safe.

It is this latter quality I wish to speak upon today.

For many of you, this will not be an easy read, but like all good friends, we tell each other what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear.

Parents today are more involved than ever in the lives of their children, participating in decisions about curriculum, sports, and social activities – almost everything but school safety. Parents are too often placated by the belief that “something is being done” to keep their children safe at school, but then forget to ask the follow up question of what that “something” is.

The purpose of writing to you today, is to empower you with information and to suggest ways in which we can improve the safety of your children at school. We all deserve to live in a safer tomorrow, but that safety depends on decisions made today.

Recent tragedies have made it clear our schools are a soft target for deranged criminals, and administrators seeking to improve our children’s safety need to heed a simple, yet important fact: Over time, safety, unlike algebra, has evolved into a completely different subject matter from what many administrators once learned.

All worthwhile change first comes from educated discussion, so let us begin…

Communities Come Together in a Crisis

Like most children of the time, my sisters and I walked from our childhood home to the red brick elementary school on the other side of town. We lived in a typical suburban area, with good neighbors. One year, when I was in third or fourth grade, there was an abduction of a girl in our school. I do not remember the specifics, but I do remember an outcry from the public for action, and I remember for the first time feeling a responsibility to be more protective of my three younger sisters.

If a village prides itself on their ability to raise children, they must also be willing and able to protect them. Our neighborhood was such a village. In the weeks that followed, a “Helping Hand” program began to promote student safety. The police vetted applicants and “block parents” were identified along common routes throughout the neighborhood.


A sign placed in a front window showing a Red Hand identified those homes that had been selected. These houses became the ad hoc “safe havens” of our neighborhood. I never once needed them, but I always grateful they were there.

Today’s children are well educated in navigating the digital world, but less so the physical one. How many know where they can go to be safe? Not in theory…but in practice.

We can make a difference, by educating our children and ourselves, on where we can go to be safe in crisis.

What is your family’s emergency action plan?

Every family should have their own Emergency Readiness Plan. Your family will likely not be together when a crisis occurs so it’s important for everyone in your family to know ahead of time how to contact one another, where to go, and what to do in different situations. It’s important these plans be communicated and discussed at regular intervals as circumstances and scenarios may change throughout the year.

Safe Havens should be identified as early and as often as possible. This means knowing where to go if you can’t get home, and knowing where you can safely go if you have to evacuate your home.

Only you as a parent know what is truly best for your child. Only you can give them the confidence to survive, and only you can instill within them the courage to act in the face of fear.

Get out while you can: Survivability vs Accountability

The role of the teacher, is just that – to teach. As the son of public school teachers, I am deeply aware of the wide base of knowledge and expertise educators possess. But while both my parents were excellent educators, they weren’t trained to escape and evade a violent threat.

That is my expertise. There are opportunities to apply lessons I have learned as an Army Ranger and security professional leading protection details for dignitaries, heads of state and public figures in some of the most dangerous places in the world that would do much more to improve the safety of our schools.

Parents must bear the bulk of responsibility for the safety of their children, and children must know exactly what to do know when faced with danger.

I have spoken with many teachers and administrators during discussions of school violence, almost all of whom have dismissed the notion of ever telling their class to “RUN” for fear that doing so would be inconsistent with their primary objective of “accountability.”

Teachers and students are told to shelter in place during an attack. But sheltering in place was designed to protect against natural disasters, high winds, falling trees and other non-human dangers. It is an absurd idea for surviving a physical encounter. Quite simply, you cannot outrun a storm, but you can outrun a person, especially one not chasing you. I have yet to speak with a parent, whom when given a scenario similar to Sandy Hook, would rather have to identify their child than spend a few hours searching for him or her.

Some will argue that you cannot outrun a bullet. They are correct, but who is more difficult to hit: the child running away and gaining distance with each step, or the child hiding in the coat closet?

A building fire is perhaps more violent and unpredictable than an active shooter, yet we would not hide from a fire in hope it wouldn’t find us…we would run.

Law Enforcement Influence

The primary focus of police activity is public safety, not personal safety.

Law enforcement agencies and personnel have no duty to protect individuals from the criminal acts of others; instead their duty is to preserve the peace and arrest law breakers for the protection of the general public.” Lynch v. N.C. Dept. of Justice, 376 S.E. 2nd 247 (N.C. App. 1989)

In most cases, a crime is either in progress or has already been committed before the police are called. Something has already happened when they arrive on the scene. This is the nature of their beast, and it has conditioned their outlook to one of reaction, rather than one of prevention. All too often, when writing an emergency response plan, police trained authors focus on what would make their job easier if they were a responding officer, instead of what would prevent them from being called in the first place.

For the most part, local and state police are are not security experts, they are policing experts. Aside from an aspect of deterrence, police do not prevent crime, they respond to crime. One favorable aspect the police find inherent to ‘Shelter In Place’ is that it helps police contain the threat. Law enforcement may argue, “If everyone is running away, the bad guy may run away with them” The priority needs to be student safety, and life saving measures must always come before arrest rate concerns.

Basic Survival Instruction

If you can run – RUN

If you want to live…RUN.

Take as many people as you can with you…but run away.

Running away should always be your first option.

A moving target is harder to hit and you are gaining distance with every step.

If you can’t run – HIDE

Hiding should never be your first level of defense.

Hiding should only be an option when you are too tired to run.

If you can’t run or hide – FIGHT

This is something that cannot be instructed or taught.

It will ultimately come down to the psychology of the individual at the most critical moment.

Practical applications for realistic change

Understanding the shooter methodology:

An individual who makes a public attack almost always has a specific person in mind to attack first. These offenders typically plan their action only up to the moment of initiation; they almost never plan for what will come next. This knowledge is important: if you are not the first intended victim your chance for survival is increased if you run immediately away from the sounds of the gunshots, or as soon as the threat is recognized.

Remind yourself:

Place a red card near their primary exit that simply reads “RUN!” For most of us, when a crisis situation takes hold, our minds will turn to water and run out of our ears. Only basic survival practices will seem natural. Running is a natural response. Remind yourself to RUN.

Don’t blindly follow:

Avoid mass evacuation locations. Schools, much like offices buildings, and commercial complexes, are comprised of compartmentalized locations. Classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, hallways, and bathrooms, are all mazed together via inconsistent floor plans varying from one floor to the next.

Conversely, evacuation meeting locations are nearly all the same; parking lots or nearby parks where large groups of persons can be herded together under the guise of accountability. It’s not a far stretch to imagine a deranged individual using this knowledge to his own tactical advantage when planning an attack. Be sure you are not being herded from the small threat to the big one.

If a threat is serious enough to evacuate, there is a very low likelihood of the immediate future allowing you to return back inside, so it might be best to get somewhere you know is safe.

If a meeting location after an evacuation is absolutely necessary, there should be as many as possible and separated by as much space as possible.

Eliminate antiquated practices:

If running away is not an option, teachers and students should be able to barricade themselves in the classroom. Unfortunately, most public-funded buildings have doors that swing out. This is a norm from times when building fires were much more common than today.

But out-swinging doors cannot be barricaded – the hinges are on the wrong side. This makes any argument for staying in the classroom during an attack a losing proposition. Classrooms should have in-swinging doors that can be barricaded. In addition, classrooms should have emergency exits, similar to those on buses and airplanes. I would even support installing a door similar to an exit row airplane door, complete with inflatable slides in classrooms above the first floor.

Would this be an inexpensive option? No. Is it worth the life of a child? Yes.

An upgrade should be made to every classroom door to promote closed = locked. All classroom doors should be fitted with automatic locking devices; so all doors are locked whenever they are closed. Teachers could still prop them open during the day or between classes by use of a magnetic hold, but every room would have a panic button, that when pressed, released all magnets and forced all doors to close. Most schools already have this capability employed in conjunction with their alarm system and fire doors.

Fire alarm pulled = smoke doors closed

These doors would not pose a fire hazard because you can always travel out of them (think crash bar) yet would always keep unwanted persons from getting in.

Communicate as early and as often as possible:

All school districts should have their own Emergency Plan designed and shared with those First Responders who will come to help.

Information should be reported as early and as often as possible. Inform them of your situation, your location, and have them send help to those most in need. When possible, mass text this information to as many people as possible.

For those who are forced to hide, or barricade themselves inside a classroom, there needs to be a universal “survivor signal” established between the schools and the police. This system needs to be universally understood and easily remembered.

Simply writing “H” for Help on any window that faces out to within public view, allows those outside to know your are still inside.

The increasingly common practice of marking the classroom doors and windows with a red/green identifier is very low on my list of good ideas. If I’m a shooter inside the building your card under the door (regardless of color) just told me people are inside.

If you are forced to hide, why would you give away your position inside the building?

Trust me, if the card is green when the shooter enters, he won’t change it to red before he leaves.

What if a rescue team is clearing through the halls looking for those in need of help, but skips over your green card looking for a red one?

Placing an H on the perimeter window means one thing – we need help! Maybe it’s medical help or maybe you just need to be rescued, but Help means help – no need for interpretation – no concern about change in your status.

Rehearsals vs. Drills:

Army Rangers in Mogadishu learned the same lesson Secret Service agents learned 30 years earlier in Dallas: However unlikely, expect the worst will happen. School administrators, teachers and students should do the same. Instead of periodic drills, schools should conduct walk and talk rehearsals about what to do and where to go in the event of an attack. No fake hysteria, no sirens, no alarms – just a serious conversation about what to do if an attack happens. Airlines do this well. Few will ever experience a plane crash, but we still get a clear, calm and informative safety brief every time we board a flight.

A theatrical production does many rehearsals, but really only runs-through the show, when doing the show. Rehearsals allow you to stop, re-set, discuss, and improve, where as drills “check the block” and placate a mandatory safety requirement. Many schools do nothing more than what their respective governing body requires.

Talk to any student in the 3rd grade or higher, and they can tell you when there is going to be a fire drill – accurate to within 30 minutes and often before their own teachers know. To mitigate this inconvenience, students will begin to pre-prep for the drill by keeping their belongings on-hand so they have something to combat boredom while they wait outside to be counted.

Over time, this condition becomes common practice, and when the time comes to react for real, precious seconds are lost in the quest to repeat the previous practices of searching for creature comforts.

Complacency kills more readily than practice makes perfect.

Notifications and Alerts :

We are all already conditioned to respond to audible alerts. Everyday our phones reinforce this condition via phone calls, emails, and text messages. We program specific bells, chimes and whistles to alert us to what needs our most immediate attention; priority tones trigger priority function.

Emergency Alarms should be no different. Using a single alarm for multiple purpose has the same effect as adding water to wine – the effects are diluted.

Voice Driven alarms are most effective as they leave little room for individual interpretation.

“This is an Announcement…”

“Emergency: There is a Fire in the Kitchen…”


Access control needs to be controlled:

A school in session should mimic a Broadway theater after the curtain has raised – hundreds of ways for the audience to leave, but only one way to enter.

The earlier a threat is identified, the greater your chance for survival.

When school is in session, there should only be one way for guests and visitors to approach, and a specific process for them to enter. Procedure only works if you follow it every time.

Many commercial and residential security systems are designed to identify who committed the crime, but only after the crime has been committed. Security systems alert the homeowner to the crime, but they rarely prevent the crime from happening. 911 will be called, police will arrive to secure the crime scene, and detectives will arrive to investigate. Surveillance footage will be reviewed, clues will be gathered and suspects will be identified. An investigation will lead to an arrest, and the prosecutor will likely use the surveillance tape to show the jury at trial.

If the school grounds are relying on a security system for the safety of it’s occupants, there are several criteria which ALL must be met to ensure success. These measures include a fully integrated system of motion sensors, listening stations, approach beams, digital cameras with infra-red and pan-tilt-zoom capability, direct communication with local police, a PA system, alarm notification, and a sentry-trained dog. All of these components will need to be linked to a command center located in a response-specific location, and managed by a full-time security team ready to challenge and intercept any approaching threat.

Use technology to your advantage:

As hard as it may be to imagine, by the time a child enters first grade, they are likely more tech-savvy then their parents. Whatever your personal stance regarding pros/cons of children with smartphones, today’s marketplace is full of applications designed to enhance personal safety. E-mail alerts, and on-screen pop-ups are just a few of the options readily available to notify you of emergency information. There are also numerous GPS applications you can download to your children’s smart phones for remote tracking.

Two of the more functional apps on the market today is the “Silent Bodyguard” and “Stay Safe” Both are easy to install, easy to use, and have many personalize features like a continuous distress signal lasting the duration of your phone’s battery.

Understanding the need for a threat-management process:

There is a fundamental difference between a threat which is made, and a threat which is posed. A threat-management process, is the practice by which an expressed threat is assessed for it’s likelihood to be carried out into a violent act.

Each school will have different needs based on the number of inappropriate communications brought to their attention, but what is most important here is the process for assessing and managing the threats, not the size of the assigned members to the program. Threat management is ultimately about the quality of the assessment proportional to the number of threats. Workload is the primary criterion for allocated resources. This may mean a fully staffed unit of professional analysts or a part-time responsibility for a single individual for your school to identify threats likely to escalate to violence as early as possible and manage the threat away from a violent act.

Parents, and teachers would benefit greatly from being educated on the criteria that constitutes an inappropriate communication, so that these communications may be brought with immediacy to the attention of the threat-assessment team.

Understanding “Leakage”:

Leakage is often the most important pre-incident indicator to a violent act by an adolescent.

Leakage occurs when a student intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, or intentions about an impending violent act, and may even involve efforts to get friends or classmates to help them prepare.

I’ve been to Israel several times in the past few years on business, and was just there again recently. On every trip, whether I’m traveling around Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, I will inevitably come across a group of school children on a class trip visiting a national area of interest. The students go about in much the same fashion our own schools do here at home, but with one very significant difference: Every group of school children traveling outside of the school grounds has an armed escort.

A Shin Bet colleague of mine followed my gaze one trip while I looked at the children, then at the teacher with the rifle, then back to the children.

“It is necessary to keep the children safe,” he said, in a rather matter-of-fact tone.

I nodded my understanding.

“You don’t do this in America, do you?”

I shook my head, no.

“God willing, I hope you never have to, my friend.”

…I hope so too

Thank you for your time. I hope you find the above information useful in your future discussions with other parents, public safety officials, and school administrators.

Best regards,

Spencer Coursen President, Coursen Security Group

Interested in reading more on on this and similar topics? I highly recommend reading; Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker, The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley, and The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood.


Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.


Overseas Safety | Spencer Coursen

As summer quickly approaches, and your vacation planning begins, it’s important to prepare for both fun and safety in equal measure – especially if your travel plans will take you abroad.

International travel is all about using good common sense. Baghdad may not be the safest place in the world right now, but there are still a few good places to get a great ice-cream cone or some fresh hummus without putting yourself in any kind of extreme danger.

I was in Israel recently, traveling between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. To read the US News those days was to think I was working in a war zone, when in reality, it was just another day in the land of milk and honey. Which is to say, don’t believe everything you read, sometimes media rhetoric coincides with the narrative they have employed (Read: Hagel confirmation hearings)

Still, there is something to be said for traveling smart.

1. Leave the ballcap at home. Nothing says ‘I’m an American’ lounder than your baseball cap. We’ll all know you’re american as soon as you start talking…no need to make it any easier to pick you out of a crowd.

2. Trust your gut. If something feels “wrong” walk away. You’re unwillingness to offend should never be greater than your willingness to defend. You’ll never see any of these people ever again. Simply walk away.

3. If you’re traveling anywhere 3rd world…leave your passport locked away in your hotel and carry a laminated color-copy of your passport.

4. Don’t do anything to draw unwanted attention to yourself. Don’t show off your expensive jewelry or your wad of cash. Have money set aside for tips ($1 and $5 only) in another pocket. If you pull out a roll of $50’s and hand the guy $2, be prepared to do some haggling. Fair warning.

5. Most importantly, have the phone numbers of the US Embassy 24hr hotline pre-programmed into your phone and be sure to test the numbers – sometimes the international dialing codes can be tricky and you don’t want to be figuring out if you need the +1 before the number when you’re in the middle of a crisis.

6. Finally, use your resources. Talk to friends who have been there in the past. Use the hotel concierge as a reference. Read the Embassy home page. Google safety tips for the area you’re going to visit, and read up on the local news.

I’ve been blessed with the good fortune of having traveled to 164 of the world’s countries. I’ve experienced something beautiful and memorable in all of them.

Travel safe, travel smart, and don’t forget to take more photos…you’ll wish you had later



Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security consultant, threat assessment advisor, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help corporations, non-profit organizations, schools, and at-risk public figures ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

@SpencerCoursen / @CoursenSecurity