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Safety and Security Sep 14, 2021

Target Hardening Techniques for Businesses

Learn what target hardening is, why it’s critical to employee safety and business continuity, and what you can do to make your organization more secure.

The past two decades have seen an upward trend in mass shootings in America. An FBI study of 160 identified active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2018 and found that nearly half (43.7%) occurred at a place of business.

This year, our communities have already endured hundreds of gun-related tragedies. Mass shootings in 2021 have occurred in movie theaters, concert halls, schools, hospitals, and offices—proving that preparedness should be a priority for every organization.

Your physical office space or worksite plays a key role in creating a safe working environment. Just like people install home security systems and window locks to prevent burglars, businesses can take actions to protect their employees, their company, and the community from active shooter events or any other potential threat.

In this post, you’ll learn what target hardening is, why it’s critical to employee safety and business continuity, and what you can do to make your organization more secure.

What Is Target Hardening?

Target hardening is an established crime prevention principle used by governments, schools, law enforcement, military, and private organizations. This security tactic aims to deter potential attackers through a range of protective measures.

Examples of target hardening techniques include physical modifications, such as secure locks and motion lights, as well as procedural elements like visitor screenings and general access control. In many cases, the structural design of the establishment itself is also a key consideration in building hardening for crime prevention.

All buildings should have some sort of protection against potential attacks, break-ins, or other criminal activity, but specific types of structures make more attractive targets for terrorists and criminals. So-called “Soft Targets and Crowded Places” (ST-CP) include any locations that are “easily accessible to large numbers of people and that have limited security or protective measures in place” (Department of Homeland Security).

Government buildings, bars and restaurants, large office buildings, religious buildings, iconic commercial properties, sports or concert venues, transportation systems, chemical plants, energy facilities, monuments, and other public gathering places may be soft targets. Due to their unique circumstances, each type of facility presents distinct building hardening and security challenges.

Why Should Businesses Undergo Target Hardening?

Among other factors, attackers often choose their targets based on the physical structure itself. Target hardening enhances the security of a building or structure by making it a more difficult, and therefore less attractive target. Businesses that use target hardening to reduce or eliminate weaknesses and other vulnerabilities can:

  • Lower the chance of an attack or break-in
  • Minimize material damage in the event of an attack
  • Reduce the chances of injuries and loss of life, as well as the severity of any injuries that do occur

Target hardening is not foolproof, as almost any building or site can be breached or damaged. However, taking measures to secure an area will go a long way in keeping your people and your business safe. What’s more, you can provide employees with peace of mind that you’re taking measures to protect them.

Target Hardening Strategies: 7 Steps Businesses Can Take to Secure Offices and Worksites

Businesses have an obligation—both moral and legal—to keep people safe while at the workplace, whether that’s in a warehouse, retail location, corporate office, or any other worksite. Here are some steps you can take to bolster security and safety.

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Step #1: Conduct a vulnerability assessment

Effective measures for target hardening vary from site to site. Thus, a vulnerability assessment—or threat assessment— is key to enhancing your building’s overall security. Conduct a thorough analysis to understand threats, vulnerabilities, and potential risks associated with your specific location or worksite.

Look for potential weaknesses across the entire organization, including facilities, systems, networks, and procedures. Your evaluation of physical spaces should encompass all:

  • Entry and exit points, including windows
  • Interior and exterior communal areas
  • Elevators
  • Stairwells
  • Parking areas
  • Public and employee bathrooms
  • Mailrooms, loading docks, and storage rooms
  • Control centers
  • Employee offices

Identifying gaps will help you determine what target hardening techniques to use and which to prioritize.

Step #2: Control how people access your building

Actively maintaining control of all entries and exits adds a strong line of defense against intruders. Non-customer-facing businesses should keep access doors locked at all times and use secure locks and keyed or badge-controlled access to ensure only authorized personnel can enter. Depending on the size of your business, you may consider additional access precautions like:

  • Visitor screening: Require visitors to check in with a receptionist or guard and provide identification before being admitted.
  • Gated entry: Implement gated entry to make it harder for predators to enter or even approach your building. Gated entry to the parking lot can be controlled by code, magnetic key card, or managed by a security guard.
  • Security personnel: Hire security for access points or the front lobby. Whether it’s supervising building access or patrolling the premises, the presence of uniformed security personnel will make aggressors think twice before launching an attack.

Step #3: Install a security system

Businesses, especially in customer-facing industries like retail and hospitality, should use onsite security devices to deter criminals. Many non-customer-facing businesses can also benefit from video surveillance, such as those located in high-traffic areas or in sensitive industries.

Security setups vary from a single camera to intricate systems, including wireless motion detectors, wireless door and window sensors, and alarms. If you decide to use closed-circuit television (CCTV) or video surveillance for your business facilities, you should:

  • Make sure cameras are clearly visible and positioned to provide a 360-degree view, without blindspots where an intruder can hide.
  • Consider pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras for surveillance of a large area with a single camera.
  • Place a monitor near your building entrance, so people see themselves when they enter.

Larger organizations may also want to consider advanced safety measures like a duress alarm with central monitoring and an intrusion detection system (for digital security).

Step #4: Consider additional physical security

For larger sites, physical modifications might be necessary to make yourself less vulnerable and mitigate damage. Evaluate your space and consider the following physical security measures:

  • Install solid (not glass) external doors to shield from any potential shots or blasts.
  • Apply protective window films or bullet-resistant glass and use roll-down shutters for after-hours.
  • Use barriers, curbs, or gates to eliminate vehicle access to side or back areas.
  • Allow parking only in clearly marked parking spots.
  • Place walls or hedges strategically to block the premises from outside, but don’t block entrances or provide hiding places.
  • Make sure all internal and external areas are well lit.

Step #5: Map evacuation routes

If possible, the safest response to an active shooter event is to flee the area immediately. And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that at least two exit routes be available to permit prompt evacuation of employees and other building occupants during an emergency.

Pinpoint and make employees aware of primary and secondary escape routes, assembly points, and the location of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and alarms. To comply with OSHA standards, make sure emergency exit routes are:

  • Clearly marked
  • Unobstructed at all times
  • Wide enough to accommodate all evacuating personnel

Step #6: Identify shelters & hiding places

In many cases, escaping the scene is not an option. In this situation, employees should hide out and take shelter where possible. Ensure there are spaces available for your employees to shelter in place, such as a closet, office, or break room. Any room with a locked door and few windows can serve as a potential shelter or hiding place.

Help employees identify potential hiding places before an incident occurs – doing so will prepare your teams for the unthinkable and could very well save lives. The Department of Homeland Security advises that a hiding place should:

  • Be out of the attacker’s view
  • Provide protection if shots are fired in your direction (i.e., an office with a closed and locked door)
  • Not trap you or restrict your options for movement

Step #7: Implement an emergency communication system

In an emergency situation, communication is vital to ensuring the safety of all of your employees. But when disaster strikes, things can get chaotic quickly. People may leave their phones behind or not be able to use them safely. Networks may fail or even be cut off. An emergency communication system lets you check on employee safety and whereabouts or send important updates via multiple channels at once.

The best emergency communication systems include features designed for crisis situations, such as:

  • Two-way messaging so employees can request assistance or provide status updates
  • Communication templates to make responding quick and easy
  • Mobile apps so safety leaders can reach out and respond from a safe location, on any device
  • Integrated threat intelligence to help you monitor and detect potential threats 24/7

Final Thoughts

Target hardening is a major first step in making your buildings and structures less prone to attack. Site hardening measures should work hand-in-hand with your company’s emergency response plans, as well as employee preparedness training and drills to enhance overall safety.

While no one wants to experience an emergency at work, whether it’s an armed break-in or a violent intruder—that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for it. Doing so will put your people and your business in a much better position if the unlikely does occur.

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