How do you protect soft targets like a concert?

Can anything be done to predict or prevent mass shootings? How do you protect people in hard-to-secure public spaces? Hari Sreenivasan talks to security expert Russ Simons of Venue Solutions Group and Jeffrey Swanson of the Duke University School of Medicine.

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    Just a short time ago, the Clark County sheriff reported that investigators found 18 additional firearms and explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition at the suspect's home.

    For a look at some of the broader questions now raised by this event, Jeffrey Swanson is joining us. a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine who has written widely on the subject of violence and mental illness. And security expert Russ Simons, he is managing partner at Venue Solutions Group, a facility management firm near Nashville.

    Mr. Swanson, let me start with you.

    This is not someone who, I guess, fits the profile of what we have come to expect. This is not a lone gunman, a young man that stuck to himself.

    JEFFREY SWANSON, Duke University School of Medicine: Well, what an absolutely heartbreaking day this is for all the family members and the loved ones of those who died, but it is also a soul-searching day for the entire country, as we look into our society and ask ourselves yet again, why did this happen, and how did it happen, and what could we have done, anyone, to prevent it?

    There's two parts to that question, the answer. And one, of course, is what you are alluding to. And that is, can we predict the behavior of someone who would be inclined to do such a horrible thing? What is the profile of someone like that?

    And the problem with that is that the risk factors for mass shooting are many, and they interact with each other, and they're nonspecific. They tend to apply to many more people who are not going to do this than who do.

    That's a very, very difficult thing to do. The other part of the question, of course, is if we assume that we may always have some people like this, for whatever motive it's very hard to fathom, what could we do to limit the harm, to limit the damage and the mayhem that occurred today?


    Russ Simons, you think about that for a living. You think about how to design venues that are safer. What possibly could have been done to try to keep this from becoming as soft a target as it was?

  • RUSS SIMONS, Security Expert:

    Well, there are situations that occur every day around the world, in fact, three significant terror incidents on Sunday that have somehow now, because of the magnitude of what we faced yesterday, have just kind of gone unnoticed.

    But the industry that secures public assembly facilities, fairs, festivals and special events is working tirelessly, and has for the last 17 years, to not only recognize and understand the incidents that occur, but also collaborate with first-responders and other resources to make sure that we're training in a way so that we can react to the unexpected things that occur, like yesterday.


    Russ Simons, staying with you for a second, I mean, thinking about somebody at a high vantage point and shooting people below, this happened 50 years ago at the University of Texas. How do you protect against that?


    Well, it is something that is a vulnerability, as you said, since 1966. Everyone is aware of that.

    I think what will happen in the analysis of this event is we will look at how that expresses itself into our vulnerabilities. We will look at ways to mitigates those risks and we will react to that. It is not a check a box and be done situation.

    We're going to be under constant pressure to make sure that we're staying abreast of the situations that we face and that we're flexible or adaptable enough to change to the circumstances that we face in the future.


    Jeffrey Swanson, a lot of people point to mental illness as the cause of this sort of violence.

    But you study this for a living. Give us the correlation between violence and mental illness.


    We like to point to mental illness as some kind of master explanation. But the truth of the matter is, a mass shooter is really atypical of most people with serious mental illnesses, the vast majority of whom are not violent, never will be.

    And the vast majority of the perpetrators of gun crimes all over this country — a hundred people probably today will lose their lives as a result of a gunshot — those people, typically, do not have mental illness, with the exception of those who have suicide.

    So, you know, mental illness is — it is important. It is not the place you start from a population and public health perspective to try to address our problem with violent behavior.


    Mr. Simons, coming back to you, what have we learned in previous events?

    It seems that, just in the past couple of years, especially across Europe, we have seen these different types of soft target, these different types of attacks. What is law enforcement now keeping in mind even in something as simple as staging a concert?


    Well, information and collaboration, sharing of intelligence is critical.

    I would say that one of the key learnings from this is that all of us are personally responsible for our own safety, our situational awareness, understanding what could happen in these circumstances, particularly in an unexpected environment, and that we have to take note of what is going on around us.

    We can't just treat see something, say something as a convenient phrase. We have a responsibility to actually contribute to the solution. And all of us are better than any one of us. So in this regard, we should take those responsibilities seriously.


    Jeffrey Swanson, put it also in perspective for us, if you could, guns and violence in the way that the CDC looks at it.



    Well, if you look at the CDC statistics and you look at this from a public health point of view, 36,000 people die every year as a result of a gunshot. It is a very difficult problem in our society because we have a lot of guns. They're embedded in our culture. They're constitutionally protected, the right to own a firearm.

    And so it's a difficult problem. Gun control in our country is really about people control after the Heller decision. But there are things we could do. We could have better criteria for limiting the purchase of a gun by people who are really risky. The criteria we have now are probably too broad and too narrow at the same time.

    We could also have a legal tool that would give law enforcement officers clear legal authority to actually remove firearms from people who are known to be risky and dangerous, with due process protections.

    And we could do things to try to address the problem of illegal gun trafficking in this country. This is not a one-thing problem. It is not a one-thing solution. And I think it's going to take a long time, but we need to think about there very broadly.


    Russ Simons, when you work in one jurisdiction to the next, there are different sets of rules across state lines on who can carry, how they can carry, what kind of weapon.

    How does law enforcement deal with that sort of challenge, or even somebody who is creating a venue to say, OK, well, this is the kind of people that I'm going to have at this concert, these are all the different issues?


    Well, you are exactly correct. Every jurisdiction is different. And then there are some commonalities.

    And what we learn in those can be shared. But ultimately you really have to understand the situation on the ground and then move to mitigate any risks. Threats, risks, vulnerabilities, they are the key to identifying how we would respond.


    All right, Russ Simons, Jeffrey Swanson, thank you both.


    Thank you.

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