10 Dec 2012

Complacency In Facility Security Management – Your Biggest Enemy

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One of the greatest challenges to maintaining facility security and personnel safety for administrators and security professionals alike is the inevitable tendency to settle into a comfortable routine, also known as complacency. It is a natural human tendency, well documented in scientific studies, for the human brain to relegate repetitive or routine activities to “autopilot”. A great example of this is learning to drive a car. Initially, the driver’s mind is fully engaged in learning the steps to controlling the vehicle, steering, brakes and accelerator, along with navigating obstacles. As the driver becomes more adept, actual operation of the vehicle becomes more second nature and the driver’s awareness is more focused on watching other drivers and pedestrians, then often devolving into complacency when the driver is mentally engaged in everything but driving.

Facility Security Management

Complacency Arises From Familiarity and Routine

Law enforcement and many of the other security professions are often humorously described as long periods of extreme boredom, broken up by brief periods of sheer terror. After many traffic stops, uneventful calls for service, monotonous ID checks, mindless security screen monitoring, the most dedicated professionals can be lulled into complacency. Administrators and non- security personnel pulled in different directions and demands on resource priorities can often contribute to an overall sense of complacency, nothing bad has happened, therefore, nothing bad is likely to happen. Vigilance is reduced and the indications of a threat are missed, leading to attacks on officers, unauthorized entry into a facility or other worse security implications. An excellent example of this is the September 26, 2012 arrest of illegal immigrant Martinez-Ochoa utilizing a fake ID to gain entry into the Palo Verde Nuclear facility in Arizona, having possibly gained entrance on previous occasions undetected.

Field Experiences Complacency

Looking back as a law enforcement officer, one of the factors that reduced the slide into complacency began with “Rookie School”. As part of the curriculum, the class viewed videos, listened to radio traffic and 911 calls involving officer deaths. As a class, we would review and discuss how the incident happened, watched for indicators missed by the officer and techniques to keep from making the same error. It was a very gut wrenching, solemn experience that brought home in a vivid fashion the consequences of not maintaining a high level of vigilance.
Once assigned to a Field Training Officer, one a former Marine DI, the education continued on the importance of maintaining vigilance, situational awareness and the threat of complacency. This mentorship by a professional dedicated to ensuring trainees were sufficiently prepared for their duties built on the foundation of schooling bringing theory into the practical realm of what actually occurs in the course of law enforcement duties. Only then would a “rookie” be assigned to a permanent shift on their own.

I was fortunate to have been assigned to a shift with supervising officers that were engaged in continual improvement through shift level training, in addition to department wide standardized training. We regularly engaged in training scenarios to challenge, innovate and instill teamwork, build success, think creatively and participate in activities designed to defeat boredom and complacency. Outside training was also encouraged to offer perspectives from other agencies and other areas with their own unique challenges, which in turn, brought fresh ideas to develop our own techniques for our jurisdictional and societal needs. There was a notable difference in enthusiasm levels between shift level training and the standardized department level training. The difference was the level of creative input by training participants, as opposed to a pre-formulated lesson plan following a more rigid approach disseminated to participants to learn.

Keys To Defeat Complacency

The first key to defeating complacency is effective fundamental training that instills an understanding of the personal consequences that can occur as a result of complacency. Understanding that complacency is a natural response to routine, repetitive tasks and that it takes conscious effort and awareness to overcome is critical to the foundational training for those beginning their careers in security professions.

The second key is organizational support for mentorship into the security environment to build awareness of specific security pitfalls unique to that security setting. Understanding correct security function and procedures as well as building on knowledge of personal and organizational consequences of security failures due to complacency builds on continuing the awareness that complacency can happen to everyone. Personal consequences can range from personal injury or death to having to live with the consequences of causing harm to others as a result of complacency.

The third key is to utilize or develop training that engages the creativity of participants to plan, review and critique security scenarios that relieves boredom and re-engages vigilance. This kind of training should be utilized regularly, for example, monthly, to reinforce the importance of combatting complacency, but not so often that it loses its freshness or novelty that helps relieve the monotony of routines. Another important facet of this training is to build upon success, rather than dwell on mistakes, in particular when utilizing a scenario that actually occurred. The focus of the after action review needs to be on looking for the factors leading up to a security failure, reviewing what steps should be taken to prevent a similar occurrence, mitigation of being caught by surprise and anticipating how a future similar event would be dealt with.

In closing, as a security professional, in the end, the ultimate responsibility to deal with complacency lies with the individual. In our profession, the best training, mentoring and organizational support will not substitute for a personal commitment to recognize and defeat complacency when it inevitably arises.

For more information on the incident at Palo Verde facility:

Have you had a security incident as a result of complacency? How have you dealt with complacency? What methods have you found effective in overcoming complacency? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.

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