Hostage Prevention 101

10/30/2012 | By Michael Fickes

Don’t be cornered by an unexpected hostage situation

Have you ever considered the possibility of a hostage situation in your building? Much like terrorism or workplace violence, the threat of a hostage taker is remote yet very real. Recently in Pittsburgh, a hostage situation occurred at a downtown high rise. While the standoff was resolved without injuries, the message is clear to building owners – always prepare for the unexpected.  

Does your building’s Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) address hostages? Have you conducted a roundtable that walks your security team through a hostage scenario? Without a plan in place, a hostage situation could cause more chaos and damage than expected. 

“Hostage events have three stages: before, during, and after,” says Steve Layne, a principal with Layne Consultants International.  “Before it happens, focus on prevention. During an event, follow your EOP. Afterwards, cooperate with the police investigation and offer support to occupants.”

Preventive Measures
Unless your property is a signature building or your tenants include high-risk targets, you may determine that a terrorist attack is not among your risks. Everyone, however, should think about preventing potentially dangerous people from gaining building access.

A hostage situation, much like workplace violence, doesn’t typically involve terrorists – rather, an opportunistic stranger, abusive spouse, or angry former employee is the perpetrator.

One random hostage taker, for instance, told police after the incident that he had chosen the building because no one was checking people as they entered. Had the hostage taker spotted a security officer in the lobby, he likely would have been deterred.  

“It takes more to discourage an angry spouse or employee, however,” says Kevin T. Doss, president of Security Management Solutions, LLC and an ASIS International advisor for the Physical Security Professional (PSP) Board Certification Review Program. “A visitor management system (VMS) and an escort policy can help prevent these problems. Tenants should be urged to secure their reception areas and prevent access by the general public.”

VMS policies require visitors to have permission to enter from someone working in the building. Conversely, tenants can enter the names of recently fired people on a no-admittance list, denying them access without special permission. Spouses fearing an attack can also use the no-admittance list.

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