Circles of Security
Circles of Security constitute one of the most important ideas in preventive security.
This concept, which is most commonly applied to facilities and campuses, draws two general circles around the asset or property in question – the Inner Circle and the Outer Circle. The Inner Circle can be defined as the property that’s being protected, along with its immediate exterior. The Outer Circle is the whole area around the property, stretching as far as a security officer can realistically visually control (1-3 blocks on average, depending on the surroundings). The geographic dichotomy between these two circles is most pronounced when talking about closed/controlled facilities and campuses, or controlled buildings within an open campus, and the relationship between these two circles is the subject of this article.
The Inner Circle
Since I’ve already discussed the Outer Circle at length, let’s briefly go over the Inner Circle.
The general idea of the Inner Circle is to control the property in question in order to secure its assets. You’ll want to start this process by initially determining the property in question is secured – usually by means of a security sweep. In special events or projects, where the property is only leased temporarily, this initial determination is extremely important. With more permanently owned facilities and campuses (which can be controlled and monitored on a permanent basis), this initial determination usually takes place during the opening procedures at the beginning of morning shifts, which include security sweeps of the property.
After you’ve determined you have a secure location, you’ll want to maintain this security by making sure nothing harmful breaches it. This is generally achieved by limiting the number of entry points, and controlling those that remain open.
And this is what brings us to the topic of Access Control.
Though I’ve discussed access control before, in this article I’d like to discuss how it can be executed in a way that fully utilizes the Inner and Outer Circle relationship.
When most people think about access control, they think about a situation where a person is standing in front of security – questions might be asked, credentials or appointments might be checked, a follow-up sign-in process might be necessary, and so on. However simple or thorough the access control process might be, people usually think about the Inner Circle part of it, where there are a few feet between the security officer and the individual in question.
The first thing to be said here is that the process of assessing the individual, and of determining if he/she should be granted access, should not begin at such close quarters, it should end there. Individuals don’t simply materialize in the Inner Circle, they have to come from somewhere; and wherever they might be coming from, they must – by definition – first pass the Outer Circle. A proper Outer Circle focus is what gives security officers the ability to start the process of evaluating individuals from an earlier time and from a greater distance – the earlier and farther, the better.
The benefits of this are best illustrated when considering worst case scenarios. If you have to deal with an armed aggressor, you’ll most certainly want to realize this as soon as you can and from as far away as possible. It might be too late for preventive measures, but the distance and time you’ll have will help you in your reactive emergency response. If you wait with your observation until the individual is right in front of you, it might be too late to do anything. This means that the ideal location for access control is a choke/vantage point from which, in addition to physically controlling the entry point, security officers can also visually control the Outer Circle. This can obviously be a bit tricky if, for physical, logistical or operational reasons, the access control station must be inside the building. The ideal way to deal with this problem (if budgets allow) is to split the access control into two parts: an initial, external one, conducted by officers in charge of Outer Circle security; and a secondary, internal one, conducted indoors by other officers. A good analogy for this is your classic air intake filter, which starts with a coarse, external filtration (the Outer Circle), and then continues with a finer, internal filtration (the Inner Circle).
Even if this isn’t possible, and access control can only be conducted indoors, in almost every case I know, facility entrances are made of glass, which officers can use to see people before they enter. In order to facilitate this, make sure your access control station is facing that entrance rather than at an angle to it. Even if this only buys you an extra few feet and an extra two seconds to observe people, it’s better than completely relinquishing your observational skills until an individual is right on top of you.
How to Observe and what to look for
How do we evaluate an individual from a distance?
When security officers are positioned correctly for this type of access control, they should be able to observe when and how people who approach them transition from the Outer Circle to the Inner Circle. For starters, you’ll want to notice and establish some general baselines for how people normally look and behave in the Outer Circle. Use your Inductive Observation skills to notice the general differences between people who spend time in the Outer Circle without approaching the Inner Circle, people who spend time in the Outer Circle before approaching the Inner Circle, and people who walk right up to the Inner Circle without spending any significant time in the Outer Circle. Start noticing how people look and behave both before and during their transition from the Outer Circle to the Inner one. For example, it’s quite normal for people to arrive early for a meeting or a special event, spend some time in the Outer Circle and then approach the Inner Circle. But try to also notice the appearance and behavior of people who deviate from norms like this.
From years of experience, I can tell you that most people who try to enter secured locations for illegitimate reasons don’t take into account that security might be watching their transitions from the Outer Circle to the Inner Circle. My personal favorite example of this are flash-mob protesters, because they’re usually harmless and because they provide a fun visual seminar on covert methodology mistakes. They never seem to realize how obvious they are when they assemble or arrive together somewhere in the Outer Circle, and then split up to try to nonchalantly enter the Inner Circle separately. It’s almost needless to say that most people don’t act that way; and properly trained and positioned security officers should be able to spot such things. If these people end up gaining access to the Inner Circle (which is not uncommon in more public locations like hotel lobbies, public squares or open campuses), you’ll notice how they take obviously strategic positions once inside (obvious to the trained eye, at least), and exchange subtle nods and glances. Pay enough attention, and you might also notice that many of them have the same kind of backpacks (containing banners) and that they often talk to each other on their cellphones, not realizing that someone with covert methodology training can easily spot this.
Controversial events (political rallies, some shareholder meetings, etc.) often attract protests, which, in keeping with constitutional rights, are usually allowed to take place somewhere in the Outer Circle (either across the street or generally off the property). Having managed security for dozens of events like this, I can tell you that it’s not uncommon for some protesters to try to get into the venue in order to disrupt it or collect intelligence on it. Protesters sometimes even spend quite a bit of money on tickets, company stocks, donations or whatever’s necessary to acquire legitimate means of entry. For this reason, it’s always important to position security operators to observe if any individuals transition from an Outer Circle protest to the Inner Circle venue, and to relay this information to the access control officers. This forward observation can be conducted either overtly or covertly, both having plusses and minuses, depending on the situation and the desired effect.
When you look for suspicious indicators, it’s somewhat safe to assume that nonviolent would-be infiltrators, the kind that are only interested in secretly recording an event, or not so secretly disrupting it, would be harder to detect than a would-be violent attacker. This is because the former would not necessarily exhibit the type of fight-or-flight, Adrenalin driven indicators that we might expect from the latter. The good thing is that the same Inner and Outer Circle relationship can detect both cases.
Metal detector gates, which we often employ for controversial or high-threat events, provide a good example of how even subtle indicators about nonviolent yet disruptive individuals can still be detected. By themselves, metal detectors aren’t actually going to pick up on leaflets or paper banners – much less on subtle indicators of nervousness or evasiveness. MD gates only screen for metallic objects by detecting electromagnetic disturbances between the transmitting pillar/panel and the receiving one. Nevertheless, we’re always assessing more than just an electromagnetic disturbance. Whenever possible, it’s important to position forward observation officers ahead of the metal detectors. To the untrained eye, these officers are supposedly there for ushering and customer service purposes – smilingly assisting and directing people – but the underlying reason for them to be there is to observe people’s reactions when they first realize there are metal detectors to go through. The key is to notice how people approach – how they look and behave when they transition from the Outer Circle to the Inner Circle, and first realize that they’re going to have to go through metal detectors. An observant, well trained and well positioned officer will almost always be able to notice certain appearance and behavior features which can indicate that a person might not necessarily be interested in happily attending an event or meeting. The initial detection of this can usually be done from a distance, and by the time the person reaches the MD access control station, officers can confirm it when they screen the individual more closely.
Having caught countless individuals trying to enter venues for illegitimate reasons, or sneak contraband in, I can say that once you know what to look for, detecting these individuals is not as difficult as you might think. Many people get too caught up on gadgets or nifty tricks for detecting objects, and miss the point about evaluating the person first. Secret recording devices, for example, can be very difficult to detect on their own, but the pen-recorder I myself have caught on an individual who was trying to sneak it into a highly secured shareholder’s meeting (even cellphones were not allowed in the meeting) was quite easy to detect. The pen itself was small and hidden, but suspicious indicators about the individual who was carrying it were already noticed in the Outer Circle, and he was flagged for extra special screening before he ever made it to the access control station. Taking our time to screen him and his belongings more carefully, the pen-recorder that was hidden in his pocket was quite easy to find.
Look first and foremost at the person; smaller contraband can then be subsequently detected. Anyone who’s had the ‘pleasure’ of going through Israeli airport security has been on the receiving end of this type of screening, albeit a much less polite version of it than we practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. (personally, as an Israeli-American, I prefer to give than to receive…)
You might think that more infiltrators and disrupters (violent or nonviolent) would figure out a way to outsmart such a simple means of forward observation, detection and information relay, but you would be mistaken. When I first started out in this line of work, I used to wonder why these people don’t just dress and act normally to avoid being detected – like you often see in the movies? I’m not saying it’s impossible for a skilled individual to completely evade security detection, and it’s both fun to imagine, and operationally important to take into account, such possibilities. But from years of field experience, I can tell you that it’s very different from what you see in the movies – there simply are no James Bond type individuals trying to do this kind of stuff, at least not in the private sector spheres I’ve been operating in.
As I explained in my last article, personality, motivation, nervousness and even ideology will almost always manifest themselves in some way. And these manifestations (even the subtle ones) can be picked up by skilled officers, as long as they’re positioned correctly, know what to look for and in some cases, know how to elicit them.
Eliciting detectable indicators
A common misconception about access control is that the flow of information is a one way street – from the individual in question towards security. But there’s no reason for security to take such a passive stance. Officers can actively send out non-verbal challenges to the individuals who approach the Inner Circle, and do so while an individual is still in the Outer Circle. I like to think of these little challenges as relatively easy ‘curveballs’ that the officer throws at approaching individuals in order to notice how they handle them. These challenges can be as simple as showing the individual that you’ve detected them, and then politely acknowledging them with a nod of the head. To most people (i.e. non-hostiles), this doesn’t mean much, and is therefore not a ‘curveball’ that’ll give them any trouble. It shouldn’t offend them or cause them to react in any suspicious manner – maybe they nod back, maybe they don’t – and they just keep walking towards you normally. But to a person with hostile or disruptive intent – a person who has something to hide – being detected and acknowledged by security before they even reach the Inner Circle paints a pretty bad picture, one that’s likely to evoke a nervous response. Even if this nervous response is a subtle one (a flinch, double-take, slight change of walking speed, etc.), the timing of it, and the officer’s training to look for it, should provide a sufficient reason for extra observation, scrutiny and questioning when the individual reaches the Inner Circle. The idea here is to give individuals who already have a good reason to be nervous, a reason to inadvertently display their nervousness – and do so from a distance.
Metal detectors, as mentioned above, are another good example of this, since they provide quite a ‘curveball’ to throw out at people. This means that we don’t want to miss their reactions when they first see them. It’s natural for many people to be a bit surprised when first seeing MDs at an entrance to a facility or venue. But there’s a natural/normal type of surprised response, often accompanied by annoyance, laughter, etc, as the individual keeps approaching at the same speed and with roughly the same body language. And then there’s a not so natural/normal type of surprised response, often accompanied by indicators of nervousness, change of walking speed, stopping, turning around, doubletakes, quickly checking pockets or bags, etc. To miss these types of elicited responses is to miss a big part of what we’re trying to screen for as people transition between the Outer Circle and the Inner one.
And by the way, though it’s far from being a side note, eliciting long distance responses by means of acknowledgement is not at all a wasteful distraction when you also apply it to clients (the principal, employees, guests, executives, etc). It has a different purpose, to be sure, but a very important one. When a client, employee or guest gets acknowledged by security from such long distances, it demonstrates to them that security is on the lookout. From my experience, I can tell you that it’s often the executives who notice what you’re doing, and who comment about it with such things as “Wow, you always see me coming from two blocks away” or “you always spot me before I even park my car”. My standard reply to this (delivered politely and smilingly) has always been “Yes, I see everyone from that distance”. There’s no macho posturing here, simply an important demonstration to those who are actually paying for your services that you’re actually looking out for them – something that becomes very important when those same executives have to inevitably attend a budget committee meeting to discuss expenses and budget cuts. Security isn’t just something that must be conveyed to potential ‘bad-guys’. The ‘good-guys’ also need to see and feel it – they’re the ones paying for it after all.
Security officers should therefore always feel like they’re on stage (because in many ways they are), and that their audience is all around them – in front of them and behind them, comprised of both ‘bad-guys’ and ‘good-guys’.