Author(s): Gregory Cade. Published on May 2, 2016.

The New War at Home

The many ways NFPA is addressing emerging threats of violence


AT ALL LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT, there is an increasing focus on devising ways to prevent terrorist attacks by domestic or foreign enemies. Workplace violence and school shooting scenarios require many of the same tools and approaches, and efforts to address these threats are taking a multipronged approach.

The Obama Administration has put forward initiatives aimed at strengthening the regulations for purchasing firearms from gun sellers, and Congress is considering alternatives that could address related mental-health issues. Part of the legislative effort at the state and local levels focuses on the problem of restricting building access as a way to provide increased passive security while the response community prepares to engage the perpetrators. There are a host of parallel efforts related to weapons, surveillance, and other aspects of this issue, including federal public education efforts such as “Run, Hide, Fight.”

NFPA has been a leader and participant in many of these discussions. The Urban Fire Forum and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Section have addressed these issues as they impact first responders. The groups have suggested strategies to protect responders while intervening to save lives. The proper techniques for removing and treating the injured, coupled with appropriate protective equipment, can make a significant difference in protecting responders. By leveraging the expertise of the military in the proper type, fit, and use of ballistic protection equipment, NFPA is leading the information transfer of this type of equipment to our response constituents.

We are also working with the security industry. NFPA staff and committee members are looking for ways to prevent building access by outsiders without adversely affecting the ability of potential victims to escape or find refuge during the incident. We have seen incidents where perpetrators deliberately use a facility’s built-in protection systems to assist them in attacking building occupants. Compounding this already complex entry problem is the scenario where the perpetrators are part of the community/workspace and have free access, becuase they have the credentials to be on-site.

Our codes can also play a key role. Following the release of NFPA’s “School Safety, Codes and Security Workshop Report” last May, our Fire Code, Life Safety Code, Premises Security, and Building Code committees are evaluating how we can do a better job of blending the security, fire, and life safety goals of the built environment. Although the current focus is on the active shooter threat, we have seen the unintended consequences of allowing one solution, such as door locking, to create a larger and potentially more deadly situation. A recent workshop, jointly sponsored by NFPA and ASIS International, brought together members of the response, security, and standards communities to open the dialogue, an illustration of how we need everyone’s perspective to help frame a coherent strategy.

This issue will stay at the forefront of the news, and the coming elections all but guarantee that leaders at all levels of government will be questioned on their potential solutions. NFPA’s strength is anchored in its ability to bring together diverse groups to find solutions to these kinds of problems, and it has the potential to play a key role in addressing these emerging security threats.

GREGORY B. CADE is division director, Government Affairs for NFPA. Top Photograph: Getty Images