Today’s Threat Environment: A Conversation with Former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan

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Anil Chitkara
Founder, Head of Corporate Development

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Publish date

Jul 12, 2021

I recently had the privilege of participating in a webinar with Mark J. Sullivan, former Director of the United States Secret Service and a member of the Evolv Board of Directors. 

It’s always enlightening to hear Mark’s views on a range of topics focused on the state of security today and best practices for security professionals. Since he left the Secret Service, he’s worked with a wide range of organizations to help improve their security. Here are some highlights from our conversation. 

Me: What kind of creative approaches have you seen with security professionals in terms of using their budgets most effectively? 

Mark: I see a lot of people conducting threat vulnerability and risk assessments. It comes from having good plans, good policies, and good procedures. As well as having clear lines of communication with leadership—using people, technology, and ultimately using multiple layers of security to come up with the best plan for that organization

Me: As you look out over the threat landscape today, what are you seeing as the threats that should be of particular concern to us all? 

Mark: Automatic weapons, shoulder weapons, assault weapons, vehicle-born improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These threats continue to evolve, and the challenge is to anticipate where the threats may come from. We are seeing that the softer targets become attractive to those who are looking to do harm.  

Me: As security professionals think about the softer targets within their venues, and as they think about multiple layers of security, they should think about security protocols and mitigation approaches that might be visible and some that might be less visible. What is your guidance? 

Mark: A lot of it comes down to situational awareness. Is there any type of pre-attack surveillance going on? How do we identify those types of pre-attack behavior? How are human resources used to provide a physical presence? How is access control handled? Are the people coming in, the right people? They also have the challenge of the insider threat. How do you identify those people in the organization that are potentially going to cause harm? 

Me: What is your perspective on the value of deterrence as part of an overall security plan? 

Mark: People are hardening their venues, their buildings, their businesses, and many people are doing it via screening. Over the past 15 years, we have seen that every professional sports league has gone to screening. They’ve been very aggressive with it and very successful keeping threats out. As threats continue to evolve and as firearms continue to be the instrument that people are using, more and more people are looking at that visible and effective system of screening. 

Me: Let’s talk about the threats themselves. In May 2021, we saw 72 active shooter incidents in the U.S. – more than two a day. How should security professionals think about this wide range of threats and identify the ones that might be the most impactful?  

Mark: No one security protocol is going to fit for everybody. Every venue, every business, every organization is going to have to approach it from an individual perspective. A lot of people are coming up with their matrix of what they believe to be their highest threat, what risk those threats present to them, where the gaps are, and what are the best ways to mitigate against that risk and how do you close up the gaps. 

Me: What are some of the best practices you’ve seen? 

Mark: Communication and decision making are both very important. We don’t want bad things to happen, but we know that they are likely going to occur. I think people are putting a lot of time and effort into having well-defined plans to react to a situation. I see more and more people coming up with Security Operations Centers or Joint Operation Centers: One central location as a coordination point for situational awareness is important.  

Me: Let’s talk a little bit about technology. During the pandemic, we’ve seen a change in consumer expectations around touchless technology: Touchless payments, curbside pickup, touchless ticketing, etc. We’ve seen touchless security as an expectation of consumers, whether it's fans, employees, or kids going back to school. We’ve seen a desire to use modern technology to make things fast and accurate. How have you seen technology, technology screening, and maybe even the Evolv Express® system affect and positively impact security at venues? 

Mark: You want technology that is going to be impactful for the operator. During the pandemic, one of the things with Evolv Express screening is the fact that it is touchless. I think that has been impactful. We’re looking for technology that is going to get the job done efficiently and effectively. The less contact the better. The more you can enhance the patron experience, the client experience, all the better. That is the goal for Evolv. Making their community safer and making it a better experience. And, you don’t want to require the operators to have deep technical skills. You want this technology to be easy to understand, easy to operate, and easy to deal with. 

 

The full webinar is available at Security Magazine

Anil Chitkara
Founder, Head of Corporate Development