This video analysis is part of our recently released training center content.


The dynamic of territoriality and how that concept leads to the creation of anchor points plays a critical role in the professional lives of our nation’s protectors.  Anchor points are the areas where we keep the things that are important to us and, therefore, they require the most security.  For observers, understanding how two key characteristics of anchor points – how they are created and how people interact with them – provides the opportunity to make objective assessments and predictions about the people within the places you visit.  The first characteristic, how people establish ownership of an area, empowers our military and police forces to locate the areas that criminals, insurgents and terrorists use to plan their operations and strike them in their own backyard.  The second characteristic, how people interact with established anchor points, allows all members of the security and defense industries to better evaluate the people attempting to access restricted areas.

Before we can take this concept of identifying anchor points from theory to tangible real life scenarios, the initial requirement is to understand what differentiates anchor points from habitual areas. We will do this by analyzing two video clips. The first video is taken inside the entrance to a Target store and the second clip is focused on the people entering a Costco.  Start by watching each of these clips through one time to get a basic understanding of the behaviors we will be discussing.

Target Entrance

Costco Entrance

We should start by realizing that both of these stores are very similar as they both offer customers a wide variety of food and household items to shop for. However, the difference between the two lies in the customers who are allowed into the store and are able to actually shop there.  Target is open to all shoppers.  No one is refused entry, making it a habitual area.  Even though we might know this from our own experiences, what allows us to classify Target as a habitual area is the fact that there is no one near the entrance with the purpose of keeping certain people out.  Even if we knew nothing about American retail, we could observe those entering the store and recognize the store’s status as a habitual area because everyone is entering and no one is checking to see whether they are “on the list.”  No one is controlling access.

Costco, on the other hand, is not a habitual area. Costco is an anchor point because it limits access to its wholesale priced goods only to Costco members.  Even just that word – membership – helps us to identify areas that are going to be treated as anchor points by showing that there is some form of exclusivity involved.  Costco places an employee right at the entrance of the store in order to ensure that only the customers with the right credentials get in.  For Costco, the requirement for entry is that the person must prove that they are a paying member, both at the entrance of the store and again when checking out.  People who meet this standard are allowed in without delay, while those that fail to are challenged and turned away.

Identifying anchor points that aren’t well known requires that security professionals learn to recognize two of the characteristics of anchor points.  We will do this by analyzing the video taken inside Costco and assessing the behavior of the people through two different lenses.  One lens is focused on the person controlling access and the other is focused on the people walking into the store.

The First Lens – Analyzing The Bouncer

The first lens is focused on the top priority of security plans, which is to keep outsiders from gaining entry. To do this, we observe that Costco complements their physical security measures, such as limiting the number of access points to the building to just the one front entrance, with a “bouncer” at that location to check the credentials of those coming in.  With the same role of the bouncer tasked with keeping people under 21 out of a dive bar, this guy’s job is to keep non-members from coming in.

Recognizing the bouncer’s behavior helps police officers seeking to identify criminal anchor points – the hideouts and bases that criminals, gang leaders, drug dealers, and terrorist cells use to plan their operations from.  Since not all anchor points are going to be as well known as Costco, whenever you observe a person filling a similar role of the “bouncer,” or people approaching a building that you would have considered to be a public space that are turned away, you can focus your collections on these important areas.

The Anticipated Baseline: Knowing that anchor points must enforce their exclusivity, I approach this store with the expectation that the baseline for the entrance of Costco consists of a bouncer who should be displaying cues from the dominant cluster. In order to keep outsiders out, he can’t be acting submissively.  This role requires dominance, which is the “security answer” for restricting access.  However, at the same time the “security answer” needs to be weighed against the business needs of the store.  At Costco, the bouncer is a customer-facing role and the first line of service, so he needs to do his job in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily anger people. So I expect this dominance to be tempered.

The Observed Behavior: As we look at how the bouncer goes about his job, we can see that, for the most part, the dominance of the bouncer is pretty subtle.  Early in the clip, after he has let a few parties through the entrance without showing their ID, it seems that his main focus is on counting the number of customers who enter the store on the device he has in his left hand, instead of checking the IDs of those entering.  However, while the ID itself is not something that he would stop people at the door for, when an elderly man tries to enter the store with a box of Cheerios in his cart, the “bouncer” steps forward to stop the man from entering. Only after conversation does he decide to let the man in.

Why These Observations Matter: As Lanny Roark highlights in his article “School Security – A Dangerous Contraction,” it isn’t just the desire to keep outsiders out, but the willingness to enforce the security measures that you have in place that makes an area secure.  While the process of checking all the membership cards isn’t something that the “bouncer” seems overly interested in, Costco also has established a defense in depth, creating multiple redundant layers of observation to ensure that only members can make purchases from the store.  At the checkout point, if a customer does not have an ID card, they aren’t going to be allowed to buy what they have in their cart.  Because of this built in depth, the store manager at Costco can comfortably reduce the level of security at the entrance, by not just assuming that everyone in the store has proven themselves a member.  As Roark states, for schools to be established as legitimate anchor points teachers and staff can’t simply assume that everyone in the school has been cleared as a legitimate visitor. Teachers and staff need to serve as redundant layers of security to ensure that only those with a legitimate reason for being the school are allowed in.

Through The Second Lens – The Insiders

Whereas the first lens was focused on the person responsible for establishing the anchor point, the second lens is focused on how the bouncer influences the behavior of the people approaching and entering the anchor point.  The bouncer serves as an authority figure, which will have predictable and observable effects on the customers.  For the security professionals tasked with securing office buildings, sporting events or doing close protection for VIPs, being able to understand the influence that authority figures have on people with legitimate credentials and those without them are critical observations.

The Anticipated Baseline: As people approach the entrance to Costco, I expect them to display signs of comfort and familiarity.  I come to this conclusion because customers are told when they sign up for a membership to show their ID card when they come in, so there shouldn’t be any surprises when they approach the store. Likewise, customers who have visited the store in the past have gone through this process before.  Knowing the process and knowing what to expect should reduce the perception of anything threatening, which will cause comfortable and familiar behavior.

The Observed Behavior: As we look at how people are actually entering Costco, there are a few different patterns that emerge.  Most people act exactly as we anticipated, having their membership ID card ready and walking in at a relaxed pace.  Deviations from this baseline are situational, but are easily explained.  For example, there is one group that hesitates to enter while the bouncer talks to the elderly man bringing the box of Cheerios into the store. They are showing submissiveness as they wait for permission to enter before proceeding in.  Even though we didn’t state this submissiveness in the anticipated baseline, once we observe that behavior we can add it to our baseline, thus making it more thorough.

What Might Attract Your Attention: Now that this baseline has been established, the bouncer can begin to mentally simulate what behavior he should be observing that would signify an anomaly.  A security guard can ask himself ahead of time why a person who had their card ready would be uncomfortable in this situation? The guard can also be asking himself what questions he could pose to that person in a non-intrusive manner to confirm the reason for the observed behavior.  He can ask himself why a person who had their ID card ready would be showing unfamiliar cues upon entering the store.  He can ask himself how he would respond if a person approached in a submissive way, showing their ID card but unable to make eye contact. The observations that the bouncer is searching for are not the behaviors associated with the baseline, but the behaviors that he anticipates would cause a person to stand out.  By preparing for these different situations he can reduce the time needed to take action. This implication is why the second characteristic of anchor points, how people interact with the authority figure, is so important.

Regardless of your purpose for assessing the people around an anchor point, how quickly observers can establish the baseline determines the speed at which anomalies can be identified.  Learning to identify the two characteristics of anchor points, how a bouncer establishes control over the points of entry and how people interact with that authority figure, are what provide trained observers with the information needed to separate the criminal attempting to blend in with the crowd that surrounds him.