After James Holmes opened fire during the screening of Batman – The Dark Knight Rises last July, a lot of people (including me) were nervous about going to see the movie. This probably due to the fact that following an attack, there is always the risk of copycats or someone becoming inspired to take action similar to what occurred in Colorado, which causes us to become more alert when we are out in public.  As we go into a heightened state of awareness and begin attempting to consciously scan each and every person in our vicinity, we can quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of gestures, postures, expressions, walking styles, clothing choices, and every other observable facet that is available to us.  If there isn’t a mental framework that allows an observer to structure what they are seeing and quickly make sense of what they are looking at, increased situational awareness could lead to an observer becoming frustrated in the endeavor.  This leads to security professionals either giving up their search for criminal behavior or becoming too slow in the decision making cycle to be effective at preventing violent acts from happening.  But this doesn’t have to be the case.

The busyness and chaos of crowded public places can make it difficult to identify active shooters, but it is exactly the type of environment where police officers, soldiers, Marines, and corporate security providers need to become increasingly capable of identifying the criminal hiding in plain sight.  The framework that we provide to make sense of these areas is referred to as a heuristic, which is a strategy to make accurate decisions in situations with limited time and limited information available. The strategy that we use on this site and in the Tactical Analysis training program takes the dynamic of crowded public places into consideration.  What makes the “Baseline + Anomaly = Decision” strategy so effective is that it employs what is referred to as the search principle.

The concept of the search principle is fairly straightforward – if we are going to be effective observers, we can’t analyze everything that is present, but must focus our observations on the indicators that are true representation of a person’s intentions.  The four pillars observable behavior that you find in the CP Journal are designed with the search principle in mind and help you quickly orient on those people who stand out from the crowd.

To see how the search principle improves our observations when it comes to assessing individuals, think about the types of body language we discuss.  We only look at the gestures, postures and expressions that are controlled by the limbic system as those are considered honest indicators.  If we were to get caught up assessing nonverbal communication that is controlled consciously (as opposed to the unconscious and automatic responses of the limbic system), we would expose ourselves to the risk of being deceived.  If a person is attempting to convey a specific persona and consciously decides to stand in a certain manner, use their hands are arms a specific way and places a false expression of happiness on their face, those behaviors that are being observed would not provide a true representation of the persons intentions or capabilities.  There are ways to decipher through that façade, but the cluster of cues would not be truly informative.  By understanding that we are looking for the way the body responds to stressful situations, and understanding that those are the indicators we are after, we can focus our search on those cues and not waste time trying to assess the meaning of consciously controlled behavior.  This is one way that the search principle helps focus our observation.

The same concept of focused searching applies to Iconography.  Iconography supports the assessment of symbols or visual representations of a person’s beliefs and affiliations and usually comes in the form of clothing, graffiti, flags, tattoos, etc.  Any sign or symbol that does not provide information about a person’s beliefs or affiliations is not important when there is only a limited amount of time.  For example, if there was spray paint on a street that was used to make the location of buried utility lines, that information is insignificant to recognizing threats and time shouldn’t be spent analyzing that “graffiti.”  Instead of looking for every piece of paint and every symbol, which would quickly overwhelm our mental limitations to processing that information, we are only searching for the Iconography cues related to beliefs and affiliations.  This is why the search principle can be thought of as targeted and focused observation, because we aren’t spending time on extraneous factors.

The reason the search principle is so important when taking a behavioral approach to recognizing threats and preventing violence is because good decisions are made when a person has good information supporting that decision.  When it comes to targeting terrorist, insurgent and criminal networks, security providers don’t have time to waste analyzing information that either leads to a biased assessment or that does not reveal a person’s intentions.  Spending time assessing non-essential cues lead us away from being left of bang because we are missing the pre-event indicators that are right in front of us.

The search principle is what led to not only the creation of The CP Journal, but also the design of our Lens Logo.  Our goal is to provide information to those who view security through a different lens.  We aren’t going to prevent violent acts from occurring by only looking for people who were recently fired, of a certain religion, were bullied, or dropped out of school, so don’t spend the time focused on those indicators.  Those are variables that occur in attacks and are reactive observations.  Employing and understanding what goes into the search principle is what allows us to get left of bang.

To see the training options available to empower your organization to prevent violence from occurring click here.  Or if you are looking to train yourself, test your ability to recognize these cues in the challenging environment of Grand Central Terminal by starting a subscription to The CP Journal by clicking here.