Throughout U.S. history, our nation has rarely experienced the conflict, terrorism, death and destruction seen so often in many other countries. But now that we have once again experienced the horribleness of an attack on the innocent, we evaluate the situation. Patriotic pride and compassion has engulfed the nation, authorities are on high alert and security has tightened. But has it awakened citizens from the unrealistic dream of total reliance upon authorities for their safety?
The Boston tragedy marked the first time since September 11, 2001 that a terrorism-related explosion causing death, injury and destruction had occurred on American soil. While not the magnitude of an event like 9/11, it still shook our country and raised the common, after-event thought: Could we have prevented this?
Questions will undoubtedly continue to snowball over the coming weeks until there are complete answers. Questions, such as: Why did Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev do it?
Did our country become complacent after over a decade of relative quiet?
Why did the government not know about this plot ahead of time?
Security is a challenging, tireless job that requires eternal vigilance. Security professionals across the world face an unending wave of criminals and terrorists looking to exploit any and every loophole or gap in protection. Some bad guys take a high-tech approach while others go basic; meaning the number of potential threats is infinite and methods of attack always changing.
Over time, it's easy for people to become increasingly complacent and let their guard down. It's human nature. Having gone more than a decade since 9/11, many terror plans have been foiled, perhaps lulling the public into a false sense of invincibility and complete reliance upon authorities. But for security to be as effective as possible, everyone must do their part, including citizens being aware of their surroundings and reporting suspicious activity.
As impossible as it may seem, security must always be on, alert and ready. Does that mean security can thwart any and every threat from happening? Only in a perfect world is that possible. In cases where security is unable to entirely prevent a threat from turning into an incident, the response is the next most critical aspect. A fast, effective response will often reduce the degree of damage and keep a tragedy from morphing into a disaster. In Boston, the authorities responded instantly, doing an excellent job of diverting runners and spectators, attending to the injured, locking down the crime scene and preventing extreme panic.
The most important aspect of security is the help of the public. While the ultimate goal of any security system is to lower response times and increase overall situational awareness, it's important to remember that it merely provides tools to help prevent, reduce and respond to threats — such as surveillance cameras equipped with behavioral-analytics software that instantly alerts security personnel of anything that seems out of the ordinary.
However, even the most advanced technology needs a human component. That human component not only includes security guards and police forces performing their duties, but private citizens as well. It is the responsibility of every man, woman and child to keep their eyes and ears open for anything unusual and to alert the proper authorities when necessary.
Terrorism has continually reared its ugly head all throughout human history, so it's unlikely we've seen the last of it. If the authorities were armed with thousands of guards and the most advanced security technology at all times, they could still protect the public only so much. While the public is on edge at the moment, time will pass and anxiety will once again ease into complacency.
To better anticipate, thwart and reduce threats, we all must work together and remember to always remain vigilant, not just at times immediately after an incident occurs. To assist and support is our first and last resort of true security. So after evaluating the situation, we now must ask, did what happened in Boston wake Americans up?
Ray Cavanagh is the vice president of Crescent Guardian, Inc., a national security firm and integrator with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and New Orleans.