How Safe are Security Standards in Federal Buildings?

The Federal Protective Service, (FPS), a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for the law enforcement and facility security for nearly 9,000 federally owned and leased buildings, courthouses, properties, and other federal assets. According to officials, the FPS collects $1.3 billion in user fees a year for this service.  But many of these agencies, including Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, are assessing their own security needs out of concern that the FPS is providing a service not up to the standards developed by the Interagency Security Committee (ISC).

The FPS employs about 1,225 federal personnel, most of them serving as law enforcement security officers (LESO), not nearly enough to physically oversee all the facilities that are within each officer’s region. And each officer is responsible for the training and certification, the risk assessment and oversight, and the patrolling and law enforcement of every facility. This shortage means that most buildings are left in the care of contract security guards, working by themselves.

There are there are approximately 13,000 contract guards from almost forty different private companies. The cost of these private contract guards will cost FPS $796 million this year. But the shortage of FPS officers and not enough oversight over the contract guards have produced numerous alarming incidents.

In 2009, investigative teams from Government Accountability Office (GAO) were able to get into ten high-level security buildings with the components for an improvised explosive device (IED). Once inside they were actually able to assemble the IEDs and freely walk around the facilities.

In February 2011, a contract guard found a bag at the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit. This building houses the FBI, the IRS and a U.S. senator’s office. Instead of screening the bag, the guard put in it the lost and found. Three weeks later, another guard decided to check the bag out through an x-ray machine. Inside the bag was a metal box with wires and other electrical components. The Detroit Police Department bomb squad was called in and detonated the material, setting off a secondary explosion and revealing a timer and other evidence confirming the item was a bomb. A suspect who had mental problems and a grudge against the FBI was later arrested.

Other reports of lax security include weapons passing through lobbies undetected, government property stolen and even one report of a dead body that went unnoticed by contract security for months. Critics say part of the problem is that the training standards and instruction are not consistent across the board. An example is the training of contract guards on the use of X-ray scanner and magnetometers, currently the responsibility of the LESOs. But too many times, that training isn’t provided because of the LESO shortage.

Professional Security Officer is a DVD-based training series for those seeking credentialing as a security officer. The training may be provided prior to initial posting, or may be part of an ongoing training program. This program has a wide application for contract and staff security officers, both armed and unarmed. To learn more, read here. . .


Oklahoma bombing The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, site of the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, which killed 168 people.




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FBI Arrests Courthouse Bomb Threat Suspect

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for the Northern District of Ohio, has announced the arrest of a suspect in the recent series of bomb threats called into courthouses in several states. The threats began in November and continued through to December 2012. Threats were received in courthouses and other federal buildings in Nebraska, Washington, Oregon, Tennessee, and Mississippi. (See Emergency Film Group’s report about the bomb threats here: Courthouse Bomb Threats Plague Several States.)

Lonny Lee Bristow, 38, of Mansfield, Ohio, has been charged with one count of Title 18, U.S.C. 844(e), which states: through the use of the mail, telephone, and other instrument of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce willfully made a threat and maliciously conveyed false information knowing the same to be false concerning an attempt or alleged attempt to damage or destroy any building by means of an explosive.

Lonny Lee Bristow Suspect Lonny Lee Bristow

Details of the FBI’s investigation revealed that several pre-paid calling cards purchased by Bristow at a Walmart Supercenter in Upper Sandusky, Ohio were linked to the bomb threats. During a search of Bristow’s residence, FBI agents seized computers, digital storage devices, other electronic equipment, documents, bank cards, weapons and ammunition.

In his initial appearance in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Bristow waived his right to a detention hearing and preliminary hearing, meaning he will be held without bond until his case is reviewed by a federal grand jury, according to court documents.

“Lonny Bristow induced panic in hundreds of people across several states who were simply trying to do their work,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland Division of the FBI. “The FBI will continue efforts to aggressively pursue charges against anyone, such as Mr. Bristow, who chooses to make reckless and malicious bomb threats.”

Emergency Film Group offers  Bomb Threat, a DVD-based training package  which teaches the management of bomb threat reports in order to minimize the disruption of activities, the elements of a bomb incident plan, carrying out  searches and evacuations, and working with responding law enforcement.  To learn more, read here.



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Courthouse Bomb Threats Plague Several States

There has been a recent rash of multiple courthouse bomb threats in several states over the past few months.  The incidents appear to follow the same pattern – the calls, usually made by a male caller, begin coming into the courthouses, in succession, often by county alphabetical order. The caller claims that there is an explosive device located in the courthouse and then hangs up. Searches of the building fail to yield any devices.

The first incident occurred in Nebraska on November 2nd, where nine county courthouses received threats. The calls began at 11:02 a.m. and ended at 11:36 a.m. In each case, a male caller indicated there was an explosive device in the courthouse and the devices would begin going off in 17 minutes. Each of the courthouses was evacuated by local authorities, and no credible threats were found.

Eight courthouses in the state of Washington received similar calls on November 15th.  A male caller began calling courthouses late in the afternoon, claiming that there were multiple explosive devices in the building. All eight courthouses receiving threats were evacuated and no devices were found.

Oregon was the next state targeted and this time the caller tripled the number of threats called in. On November 19th, 28 courthouses and a state office building received the same threatening calls, beginning at 2:30 p.m. and continuing for approximately an hour. As with Nebraska and Washington, no devices were found after evacuations and searches.

Thirty Tennessee courthouses and other government buildings were targeted on November 27th. The bomb threats were made against nine locations in western state counties — including the Memphis federal building — seven in middle Tennessee and 14 in eastern Tennessee. The state of Mississippi received 29 bomb threats on December 17th, including the Mississippi Supreme Court among those needing to be evacuated.

Authorities continue to investigate whether these incidents are connected. Although bomb threats may seem annoying, they must be handled properly to protect the safety of the people within the threatened facility. Emergency Film Group offers  Bomb Threat, a DVD-based training package  which teaches how to manage reports of bomb threats to minimize the disruption of activities, the elements of a bomb incident plan, carrying out  searches and evacuations, and working with responding law enforcement.  To learn more, read here.



Thirty Tennessee courthouses received bomb threats

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CDC: Flu Deaths Reaching Epidemic Levels

The annual flu season has hit the country – hitting early and hitting hard. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is reporting 47 states are currently experiencing widespread flu epidemics. The only states not affected are California, Hawaii and Mississippi.

On Friday, the CDC confirmed deaths from the flu had reached epidemic levels, with at least 20 children having died nationwide. Officials cautioned that deaths from pneumonia and the flu typically reach epidemic levels for a week or two every year. Both the city of Boston and the state of New York have declared state of emergencies. Boston has already documented 700 cases of flu this season, compared to 70 cases for last year’s season total. In New York, there have been nearly 20,000 cases of flu reported so far this season. Last year the state had 4,400 cases reported.

Compounding the epidemic are outbreaks of a surge in a new type of norovirus and the worst whooping cough outbreak in 60 years.

The NY Times reported that early outbreak of a new norovirus includes a new strain, labeled Norovirus Sydney 2012. The virus is even more contagious than the flu. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, headache, body aches and sometimes fever. Unlike the flu, the virus isn’t spread through the air, but through contact with people who have it and through contaminated surfaces, objects, and mostly through food.

AARP recently conducted a study that found the eight “germiest” public places were restaurant menus, lemon wedges, condiment dispensers, restroom door handles, soap dispensers, grocery carts, airplane bathrooms and doctors' offices. All places where germs that spread these viruses are lurking.

Pertussis, also known as whopping cough, is unrelated to the flu or norovirus. Patients develop a hacking, constant cough and breathlessness. The CDC has confirmed almost 42,000 cases this season. Children are usually vaccinated several times against pertussis but officials say those immunizations wear off with age, leaving teenagers and adults vulnerable to the virus.

The flu epidemic has left many businesses and employers struggling with absent and ill employees. And workers struggle with the decision of going to work or staying home when they are ill. Since 40 percent of employees don’t get paid unless they work, many workers go to work even when they’re sick, either out of financial necessity or because they’re worried they will lose their jobs. This is prompting many companies to rethink their sick policies to avoid office-wide outbreaks of the flu and other infectious diseases.

There are steps that companies can take to help control the impact that an influenza epidemic or pandemic can have on the workplace. Emergency Film Group distributes Workplace Strategies for Pandemic Preparedness, a training kit to help business, industry and government facilities prepare for and mitigate the almost inevitable impacts of an influenza pandemic. To learn more about this product, please read here.


Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta GA

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"I want something that will satisfy OSHA's requirements."

by Gordon Massingham, President, Emergency Film Group

 "I want something that will satisfy OSHA's requirements. I want to be able to show them the tape, have them take a test, and they will be certified."

It's the kind of request we get all too often here at Emergency Film Group. When we tell these callers that we don't have anything like that, and that neither does anyone else, some callers hang up in disgust. Maybe they go on calling other companies like ours. Maybe some disreputable salesperson from another company sells the caller a video-based program. Maybe the caller is pleased that he now has found "compliance-only training." Or, at least pleased until OSHA comes to call.


OSHA's standards for general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart L, 1910.120, and 1910.156 which cover fire brigades and response to hazardous materials emergencies are very clear about training requirements.

The employer must provide training, "commensurate with those duties and functions that fire brigade members are expected to perform." Further, the employer must assure that each member of the fire brigade is able to perform "assigned duties and functions satisfactorily and in a safe manner so as not to endanger the fire brigade members or other employees." Finally, the employers must inform the fire brigade members of any special hazards that exist and develop "written procedures that describe the actions to be taken in situations involving the special hazards and shall include these in the training and education program."

So unless you have a training video that is custom designed and site specific, no video is going to train your plant emergency response team to OSHA's requirements. Even then it is doubtful that the video alone can provide the training.

When you talk about emergency response you are talking about matters, potentially of life and death. No video is going to train a fire fighter to operate a pump, don chemical protective clothing, or proportion foam. Training an emergency responder requires an instructor- someone competent and experienced. It usually requires some classroom work, and some hands-on training in the field- at least some of which should be under simulated emergency conditions. In other words, if you expect an emergency responder to carry out a task, you better be sure that the emergency responder had competency-based training and you better keep records.

Does that mean there is no role for video? We hope there is. But at the Emergency Film Group, we design our videos and the books that accompany them as training aids for the instructor. First, we provide some compelling visuals that otherwise wouldn't be available to the instructor. Secondly, through extensive research and by constant review by leading professionals in the field, we provide eight or ten of the most important lessons to be learned about the subject- with emphasis on safety and good management. So the video might be used as an introduction to the subject, or as a review. But showing the video, no matter how good it is, and doing nothing else, will not put you in compliance.

We can't provide all your training for you, but as our motto says, we can provide "training tools for an increasingly complex and dangerous job."

Gordon Massingham has produced most of the training programs in the Emergency Film Group catalog and has been responsible for creating more than 150 emergency response training programs during the past 25 years. In 2004 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Note: Although we can’t satisfy all your OSHA training requirements, Emergency Film Group has dozens of video-based training programs that are designed to the latest OSHA and NFPA standards

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Hazcom 2012 & Global Harmonization

Hazcom - the Hazard Communication Standard, often called Right to Know - was implemented by OSHA to ensure that employees who work with chemicals are trained in their safe handling and use, to recognize symptoms of adverse health effects related to exposure, and to take appropriate measures in an emergency.

The 2012 update to Hazcom takes a new approach to communicating information in order to ally it with the international initiative known as Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), and is now being tagged Right to Understand. Changes include specific criteria in the way physical and health hazards are classified, new requirements for labels, and a new format for Safety Data Sheets, formerly called Material Safety Data Sheets. Ultimately GHS will affect other OSHA standards, and those of other standards-making organizations.

Emergency Film Group's newest program - Global Harmonization & the Hazard Communication Standard - examines the changes to Hazcom. It is appropriate for training personnel who work with or around hazardous chemicals, and also for hazmat teams, firefighters and others who may respond to an incident where chemicals are involved.

For more information about this program, go to the website at


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Radiation Monitoring

Using radiation monitoring equipment In a scene from 'Radiation Monitoring' emergency personnel sample for radiation.

Radiation Monitoring is a DVD-based training package recently produced by Emergency Film Group. This film with accompanying Instructor CD-Rom prepares emergency personnel to protect themselves and their communities during incidents in which radiation may be present. It follows the guidelines of ASTM-2601, Standard Practice for Radiological Emergency Response, and was reviewed by a technical committee of experts in monitoring and response.

This package would be an ideal outreach to communities in which nuclear energy plants are located. Nuclear personnel with the responsibility of working with local emergency management agencies could use this as a resource for training emergency responders  who would be responsible for operating radiation equipment in the event of an incident.

Scenarios covered by the film include terrorism, industrial accidents, natural disasters, and transportation mishaps. It examines dosimeters, radiation pagers and radiation detectors and shows how to interpret results. Also covered:  health effects of chronic and acute exposure to radiation, understanding exposure measurements and limits, protective clothing & equipment, incident size-up and decontamination.

The Instructor’s CD-Rom has a Powerpoint presentation that closely follows the film, a second Powerpoint presentation devoted to the Inverse Square Law, a number of documents that relate to the topic that can be downloaded and printed as handouts, and a post-seminar quiz.

This package can be ordered at

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