Protecting City Hall: The Common Risks to Local Government Facilities


From the smallest rural community to the largest urban city, and all suburban locations in between, the multitude of threats facing our public sector are as complex and diverse as the nation itself.

Whether it is the various individual tactical concerns impacting our civic institutions on a daily basis or larger strategic dangers that could halt a thriving metropolis, most municipalities cannot fully understand and process all of the threats that they face. Instead they are left to respond and react rather than properly planning for their true vulnerabilities.

How Municipalities Should Approach Security

In order to develop a solution, one has to truly understand the actual threat.

  • Is the safety and security of the public at risk while visiting individual facilities?
  • Is it a threat to the infrastructure that supports the viability of the public’s health and welfare?
  • Is it an impact to the services of the public entity?
  • Is it a combination of the above?

These threats are not unique or limited to any one particular public sector entity. They are serious challenges facing all of our communities today. To mitigate these threats, the municipality must fully understand these and plan accordingly.

Security in the Urban Environment

In the past 15 years we have seen orchestrated terrorist events impact our urban environments. Whether it was the tragedy of 9/11, or the Marathon Day bombing of Boston, the impact to the community and its services were catastrophic. Though these attacks were not aimed directly at the municipality, it had enormous effects on the city and the individuals supporting it.

Not only do our urban environments present a higher profile target, the sheer density of the environment ensures that any form of attack will impact more people at a higher cost. Whether it is a lone actor, or a larger strategic attack, the repercussions will be significant.

Securing our Suburbs and Rural Communities

The challenges facing our suburban and rural communities are different than many of the high-profile threats facing the urban environment. However, creating safe public spaces can be equally challenging no matter the size and location of the municipality.

Whether it is spillover threats from larger urban neighbors, distributed threats to the infrastructure, or a lack of resources to support a natural emergency, the danger to the municipality is just as real to the citizens who live and work there.

Our public sector is vulnerable, no matter the size and location. Limitations in funding, resources, and planning make the solutions just that more complex.

The Damage of Failed Municipal Security

Beyond the initial damage sustained to people and property due to an attack on our public sector system, the long-term damage can linger for many years to come. Whether it is litigation associated with the actual attack or the perception of the community in the wake of a situation, the implications can be devastating to communities already with limited resources and budgets.

In 2014 Austin hosted its annual SXSW Interactive & Entertainment Conference. After being pulled over, a drunk driver sought to evade police. The individual in question sped the wrong way down a closed street, hitting a total of 15 individuals and killing 4. This single event taxed and strained a first response team, already overwhelmed by the standard events of the conference. Police decisions, in those moments, were called into question and civil suits were lining up. The conference also began to question the viability of further growing if the city could not support burgeoning needs. This incident received worldwide attention, giving a black eye to a city that has generally enjoyed tremendous press.

Municipal reputation and the costs of negative activity are not the sole dominion of our urban cities. Suburban and rural communities are routinely confronted with public areas and parks becoming hubs for criminal activity.

With decreasing resources, municipalities are forced to do more with less: protecting the community and the reputation of the community. Ultimately, whether it is in a city, a suburb, or a rural community, people and businesses will move to safer environments. The end result is losses in property and business taxes.

Budgets that were too small to proactively provide security can be decimated in the event the lack of security failed to protect the citizens.

Securing Government Facilities

Any municipal facility, without appropriate security, is vulnerable to crime. Unsecured buildings put workers, and people who do business there, at risk.

Government agencies of all kinds, especially local, are often the subject of animosity from disgruntled citizens, which can lead to violence in some cases. Those who work within, or are visiting, a government facility can be caught directly in the crossfire.

Whether it is a municipal court building, or the utility payment office, the exchange of money and heated tempers place our citizens at a higher level of risk. In many cases these types of locations are ground zero for additional security resources. However, in many cases the deployment of additional people or physical security solutions is simply a reaction to previous issues. Usually, these do not take into account the full array of threats within the facility or how mitigation solutions should be implemented and expanded to other public locations.

Cities can never be certain when a threat will arise, but the risks to people, property, and reputation can be significant.

Smart Solutions Don't Have to Be Expensive

Deploying effective security measures will depend on the unique risks and vulnerabilities each municipality faces.

If planned appropriately, and focused on the greatest potential threat, most municipalities will greatly benefit from well-planned security measures. Whether it is video coverage of remote public infrastructure, duress buttons for city employees dealing directly with the public, or access control into vulnerable areas, the solutions are as varied as the threats.

No matter the budget challenges, the proper understanding and implementation of solutions to these threats is beneficial to our communities in the long and short runs.

Protecting the Public!

Protecting our public facilities is something every municipality needs to take seriously. Those who work, visit and live in the municipality are all impacted by its security. Every effort should be made to mitigate any potential threats.

Too often our cities and municipal governments have relationships with partners as vendors only. Because they are a public entity, they haven’t been allowed to develop a true partnership with someone they can trust, who has a deep understanding of their needs. Given the critical nature of these threats, it is equally critical that our city governments be able to develop partnerships with integrators who can fully understand their threats and develop holistic solutions to better protect these environments.

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Terry King (Linked In, Twitter, Facebook) -